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What went right, what went wrong on defense for FSU in a shaky win over Pittsburgh

Two things to like, one thing to fix from a Saturday afternoon escape

Survive and advance.

Today, we all lived through the Seminole defensive experience. Plays of brilliance on one down, bone-headed plays the next. Stagnant, then standing up. The defense gave up nine explosive plays, 333 yards of total offense, only let seven points on the board and needed a Fentrell Cypress miracle to overcome their first bust in coverage in a month.

But give them credit.

The defensive unit made plays with their backs against the wall. Adam Fuller pushed the right buttons at the right time, forcing Pitt to be a despicable 0/9 on third downs. While making a few explosive plays, quarterback Christian Veilleux finished below 50% in completion percentage.

Today felt like a mix of the early season Seminole defense and the team we saw against Boston College. Here are two things I liked and one thing I did not.

Positive No. 1: Response

Mike Norvell’s favorite theme came through in spades on the day. The defense instantly went into the fire in the first half when the Seminoles fumbled on their first offensive drive. Florida State forced a three-and-out and allowed zero yards on the drive. When Pittsburgh went bombs away on the Seminole defense, and Konata Mumpfield looked bound for the end zone, Fentrell Cypress fought him to the ground to force a fumble and take a sure six off the board.

The second half continued the theme of response. Fitzgerald booted the ball out of bounds to start the third quarter, and the defense gave up a gashing 16-yard run. They proceeded to run Pitt off the field with two sacks in three plays and returned the ball to a reeling offense. The final response was possibly the most vital on the day. A horrendous FSU drive gave Pitt the ball in plus territory in a field goal game. The defense made their stand. After giving up a first down, the defense forced the Panthers into third and long and got off the field. Pitt punted the ball away after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the Seminoles scored on the ensuing drive.

The day was not always pretty for the Seminoles. Everything felt boom or bust. When they wrapped up, played to their strengths, and communicated, Pitt struggled to move the ball, and negative plays ensued. The opposite is true when they do not execute. But this defense the whole year when they had to have it, they got it. The offense needed their help on the day and kept the score low without their two stud receivers, and they responded when they had to. Pitt looked like Pitt for most of the day, and the Seminoles never let the day spiral like it did earlier in the year.

Positive No. 2: Situational Football

Every Wednesday for the entire year, Florida State works on red zone, two-minute drill, and third down defense. Practice made perfect on the day. Florida State forced Pitt to 0/10 on third down, and the Panthers needed over 10 yards per conversion. When Florida State scored a touchdown at the end of the second quarter, Mike Norvell wanted the ball back one more time before the break. The defense constrained the Panthers to a drive of 2 minutes and 4 seconds, and the Seminoles kicked a field goal. Speaking of situational drives, the Seminoles held Pitt to a three-out to start the game and the third quarter.

Florida State did not always look like the best third-down defense in the country, but they sure did Saturday. The game could have gotten away multiple times and made the scoreline worse than it did, but the ‘Noles made a stand and got off the field. The pass rush felt like the key to the third down stops. They did not always play their best on the day but did when needed. While not always disciplined, Pat Payton put up his big paw and knocked down a ball on 3rd and 4, the shortest conversion attempt on the day for Pitt. Braden Fiske made a crucial sack early in the third quarter, capping off a dominant performance. Saturday, at times, looked a lot like Boston College. The main difference was the play situationally, and FSU proved their growth.

Negative No. 1 Undisciplined Defense

While not statistically a conversion, Pittsburgh did get a first down on third down due to a Patrick Payton error. After Veilleux released his throw, Payton’s tree trunk for an arm caught the sophomore up high, resulting in a fresh set of downs — and that wasn’t the only undisciplined moment on the day for the ‘Noles.

The flags were in an issue, but so were the eyes of the Seminole roster.

On the longest play of the day, the safeties miscommunicated, and their indiscipline led to a Pitt being six feet from a score. The Panthers’ offense looked most comfortable running play action, and they had success with it on the day. The undisciplined nature led to five explosive plays in the pass game and four in the run game.

It felt like the close scoreline forced the defense to tighten up in moments and lose what had made them so strong the last month of the season. The Seminole roster constantly talks about how their most prominent opponents are themselves every week and that “it’s about us.”

Today proved that in spades, and the Seminoles paid the price when they did not play up to their standards.