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Defensive observations from Florida State’s home loss to Pittsburgh

Not good enough but were left out to dry.

Don Juan Moore

Coming off a bye week, you’d expect this team to be as healthy as it could be.

Instead, there were a slew of defensive starters who didn’t suit up for this one. That list includes Marvin Wilson, Travis Jay, and Renardo Green. Hamsah Nasirildeen, whose return seemed imminent, was also declared out. Akeem Dent and Meiko Dotson were also missing. Whether these were sickness-related, or due to injury or an intent to transfer or sit out the rest of the season remains to be seen.

That basically left just the following seven scholarship defensive backs available: Asante Samuel, Jr., Jarvis Brownlee, Brendan Gant, Sidney Williams, Raymond Woodie, Jarrian Jones, and Jadarius Green-McKnight.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cory Durden was listed as limited, and injured Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett did in fact start.

In the end, FSU didn’t have a lot of success stopping the Panthers. By the time Pittsburgh theoretically reached garbage time up three scores in the fourth quarter with 12 minutes to play, the Panthers had over 300 yards of offense, including four yards per rush and eight yards per pass. Overall they had a steady six yards per play, and were 5/5 in the red zone, and had several short fields due to turnovers by the FSU offense. That was mainly based off of three interceptions, two by Travis and the third by James Blackman. That was the difference in this game. Well, Pickett was the difference. There’s some bad luck to this, and we can be pretty confident Pittsburgh backup quarterback Joey Yellen would not be capable of this performance. Despite a bum ankle Pickett was 20/26 for 200 yards by garbage time, with other backup QB Nick Patti vulture-ing some touchdowns.

FSU’s offense had four interceptions, but three of them in the first three quarters that led to 12 points. Counting all four, that’s 18 points out of 41. The opposite of winning football. Despite the 41 points, I don’t put this loss on the defense as much as I do the offense.

Unit notes and observations:

Defensive line: FSU had a big failure in the pass rush department, and were virtually nonexistent in this game. FSU really missing Big Marv. Kaindoh seems to be the only guy that can beat his man, and these aren’t supposed to be great OTs for Pitt. It really feels like the FSU DL disappears on most plays. When they do get pressure they aren’t forcing Pickett into mistakes. Fabian Lovett did play well, and got a sack in the second half. He was also held a bit in this game. But there simply isn’t enough talent on this DL. If Kaindoh leaves after this season, what’s the plan?

Linebackers: Emmett Rice looks like a live wire early. Run fits inside the tackles look good. Dix is still taking some bad angles or gets confused, but he’s a young player. Pitt doesn’t really seem to be attacking the second level as much in passing game.

Secondary: Can a depleted secondary take away the explosive plays? It’s a mixed bag of results. Brownlee played well in the first half. Pickett is a good quarterback and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. With the lack of pass rush Pickett is just choosing his spots. Pitt really attacking one-on-ones and outside the numbers. Overall it was a short-handed unit against a good quarterback who had the benefit of multiple short fields. A recipe for disaster against a bad defense.

Defensive drives notes and scheme observations:

Pitt fumbles on the first play from scrimmage on a bubble to the boundary and Janarius Robinson watches as it goes out of bounds, but probably wouldn’t have been able to get it. Pitt is attacking the boundary early — stop me if you’ve heard this before. Gant misses the tackle in space and Pitt quickly gets into FSU territory. Pickett is good at hitting explosive pass plays, the question as the game goes on will be whether FSU can take that away. Good coverage by Brownlee forces Pitt to kick a field goal, and their kicker blasts it to the moon. Good stop. FSU has given up an opening-drive score every game this season except Jacksonville State.

The Panthers’ run game has struggled all year but liking the run fits early. Emmett Rice looks much more decisive in coming downhill. Unfortunately, a few plays into the second drive FSU is not displaying any pass rush. It would go a long way in this game with Pickett’s ankle not fully healthy. If they don’t threaten to move Pickett off his spot he may be able to pick apart a depleted secondary. Still, FSU manages to force a punt when Pickett throws short of the sticks on third down.

FSU really flying to the ball. Joshua Kaindoh beats the right tackle and pressures Pickett. Kaindoh hit his arm as he threw, but the Stephen Dix scoop n’ score was overturned as an incomplete pass. Still, that was third down and Pitt is forced to punt again.

Unfortunately, a Jordan Travis interception gives the Pitt offense another chance with a short field and they take advantage of it and put it in the end zone. They used quarterback Nick Patti on a keeper. Dix got confused on his read.

Just no pass rush, and Pickett is...picking them apart. When they do get pressure Pickett is getting rid of it and avoiding negative plays. It’s just leaving the secondary out to dry. Still, guys are giving effort and Pitt is struggling to consistently move down the field. Pitt forced to settle for a field goal and missed it.

Pitt finding success on the ground this drive, which started off an FSU three-and-out. Struggling to defend the edge. Pickett is a good quarterback. Patti walks in again for a touchdown, untouched.

For the second time in three possessions, Pitt gets the ball off a failed fourth down attempt by FSU, this time in good field position for Pitt. Pickett hits a seam route against Asante Samuel and then a scramble against man coverage scores another touchdown. That’s three in a row for Pitt and FSU can’t get to the half fast enough. Pitt now has three rushing TDs against FSU, all by QBs.

The Panthers still attacking FSU on the edges. Still think Brownlee is playing a good game. JRob hurt. FSU gets the stop though to stop the 2nd quarter bleeding. There’s no real mystery here, Pickett is just generally finding the open guy and has all day to do it.

HALFTIME — Pittsburgh is gaining about 6 yards per play.

Following a James Blackman interception deep in FSU territory, refs threw a flag on aggressive coverage by Samuel, and then Pitt runs in untouched the next play. This FSU defense isn’t good, but they absolutely can’t withstand starting on a short field.

Like the QB keepers, Pitt running a ton of counter. Even when they disrupt the pocket, they can’t keep Pickett in it. Bad tackling makes a return. For what it’s worth, the Seminoles had a good goal line stand in the fourth quarter. A field goal still made it 34-17 in the fourth quarter, putting FSU down three scores, probably putting this game into garbage time.