Run defense 1 of few bright spots for Florida State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State has stumbled out the gate this season and the Seminoles have not looked very impressive.
Though there is one bright spot they can point to: their ability to defend the run.
The Seminoles are 11th in the FBS in rush defense, allowing just 97.5 yards per game. Florida State held Northern Illinois to six rushing yards on 20 carries in a 37-19 win on Saturday, the lowest total allowed by the Seminoles since they held Colorado to -27 yards in Sept. 2007.
“That’s something we’d like to do each and every week,” Florida State coach Willie Taggart said. “If we can make a team one-dimensional, it gives us an advantage. . That was really impressive by our defense.”
They have another opportunity for an impressive performance this week when square off against Louisville in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup. The Cardinals have one of the worst offenses in the conference.
NIU’s total was also the fewest yards given up by a Taggart-coached team. And Taggart just may see more performances like that as Florida State (2-2, 0-2 ACC) plays at Louisville (2-2, 0-1), which is one of the nation’s worst running teams. Louisville is 110th out of 130 FBS teams in rush offense, averaging just 121.3 yards per game.
Florida State lost eight defensive starters from 2017, a group that was also quite good against the run (135.6 yards per game). But after saying goodbye to first-round pick Derwin James as well as defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and defensive end Josh Sweat, there were concerns about how a Seminoles defense that was lacking in experience would perform this fall.
The Seminoles held Virginia Tech to 112 rushing yards and Samford to 50 rushing yards before Syracuse broke loose for 222 yards on 57 carries. Florida State trailed the Orange just 6-0 at the half before the time of possession disparity had an impact and Syracuse wore out Florida State. Syracuse held the ball for nearly 37 minutes as the defense struggled to catch its breath or halt drives — and Florida State’s offense couldn’t put together but a few in a 30-7 loss.
That trend reversed on Saturday as Florida State had 23 first downs and turned in its most efficient performance of the season. The Seminoles’ defense benefitted and was only on the field for 22 minutes, 21 seconds.
“Last time we were on the field for a good amount of time,” senior defensive tackle Fred Jones said. “But that’s no excuse for why we gave up touchdowns. If we get put on the field, we still have to make plays and stops.”
Florida State made stops on Saturday. NIU never was able to get anything going, rushing eight times for 11 yards in the first half. Even without senior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas, who missed the game due to injury, the Seminoles were able to produce a pair of fourth-down stops and force eight punts.
“We know we had to shut down the run if we wanted to win the game,” said defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who started in place of Christmas.
Florida State also played its best game of the season against NIU— on defense and offense. The performance provided the Seminoles with some much-needed confidence and momentum heading into Saturday’s game at Louisville.
“This so far is the best we’ve played this year,” Jones said. “But there’s room for improvement. Now we just have to keep building on this every week.”
Notes: Taggart said Monday that Christmas will play against the Cardinals. Right tackle Landon Dickerson (ankle) returned to practice after missing Florida State’s last three games and is “looking good.” But he said that another offensive lineman, Derrick Kelly, is “not close” to playing. Kelly, who has started at guard and tackle, watched Florida State’s win over NIU from the sideline but needed crutches to move around.