The yearly pattern continues.
The Florida State defense, nowhere to be found for stretches of the game, ended up shutting out North Alabama from the second quarter on. It was another strange day for the defense in a season with moments of them. Of course, like the entire season, there are two schools of that with how the defense played. The former believes that Adam Fuller’s group buckled their chin straps, forced three turnovers, and held UNA under four yards a play. The latter asks, why in the world is this unit giving up 8-play 80-yard drives and the Seminoles finding themselves in a two-touchdown hole? Post-game, it felt Mike Norvell believed in the former.
“The defensive front was great. I thought guys flew around. It was definitely what we needed. As we kind of collected ourselves offensively and continued to go to work through some of the early challenges, I thought the defense was awesome and created a short field.”
It seemed the Seminoles were not ready for the fight early on in this game, but once they hunkered down, they played to their potential.
Here are three observations from a harrowing night in Tallahassee.
First Thought: Senior Leadership
The Jordan Travis injury affected every person in the Doak Cambell crowd. But of course, the players took it the hardest.
Starring down at the sideline and seeing the reactions from the defensive players said it all. Heartbreak, despair, anger everybody needed a pick me up.
On senior day, they found it from their elders.
After FSU got stuck in the mud in the red zone during Tate’s first drive, FSU still trailed by double digits heading into the second quarter.
On a third-down blitz, Jarrian Jones changed the game.
Adam Fuller called his favorite cash down play, the secondary blitz, and the senior did not miss. Jones flew into the backfield, forcing the fumble, and set the Seminoles up inside the 10. Trey Benson finished in the end zone for six two plays later, and it felt like everyone in Doak took a breath for the first time.
Jones created another red zone turnover on the day, giving another short field to Tate Rodemaker, and the Seminoles took advantage. A clearly dejected Jones post-game stayed humble about his impact.
“If your eyes are in the right spot, you play your keys, I mean, no trick play is going to get you. In the beginning, I mean, we were kind of all over the place in a sense. Once we settled down and just read our keys and stuff, that was kind of what it was.”
Another senior day participant, Braden Fiske, helped clog a springing leak up front.
UNA finished the day rushing for over four yards a carry, and their ground game success led them to *win* the time of possession battle against FSU. However, after the sack fumble, Braden Fiske took over the game.
Splitting double teams, getting off blocks, and chasing down the play, the Western Michigan transfer would not be denied. North Alabama continued to try to run the ball inside on 3rd down, and Fiske would not be fooled. When UNA crossed midfield during the second half in only an 11-point game, he overpowered his offensive linemen and sacked the quarterback to force a third and long. He finished the day with two tackles for loss in a counter that could have been much higher. Fiske’s domination inside propelled the Seminoles to a dominant victory and allowed the starters to rest in the fourth quarter.
Second thought: Wake Up!
All year, Florida State has rotated between taking the 1st or 2nd quarter off.
Today was the 1st.
At the end of 1, the Seminoles found themselves down 13 points to an FCS team with no clear solution to their gimmicky offense. A trick play sprung the first touchdown drive, which was not really the defense’s fault. However, UNA went eight plays and 80 yards right down the field against what is supposed to be a top-10 defense in college football. This is now the second week in a row the Seminoles allow a team to march the length of the field on them *at home*. Postgame Mike Norvell felt that the defense’s anxiety came through, but once they settled down, they were lights out.
“Nobody pictures being down in that game early, but it was the circumstance we found ourselves in. There’s a lot of reasons why, a lot of things that we can correct, but in the moment, it’s all about what you could with the next play. It’s all about what your belief is. It’s all about are you going to be willing to block out the anxiety and the pressure that you feel and just go play one?”
The start yesterday was inexcusable. How can the #4 team at home on senior day against a below .500 Division 2 school be the nervous group that needs to settle down? The trick plays, and unbalanced formations created confusion along the Seminole front. Poor habits continued as the defensive linemen rushed too far upfield, and FSU displayed poor eyes. Coach JP earlier in the week mentioned that Florida State needs to play more “reactionary football,” which was evident Saturday. The flip side is that the defense deserves credit for digging themselves out of the hole. When JT went down, everyone could easily take their mind off the game and lose focus. However, they used that as a turning point and shut the door on the Lions and did not let a bad play make it a bad day.
Final thought: Old habits die slow
Lost in the storylines of yesterday’s game was another strange defensive performance in the run game. UNA rushed for over four yards a carry, but not counting sacks as part of the run game total; they rushed for over five. Noah Walters, the North Alabama quarterback, gave the Seminoles trouble with his legs as QBs have done all season long. His stat total says that he only rushed for 17 yards, including the yardage loss from five sacks (Why do we do this, NCAA?). Credit UNA, they devised a solid plan to get an aggressive defense with poor eyes looking out of sorts. The trick plays, reverses, and QB keepers wreaked havoc along the Seminole front. In fact, ten different players carried the ball for the Lions, and 9 had a rush of six yards or longer. However, when the Seminoles could create penetration, it was lights out.
UNA went 3/16 on third downs and had no answer in an obvious passing down. They usually get off the field when Florida State earns the right to rush the passer. However, against a Gator team playing with their backup next weekend and their two-headed monster in the backfield, FSU needs to find an answer.