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What went right, what went wrong on defense for FSU in heart-stopping win over Florida

Two things to like, one thing to fix, and an X-factor from Saturday night

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

What can be said that hasn’t been already?

After getting pushed around during the first half, the FSU defense did not allow a single yard to Florida in the 4th quarter and shut the door on an upset bid.

The pass rush made the difference, as six sacks created enough negative plays that the Gators could not dig out of their hole. Adam Fuller’s group certainly left much to be desired, especially in the first half — but this group never backed down.

The Florida State defense played more than ten minutes than the offense and was on the field for over 13 minutes of the 1st quarter. However, by the end of the game, they wore out the Gator offense, and the rotations from earlier in the season loomed large.

With so much to unpack, here are two things I liked, one that I did not, and an X-factor from last night’s thriller.

Positive No. 1: Second Half Seminoles

Jared Verse and Braden Fiske took the stand in a sweaty visitor’s press conference and said what every fan thought.

“We just turned up,” Verse said after the win.

“We know we are a second-half team.”

Indeed, they are. After another week of going down by double digits early, the Seminoles only allowed three points in the second half. Instead of being worn down by a punishing Gator ground game, their front four took control of the line of scrimmage and sucked the life out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The key to the second-half success of the ‘Noles begins and ends with their ability to get off the field. After Florida started the game going 5/6 on the “money down,” they buckled in and finished the day holding UF to a 7/16 and 0/3 in the 4th quarter. The final four Florida drives did not produce a 1st down and combined for -3 yards. After the game, Braden Fiske talked about his team’s mentality and the mindset they needed to produce a come-from-behind victory.

“Something we preached all week was be the stronger team, be the better team mentally; we welcome the adversity.”

Adversity came in bunches.

The Seminoles went down 12-0 to start the game, and the defense seemed to be dying from 1,000 cuts. Florida finished the first half, averaging over 4 yards a rush and 110 yards. They finished the day averaging 3.3 and only gained 36 during the final 30 minutes of play. The defensive performance in the second half can be best attributed to their mindset. The offense would always look different without JT under center, and the defense did their part in keeping the game close. Their performance in the second half allowed FSU to stay balanced offensively and force Max Brown into uncomfortable 3rd in longs. Would I like this group to play like this for a whole 60 minutes?


But this is the journey we are on with this team, and the defense deserves the credit for surviving in the swamp.

Positive No. 2: The Pass Rush

The clock read 7:17 in the 4th quarter, and Max Brown jogged off the sideline. The ‘Noles just retook the lead and clung to a two-point advantage. The defensive line all year said they played their best against the wall. This upcoming position would be the true test.

They aced it.

Patrick Payton flew into the backfield and swallowed Max Brown for a loss of six on first down. Forcing Florida behind the sticks proved to be the key to the game as on the ensuing 2nd and 16, Jared Verse continued his stellar play and hurried the redshirt freshman to cause an incompletion. On third down, Patrick Payton again proved why he was the ACC Newcomer of the Year last season. He quickly got off his block and took Max Brown, who prepared to escape, down to the turf. Three plays, -7 yards in total, and the ball went back to the offense, who ended up going up by two scores on that drive. After the game, Mike Norvell gave props to the entire front porch but signaled out Jared Verse specifically.

“Tonight he got his opportunity, and he was ready to answer the call as well...him and Jordan are really close...talked about finishing for Jordan, and this was a good step.”

The PFF grades back up Jared Verse and his counterparts. Verse, Payton, and Fiske each finished with a PFF grade over 69.7 while playing most of the snaps in this game. Instead of being worn down and frustrated by all the running plays, they stayed patient and took advantage of a banged-up Florida offensive line. All season long, fans begged for consistency from this unit. But just like every aspect of this team, when they needed to show up, they did, and the dream season stayed intact.

Negative No. 1: The Run Defense

This facet of the game feels most difficult to evaluate.

Florida ran the ball three times more than they threw it, yet only finished the day averaging 3.3 yards a rush. I still felt that FSU went down in this game because of their lack of ability to create negative plays in the run game and Florida controlling the clock. The Gators raced out to an early 10-0 lead after two drives over six minutes each. They ran the ball on 11 out of the 16 plays on each of their scoring possessions and began to create gaps along the defensive line. All momentum almost left the Florida State sideline after Montrell Johnson JR. ripped a 52-yard rush deep into Seminole territory with just 26 seconds left on the clock. Last night would always be physical, but the Seminoles seemed surprised and reluctant to adjust for most of the game. UF ran 44 run plays to just 16 pass plays and, on multiple times, put the ball on the ground during 3rd and longs. They did not trust Max Brown and wanted to avoid him making the big mistake. That meant their game plan focused on their thunder-and-lightning duo in the backfield. They each received double-digit carries and finished with over 4 yards a rush as they bounced outside and shrugged off would-be tacklers the entire night. Florida State played decently in the run game, as proved by their 11 TFL yesterday. But, only DJ Lundy graded above an 80 on PFF, as the unit struggled for stretches of the night.

X-Factor: Akeem Dent

Most beat reporters like to take notes on their computers these days, but I still find writing in a notebook to be the most efficient. As I flipped through my notes from last night, I came across one line:

Akeem Dent, Florida State hero.

After rewatching the game, the Senior Safety put on a cape last night, and Jordan Travis agreed.

He certainly did, and the PFF numbers are astronomical from the Miami native. Dent received a grade of 99.3 in pass rush out of a grading scale of 100 (and probably would have been higher if not for one of the worst calls in the history of college football). Adam Fuller consistently brought Akeem off the edge to speed of the clock on Max Brown, and the blitzing paid by holding the Gators to 15 points on the day. Not only did No.1 play well rushing the passer, but he also excelled in the run game. PFF gave him a respectable 76.6 rush defense grade, but his impact was more significant. He had two tackles in this game, and if he did not bring down the ball carrier, the Gators would add six points to their total. Dent made multiple game-saving plays and was the most consistent secondary player yesterday with their tackling. In his final game playing in the rivalry, he saved his best for last.