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Florida State vs. Syracuse: Defensive breakdown, analysis

FSU’s defense made the stops that mattered.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

TALLAHASSEE: The Florida State Seminoles will try to avoid a historical 0-5 start to the 2021 season as they host the 3-1 (0-0 ACC) Syracuse Orange. Florida State’s defense has been hard to peg throughout the season. Decent performances have been overshadowed by complete mental collapses. Can FSU find a way to keep up the focus for a full 60 minutes?


  • The defensive line caused havoc to get a quick three and out on the first drive of the game.
  • Early there has been a good mix of man and zone. Still seeing a soft cover 4 on 3rd and short.
  • FSU’s run defense has been stout but broken coverages and a facemask penalty allowed Syracuse to gain a bit of momentum.
  • Ultimately Syracuse seems insistent at running into the strength of this defense. FSU came up with a big stop on 4th down in their own territory.


  • FSU mixed up the coverages early in the second quarter which took some rhythm out of the Syracuse passing attack.
  • The defensive line has come to play led by DE Jermaine Johnson. They have been closing pockets quickly and force Syracuse to settle for another three and out.
  • Syracuse QB Garret Shrader broke a tackle and flashed his speed for a long rushing touchdown. A lapse in contain allowed him to get into space.
  • Syracuse got some chunk plays to continue their momentum off of play-action outside zone runs. These paid off as Garret Shrader broke the goal line with his feet for the second time this game.
  • FSU cedes some ground in the two-minute drive to close the half but ultimately comes out with a stop on a last-second hail mary.

Half-time stats

  • Total yards: 190
  • Pass yards: 82
  • Rush yards: 108
  • Yards per play: 6.3
  • 3rd Down Conversion Rate: 1/6


  • FSU’s defense came out strong in the second half. Keir Thomas came up with a sack to force a three and out on ‘Cuse’s opening drive.
  • The next drive was much of the same. The defensive line lived in the backfield in the next drive. Limiting Syracuse to five yards on three plays.
  • The defense didn’t get much rest as a muffed punt by Pokie Wilson put them back on the field immediately. They were a step slow filling some gaps that allowed for a couple of uncharacteristic runs but ultimately stiffened up and came up big with a fourth-down stop on their half-yard line.
  • They had another quick turnaround which led to a few broken plays and a touchdown. Shrader found continued success on the ground whenever he was able to break contain.


  • The struggles continued in the second half for the defense. The same crossing concept allowed Syracuse to chunk down the field for another touchdown.
  • As the game continued to wear down so did the defense. Syracuse drove the ball into the RedZone but ultimately couldn't convert and had to settle for a field goal.
  • Syracuse got the ball with just over 3 minutes to go in the game. FSU’s defense came together to make a critical stop.

Final Thoughts

The defense started strong holding Syracuse to no points in the first quarter but it didn’t take long until ‘Cuse found their weaknesses.

Their QB Garrett Shrader found success on the ground all game, amassing 137 yards rushing which mostly came off of broken plays or rollouts. On traditional running plays, FSU held strong due to standout performances by Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas.

The linebackers and secondary struggled throughout the second half and several chunk plays came from players either taking poor angles or being in the wrong place entirely.

However, this defense did what it has struggled to do all year. They made the stops that mattered. For a team that has struggled as much as they have to find their footing, that's an awfully big accomplishment.

End-of-game stats.

  • Total yards: 389
  • Pass yards: 150
  • Rush yards: 239
  • Yards per play: 6.31
  • Third down conversion rate: 2-12

Defensive MVP: Keir Thomas