After Saturday’s win in Raleigh against NC State, it’s clear Florida State is not as dominant of a squad as coach Jimbo Fisher’s national championship winning team from 2013. However, in a season that’s lacking a clear No. 1 team, the Seminoles are still very much in the mix to factor into college football’s new four-team playoff.
And this is a team poised to improve as the season progresses, especially on defense where Florida State needed the most help on Saturday against NC State.
After a slow start against the Wolfpack, the Seminoles’ defense stepped up when it mattered.
After allowing 24 points in the first quarter, Florida State held NC State scoreless in the second quarter and limited the Wolfpack to just three points in the final period.
First-year coordinator Charles Kelly dialed up the right adjustments after the first quarter, holding the Wolfpack to three consecutive punts before the end of the first half. After NC State converted 5 of 9 third-down attempts in the first two quarters, the Wolfpack went just 2 of 7 over the final two periods.
NC State averaged 6.9 yards per play during the first half, but Florida State held Jacoby Brissett and the red-hot Wolfpack offense to just 4.4 yards per touch in the second half.
In addition to tightening the defensive scheme, the Seminoles forced three second-half turnovers, resulting in 14 points for the offense.
The defense certainly didn’t play its best game for Florida State, but in a matchup that was decided by a 15-point margin of victory, the Seminoles got two key turnovers that resulted in 14 points. Not bad.
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Some of Florida State’s defensive struggles have to be shared by the offense, as the Seminoles committed four turnovers and gave NC State a short field on drives that resulted in 13 points.
While winning a national championship has raised the expectation level for Fisher and this team in 2014, it’s important to consider this defense did not have a senior starter in Saturday’s win. And standout defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. did not play due to a concussion.
Sure, depth at defensive tackle and tackling are concerns, but Florida State picked up key performance from freshman defensive lineman Lorenzo Featherston (1.5 TFL, 1 FF), freshman linebacker Jacob Pugh (three tackles, 1 FR) and sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey (two forced fumbles).
Clearly, the youth and depth in certain positions are two issues to watch as the season progresses, but the talent is there to improve over the course of 2014. And with an explosive offense, Florida State’s defense doesn’t necessarily have to be a shutdown unit – at least right now.
Fisher’s team has delivered in the clutch in its three games against Power 5 opponents, starting with a defensive stand against Oklahoma State, a win without Jameis Winston versus Clemson and rallying from a 24-7 deficit against NC State.
The final numbers on defense won’t be pretty, but the second half performance against the Wolfpack is something Fisher and Kelly can build on over the next few weeks.