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What went right, wrong on defense for FSU vs. Clemson

The Noles continue to struggle against the run

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

The Florida State Seminoles welcomed the No.4 Clemson Tigers to Tallahassee this weekend for a primetime matchup on ABC. After back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and NC State in the past two weeks, the Noles needed a spark to get back on track of their winning regime. The mid-October conference game was vital for Florida State, but the Tigers were a complete team that didn’t have many weaknesses.

Clemson defeated the Seminoles 34-28 after obliterating them in their offensive rush attack and overwhelming the Noles in pass defense. The Tigers were simply the more talented team in this matchup; they didn’t play too much of an exciting game, but they got the job done. The Seminoles now move to 4-3 on the season after suffering three straight losses, all of which were against ranked opponents.

First half

Quarterback Jordan Travis and the offense started the game roaring through the Tigers defense, gaining a 7-0 lead on the opening drive. On Clemson’s first offensive attempt, the Noles forced a punt with exceptional tackling. They seemed to be prepared for the Tigers pass offense, reading the quarterback very well throughout the drive.

Florida State had a short field to work with on the offensive end, but Clemson’s d-line forced them to the sideline and the Noles defense was back on the field midway through the first quarter. After a couple runs from Clemson running back Will Shipley, the Tigers aired it out for a 59-yard touchdown. FSU seemed to playing too conservative at this point, making a big gain inevitable. Defensive back Kevin Knowles was inches away from causing a sack, but the rush didn’t turn in the Noles favor.

FSU’s offense was able to punch in a touchdown at the 1-yard line to put them up 14-7. The pressure lied on Clemson’s shoulders down one touchdown on the road. The Noles defense was able to force Clemson into an uncomfortable third down attempt, but they converted with a 19-yard reception. It seemed like Seminoles were doing just enough to slow down the Tigers offensive attack, but when it came down to forcing them out of the game on third or fourth down there were early struggles.

Clemson continued to ride down the field after securing a first down with 11 minutes left in the second quarter. They scored a touchdown of their own after the Noles left a receiver wide open in the sideline. The game was tied at 14 with 8:19 remaining. Florida State didn’t have answer for Shipley and Clemson’s run game, where the Tigers marched into Seminole territory. FSU was constantly put in scenarios of defending third and one, which is obviously a difficult task with Shipley and a quarterback with run-play ability.

They were successful on early downs, but Clemson kept killing the Noles demeanor with profitable gains on the ground. With two minutes remaining in the game the Noles were finally victorious on a third and seven attempt by the Tigers and forced the field-goal unit on the field. The defense didn’t rest much after Travis strip-sacked, earning Clemson a short field of play.

The Tigers first play with less than a minute left in the half was a run by Shipley where he bursted for a 36-yard gain. Clemson had more than enough timeouts to make sure they’re in the best position to score, but putting seven points on the board didn’t take too long. Shipley had an incredible first-half to help Clemson head into halftime up 24-14.

Second half

Clemson started the second half with the ball on the 31-yard line after a 69-yard kickoff return from Shipley. The Noles were quickly digging themselves into a whole that was too deep to get out of. The Tigers had one pass play on the drive and plugged in a touchdown to extend the lead to 31-14. What might’ve been a determined Florida State team that was ready to get physical with Clemson’s offense, didn’t have the chance stop the Tigers full attack.

The return by Shipley seemed to take out so much energy from the team and the fans, putting the Noles in a desperate situation. FSU’s defense got their chance to redeem themselves soon after Clemson’s scoring drive, since the Noles offense was held down by a bull rush from the Tigers defensive line. Florida State decided to fake the punt, which was unsuccessful, so Clemson’s offense had a very short field to work with.

As if a 31-14 deficit wasn’t enough for the Seminoles to climb back from, they were left dealing with two of their biggest weaknesses: third down defense and run defense. A near miracle occurred when Clemson’s quarterback kept the ball on third and 13 and the Noles finally forced them back to the sideline. They didn’t leave empty, earning a field goal to add another three points. FSU was down 34-14 with 7:32 left in the third quarter.

The Noles were able to keep Clemson inside a short gain to give their offense another opportunity to make it a competitive game. FSU’s offense had a long lasting drive to cut the deficit, but they unable to convert with just two yards left between them and the end zone. There wasn’t much to explain other Florida State having trouble against Clemson’s run attack.

They gave up way too many third down plays, in which the Tigers took advantage to focus on short field gains to propel them in the end zone. Clemson didn’t seem to force anything against the Noles, they were poised in all aspects and looked calm throughout the entire game. Despite a fight from the Noles offense late in the game, the deficit was too much to come back from.

Standout players from FSU vs. Clemson

Defensive end Derrick McLendon

McLendon has been such an underrated contributor for the Noles during the 2022 season. He quietly recorded one sack, one tackle for loss and seven total tackles. Nothing has gone in the way of McLendon being efficient and constantly being ready when his name is called.

Linebacker Tatum Bethune

Bethune’s past few weeks have been extremely understated, since the Noles haven’t been able to add to the win column. He’s played lights out every week and he’s continuing to get more comfortable in the Noles system, serving as a rock for Florida State’s defense. Bethune ended the game with one pass breakup and three tackles.

Safety Jammie Robinson

Just like Bethune, safety Jammie Robinson can be described as a glue to the Noles defense. He not always in the splashy plays that end up on SportsCenter, but he’s extremely consistent. Robinson has done a great job at keeping the receivers and offensive weapons in front of him, although they played their worst game in that category. He notched eight total tackles on the night.