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Game story: Third down failures, missed tackles cost FSU in loss to NC State

‘Noles go 2-16 on third down, three big plays cost the defense.

Syndication: Tallahassee Democrat Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tallahassee, FL- The Florida State Seminoles couldn’t make timely plays tonight as they fell to NC State Wolfpack by a score of 28-14. The Seminoles’ second straight loss dropped their record to 3-6 and 2-4 in ACC play. FSU was shut out in the first half, showing how much they missed QB Jordan Travis, who was unavailable due to the flu. The ‘Noles went 2-16 on third downs. On defense, three big plays for the Wolfpack cost the Seminoles. Two of those plays had missed tackles in the backfield. FSU will have to win out over their last three games to become bowl eligible.

Moments that mattered

NC State opens scoring on Leary’s bomb to Riley

Florida State and NC State traded quick punts to start the game. After a second straight FSU three-and-out, the Wolfpack took over at their own 38. On the first play of the drive, quarterback Devin Leary found a wide open CJ Riley down the field for a 62-yard touchdown. Riley beat Jarrion Jones in one-on-one coverage, adjusted to a under-thrown ball, and broke Jones’ tackle to find the end-zone and open the scoring.

Defense stands strong after turnover

Florida State’s first three offensive drives resulted in three-and-outs. On their fourth drive, they produced an even worse outcome. On third-and-long, McKenzie Milton flung a pass over the middle into traffic with pressure in his face. Joshua Pierre-Louis intercepted the pass to give the Wolfpack the ball at FSU’s 43.

Despite the plus field position, NC State couldn’t produce any points as FSU’s defense held strong. Robert Cooper brought down Leary in the backfield on the first play of the drive. Freshmen corners Omarion Cooper and Kevin Knowles combined for a tackle on third down, which forced a punt after NC State took a delay of game.

Leary carves up FSU’s defense to double early lead

The Seminoles picked up their first first down on their fifth drive, but quickly stalled as Milton fell a yard short of another first down on third-and-five. On the first play of the following drive, Leary connected with Trent Pennix for a 36-yard gain. On third-and-five, TE Christopher Toudle came wide open as he released late out of the backfield and Leary found him for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Leary found Toudle in the end-zone for his second TD pass of the afternoon. At that point (early in the second quarter), the Pack had more TD’s than FSU had first downs.

Offense shows life, quickly dies out

Florida State’s offense seemed to be showing life with their first drive of the second quarter, but that hope died out quickly. The Seminoles converted a fourth-and-one from their own 34 to keep the drive alive. On the next play, Milton connected with Jordan Wilson for a 35 yard gain as FSU moved across midfield for the first time. The next play resulted in a four-yard loss. Two plays later, Milton was sacked on third down to push FSU out of field goal territory.

The Seminoles went into half down 14-0. They had as many third down conversions as points, as they were 0-8 on third down. They averaged 0.8 yards per rush in the half. The Wolfpack out-gained the ‘Noles 224-78 as FSU punted six times in the half.

Onside kick grabs momentum out of the half

NC State was set to receive the kickoff to begin the second half, but Norvell had other plans. On his first kickoff of the day, Parker Grothaus tapped an onside kick directly in front of him and dove on top of it for FSU’s first onside kick recovery since 2009. Milton connected with Jashaun Corbin out of the backfield for a first down on the first play of the drive. On the next play, Keyshawn Helton hung onto a deep throw over the middle while getting crushed by a safety to put FSU in the red-zone. A quick pass to Treshaun Ward resulted in a third down conversion to set up first-and-goal.

On second-and-goal, Maurice Smith bounced a snap to Milton, but Milton picked up the rolling ball before running in circles for about six seconds. The QB then heaved a pass towards the corner of the end-zone. Helton was able to run under the ball and make the TD catch while dragging his toes in bounds to cut the deficit in half.

Defense hands the momentum right back

It didn’t take long for the Wolfpack to take away the Seminoles’ momentum. Grothaus’ second kickoff had a much different result, as he kicked the ball out of bounds to give NC State the ball at the 35. Leary connected with Ricky Person for a quick first down to move the Pack near midfield. On third-and-two, FSU’s defense broke down. Leary found Pennix wide open in the flat for a first down and he broke two weak tackle attempts to house it for a 45-yard TD.

Offense keeps game close with nine-play, 75-yard TD drive

Milton got the Seminoles right back in it as he completed three straight passes to begin the Seminoles’ following drive after a defensive pass interference. Back-to-back connections with Malik McClain pushed FSU into NC State territory. Corbin ran for 10 before Milton kept on a read to put FSU in the red-zone. Another Milton run brought up fourth-and-one from the three. Corbin got the direct snap in the wildcat and spun out of a tackle to find the end-zone. The TD cut the deficit back to seven.

Thomas takes over

After FSU’s TD, the teams each traded a pair of punts. NC State began the fourth quarter with the ball in their hands and a chance to extend the lead to two possessions. Keir Thomas wasn’t going to let that happen. Zonovan Knight moved the Wolfpack to midfield with an 18-yard run. Thomas took over after that. The South Carolina transfer sacked Leary on first down. After an incompletion, he sacked Leary again to force a punt. It was the first time in his FSU career that he’d compiled two sacks in one game.

Norvell’s gamble doesn’t pay off, poor tackling costs FSU again

NC State pinned FSU inside their five-yard line after the Thomas sacks. Milton got the Seminoles out of their end-zone with a 15-yard strike to Andrew Parchment on third-and-nine. A holding on the Pack gave FSU another first down. With over eight minutes remaining and own his own 43, Norvell decided to go for it on fourth-and-four. Pressure forced a quick incompletion as the ‘Noles turned it over on downs.

Back-to-back incompletions brought up third-and-10 for the Wolfpack. On third down, Leary swung a pass out to Person who had only Jones to beat. Jones whiffed on the tackle, allowing Person to tightrope the sideline and find his way into the end-zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

FSU notables

Milton: 22-44, 233 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Helton: 4 rec, 49 yards, TD

Parchment: 4 rec, 45 yards

Corbin: 14 rush, 33 yards, TD

Robinson: 10 tot tkl, INT

Gainer: 7 tkl, TFL

Thomas: 3 tot tkl, 2 sacks

Up next: Florida State will be back at home next week for a rivalry game against the Miami Hurricanes. FSU is 30-35 all-time against the Hurricanes. The Seminoles’ last win over Miami came in 2016. The game is scheduled for 3:30 PM and will be televised on ESPN.