Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole story, especially seven weeks into the season.
Florida State, statistically, looks like a team that is struggling to get stops. The 13th-ranked Seminoles, who will host No. 3 Clemson on Saturday (8 p.m.), rank 55th in the country in total defense (388.6), 60th against the run (155.1) and 75th against the pass (233.4), not exactly numbers that can give anyone confidence.
But are those numbers really who they are? Or are they more of what they have showed in wins over Miami and Wake Forest? In the last two games, FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelley simplified his approach, playing more of a base defense and letting his talented defensive front take care of the rest. The result, the Seminoles held Miami to 276 total yards, including just 62 on the ground, while holding Wake to 252 total yards and just 68 rushing yards.
After having an off-week, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott expects to see an even better Florida State’s defense as the Tigers prepare to head down to Tallahassee, Florida.
“It is hard to tell. Early in the season they were a heavy pressure team. They did some different things and exotic things on third down,” Elliott said. “Now you see them kind of playing a lot of base in different situations. They have an off week. They have time to prepare. They have an opportunity to get their guys healthy as well and get back some more depth in the secondary so we are preparing for both aspects.”
It’s hard to imagine Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) having many concerns about the Seminoles’ defense after they got lit up by Louisville, South Florida and North Carolina in consecutive weeks.
Florida State (5-2, 2-2 ACC) allowed Louisville to run for 314 yards and South Florida for 290, while North Carolina torched the ‘Noles for 405 passing yards. Ole Miss even opened the season with 313 yards through the air.
The Seminoles just did not look like the Seminoles on defense. It also has not helped they’ve lost two of their best and most experienced players at the safety positions. All-American Derwin James is out indefinitely with a left knee injury (torn meniscus) and isn’t likely to play against Clemson on Saturday, while safety Nate Andrews is out for the season after tearing his right pectoral muscle.
However, the Seminoles have moved on without those two and are using a stout defensive front led by defensive end DeMarcus Walker to mask their depth and inexperience on the back end. Walker leads the team with 8.5 sacks and has nine tackles for loss overall. FSU has 24 as a team, which ranks 11th in the country.
“You have to prepare for any pressure situation because one of the things we pride ourselves on is not letting the quarterback get hit so they are going to try and find ways to get to Deshaun (Watson) so they have to generate pressure,” Elliott said. “They can do that good enough up front where they don’t have to blitz and can play coverage, but they are also talented enough they can bring guys from different spots in the secondary. They can bring guys from the backer level and can change structure so they can do a lot of things. We are preparing for both to pick up the pressure, but to also be able to manufacture drives going down the field.”
Elliott says the Seminoles are the most athletic defense Clemson has seen at all three levels. Walker can play any position on the defensive line and, like Clemson does with Christian Wilkins, they will sometimes line him up inside or outside where he has had success as both. Then they also have Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi inside and Josh Sweat playing the bandit end position.
Then of course there are linebackers Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Matthew Thomas, two of the more athletic backers the Tigers have seen.
“If you look at their linebackers, I don’t think we have seen two linebackers with the length and athleticism that they have at linebacker,” Elliott said. “Then their defense ends our two of the best in the country. Sweat off the edge is very, very quick and (Walker), he can play multiple positions and then those two big guys inside are probably the two best interior linemen we have seen to date.
“Then they have a ton of skill guys that they keep rolling, (Kyle Meyers), (Levonta Taylor), (Marcus Lewis), (Trey Marshall) and (Tarvarus McFadden). I mean they have guys on that back end that are athletic and they all look about the same.”
And finally, FSU is starting to look like the same defense that is expected from Florida State every year.
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