TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – During Florida State’s loss at North Carolina State last week, both Willie Taggart and defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett saw things from the Seminoles’ defense that they hadn’t seen all season.
And that they’d prefer not to see again any time soon.
For the first time all year, Taggart believes, FSU’s defenders got away from their fundamentals. And it showed in a 47-28 defeat.
More often than not, the Seminoles’ linebackers and defensive backs were in position to make a play. But whether because a bad angle, bad eye discipline or maybe even bad luck, those plays typically went the Wolfpack’s way.
Taking that next step – being in position to make a play, and then making it – is a top priority for the Seminoles leading up to Saturday’s visit to No. 3 Notre Dame.
“We have to play better ball on defense,” Taggart said. “The plays are there to be made. They need to make a play on the ball.”
The problem, Barnett believes, is one that plagues defenses across the country and at all levels.
As opposing offenses gain a little momentum, defenses begin to press and perhaps become over-eager to make something happen.
In their zeal, they can sometimes forgo their responsibilities on a given play. And that’s where the trouble starts.
“Everybody (needs to) do their job,” Barnett said. “All 11 execute, we win. We give ourselves a chance to win.
“All 11 need to execute, and we weren’t doing that on a consistent basis like we have been doing.”
Some of those troubles, both at NC State and the week before against Clemson, can be attributed to quality offenses.
The Tigers and Wolfpack each boast quarterback-receiver combos that are as productive and impressive as any in the ACC.
But some Seminoles believe that they also didn’t do themselves any favors with how they approached things, particularly during last week’s game in Raleigh.
“I think that was our mindset,” defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said. “Going into the game, we weren’t focused on what we needed to be focused on. Our eyes weren’t where they needed to be.”
While no one was in the mood to make excuses, there’s little doubt that the Seminoles could benefit from a break or two.
For one thing, like their counterparts on offense, FSU’s defense has been hit by injuries. Cornerback Levonta Taylor missed the NC State game with an ailment, while several others – including key contributors Dontavious Jackson and Fredrick Jones – have been playing through pain.
And there have been plays where the Seminoles have seemingly done everything right, only to look up and see a yellow flag on the field that makes it all for naught.
FSU was flagged three times for pass interference in Raleigh, include one sequence on back-to-back plays that led to a touchdown. The Seminoles also fell victim to a late-hit flag in which neither the defender nor ball-carrier seemed to realize the play was over, as well as a personal foul call that perhaps could have gone against either side.
Those things, of course, will happen over the course of a game and a season. But when a defensive back is flagged after playing with good technique, looking for the ball and appearing to have tight coverage, that can be hard to swallow.
“You tell me,” Barnett said, when asked what the Seminoles needed to differently in those instances. “They’re right on them. They’re looking back for the ball, trying to make a play. That’s what you tell them to do.”
“You’ve just got to keep playing, and play through them,” sophomore defensive back Stanford Samuels III said.
The Seminoles will work to clean up those things in practice this week, and they won’t have to wait long to see what kind of progress they’ll have made.
Notre Dame’s offense might not feature the same eye-popping statistics as that of Clemson or NC State, but the Fighting Irish are still plenty good at moving the ball.
Led by dynamic quarterback Ian Book (74.5 completion percentage), the Irish score more than 33 points per game and have three receivers with at least 32 catches. That would tie Syracuse for the most in the ACC, were the Irish a full conference member.
“They are very, very well coached,” Wilson said. “Especially up front on the offensive line. They do what they do real well. They come off the ball. The quarterback, he knows how to make plays and extend them very well. A real good challenge for us in the secondary, too, so we’ll have to come ready to play.”