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What went right, what went wrong on defense for FSU in blowout win over Wake Forest

Three things to like, one thing to fix from a Saturday afternoon smackdown

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Last week, I compared this Florida State defense to a boa constrictor.

This week, they looked like man-eaters.

The Seminole defense came out with their usual boa constrictor ways, squeezing down the line of scrimmage and forcing six three-and-outs in the first half. However, they crunched down a decent Wake Forest team to the Nth degree. Wake Forest finished the first half averaging .8 yards per play, and Mitch Griffis completed one pass. 1. The defense constantly improved over the last month after the second-half collapse to BC and put it all together in this game, especially in the first half.

“Defensively, I thought our guys battled.” Mike Norvell said, “There are some challenges within that offense. But ultimately, we were very disciplined in our gaps, got a chance to impact the quarterback...proud of the way our guys competed.”

The Seminoles slept through the second half for a bit, causing the score to be closer than the game indicated.

After such a thorough performance, here are three positives and one negative from the FSU defense.

Positive No. 1: “Cash Down” Defense

At the beginning of the year, it seemed that FSU had an allergy to getting off the field. Now, the Seminoles look like the 2000 Ravens on 3rd and 4th down.

Wake Forest starred down third down nine times in the first half. They only registered one positive play on all their attempts for two yards.

When the Seminoles forced a third down, it felt like third and forever. Mitch Griffis and company, on average, needed nine yards for a new set of downs as Florida State earned the right to rush the passer. From there, the front four got to work. They registered only one sack on the cash down but stopped Griffis at the line of scrimmage twice for no gains that were basically sacks. They did an exceptional job staying in their pass rush lanes, squeezing the pocket, and getting off blocks. The pass rush mirrored their coverage well with the secondary and left Griffis no option but to be taken down to the turf.

Jared Verse explained the defense’s success postgame: “Everyone was playing together and doing their job...our execution getting off the ball (led to success).

As I just said, the aforementioned secondary played exceptionally on the day but turned it up on third down. The communication was spot on, played sticky coverage, and stayed in phase. On the day, Mitch Griffis went 1/7 for third and fourth down for 12 yards when the starters were in.

The situational work FSU puts in on the practice field turned the season's tide and set the pace for Saturday afternoon.

Positive No. 2: Response

FSU flew out of the gates, racing to a 10-0 lead and looking to have the game wrapped up by halftime. However, a poor run fit led to Wake Forest’s most explosive play of the day en route to a touchdown. The next four drives for Dave Clawson’s squad resulted in 12 plays for -1 yard.

Mike Norvell lauded his team’s fight postgame, saying, “I love the response. To be able to come and finish the second quarter the way that we did...I thought our guys played really hard...really good players make really good plays.”

I think sometimes this unit loses focus and falls into that trap, almost like how Georgia gets bored by dominating. Adam Fuller and his group have proven that every inch is challenging at its peak. That touchdown drive for the Demon Deacons seemed to wake up the unit. No Boston College today. No more messing around. FSU did not let up an explosive play for the rest of the half and shut the door on any upset. They struck true to their motto that when they need a stop, they get it. When the offense restored their 10-point lead after the WF score, Wake Forest needed chunk plays to stay in phase. That served the defense perfectly, as the Demon Deacons could not create separation the entire day, and Griffis had nowhere to go with the ball. Against Duke last week, this defense responded by giving up no points in the second half after being down three. This week, they did not wait until halftime to take it up a notch and showed no mercy.

Positive No. 3: The Slow Mesh

Last year against the Seminoles, the slow mesh ate FSU alive. They dropped that game and have not beaten Wake Forest since 2018 because of this unique play. On Saturday, they turned their weakness into a strength.

The two telling stats that prove their success is Wake Forest in yards per play. Taking out the 51-yard rush for WF, they ran the ball for 77 yards for a ghastly 1.6 yards per rush. The FSU front stayed in rush lanes and did not fly up the field, leading to Demon Deacon ball carriers with no hole to hit. When Griffis did decide to pull and throw, the Seminole man coverage gave him nowhere to go. Jarrian Jones said earlier this week that the secondary would play “honest” against the Wake wide receivers, and that is what they did. Patrick Surtain’s group never was caught with their eyes in the backfield and stuck to their responsibility. Griffis ended up with an awful stat line of 6-16 for 82 yards.

“When you play gap control against that offense...we were very aggressive with it...we wanted our guys to attack, not only be in a gap but go win the gap...I thought our defensive front really established that.”

Our issue with the Florida State defense has been their eyes all year. They seemed to solve this issue on Saturday. The slow mesh feasts on defense that get out of position or peak just a second early. FSU limited the Wake Forest offense to 81 total yards in the first half and pushed the pocket all afternoon. Adam Fuller knew what needed to be fixed from last year and stymied Wake Forest to their worst performance of the year.

Negative No. 1: Focus

When the Florida State defense is on, they are on. However, sometimes they think they can coast and play undisciplined. Consequences arise.

With a 10-0 lead and Wake Forest not getting anything going on their first two drives, FSU had a chance to go up big. Instead, the new issue of poor edge discipline led Justice Ellison in the front door and out the back for a 51-yard gain. The Seminoles took one play off and paid the price.

Mike Norvell, postgame, seemed understanding of the mistakes, mentioning, “There was some negative things that happened...those things will happen; hopefully, they don’t happen often.”

Florida State took a 27-point lead into halftime and most likely wanted one more series for starters before getting the baseball caps on. Then, the focus disappeared. The Seminole defense committed three out of their four penalties in the third quarter, two coming as personal fouls, as Turner and Lundy WWE-style slammed players in black and gold into the ground. The lack of focus resulted in Wake Forest being a two-point conversion away from making it a two-possession game late in the third quarter. FSU struggled to finish games off the entire year when they were given the chance. The Seminole defense played with their food on Saturday instead of resting up for Pittsburgh next week.