TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It might have gotten lost in the final score, but tucked away in Florida State’s 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech was a solid performance from coordinator Harlon Barnett’s new-look defense.
Maybe even an encouraging performance.
It didn’t necessarily look that way from the start. Not after watching Virginia Tech march on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive on the game’s opening drive.
From there, though, the Seminoles were surprisingly stout.
The Hokies’ next nine possessions (not including a special-teams turnover) amounted to just 130 yards 2.9 yards per play and three points.
And that includes three straight third-quarter drives that started in FSU territory, one of which ended with a fourth-down stop on the goal line.
With Barnett’s group holding up its end of the bargain, the Seminoles were able to stay within striking distance well into the fourth quarter, despite an offense that struggled to find its footing for much of the evening.
Even better, Barnett believes that his group still has plenty of room to improve.
“I just told them (they were) ‘average to good,’” Barnett said Wednesday morning. “We can be much better. There are some things we want to be able to do better.”
Tops on Barnett’s list of priorities are forcing more turnovers and applying more pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
The Seminoles didn’t have any interceptions or fumble recoveries on Monday, and although they sacked quarterback Josh Jackson three times, they weren’t in Jackson’s face as much as Barnett might have liked.
The former can be remedied, Barnett believes, by doing a better job of swarming to the ball.
Case in point, the Hokies officially fumbled four times – although one was a snap over the quarterback’s head and another a muffed punt – but the Seminoles couldn’t get their hands on any of them.
Consider that all but one of those fumbles occurred when FSU trailed by just two scores, and it’s at least worth thinking about what might have been had one of those balls bounced the other way.
“When the ball is popping out like that, hey, run to the ball,” Barnett said. “That’s even more proof, guys. Get to the ball. We can get those turnovers. We need to get them.”
There are positive signs for the pass rush, too.
Perhaps most importantly, junior defensive end Brian Burns did his part with half the sack total and six total tackles. (It took Burns nine games to reach 1.5 sacks a year ago.)
FSU got contributions from some new faces, too. Freshman Jaiden Woodbey, starting at the “star” linebacker spot, made nine tackles, forced a fumble, had 1.5 tackles for loss and showed the makings of an effective blitzer.
Up front, the Seminoles got positive contributions from Janarius Robinson (two tackles) and Cory Durden (two tackles, 1.5 TFLs), each of whom logged the first major action of their careers.
“(Robinson) played extremely well,” he said. “The old adage, ‘You practice like you play,’ and that’s how he’s been practicing.”
Barnett is also pleased that sophomore defensive tackle Marvin Wilson performed well in a limited role and showed no ill effects from the knee injury he suffered during the spring.
Wilson made two tackles against the Hokies, and Barnett said he expects Wilson’s workload to increase on Saturday.
“Coach Odell (Haggins) said, ‘I should have played (Wilson) more,’” Barnett said. “But I think he was a little concerned, first time back, he didn’t want to give him too much. He looked good. No setbacks, anything like that.”
While Barnett wishes that his defense had started better, he also noted that it was mostly the result of a few too many butterflies.
Once things settled down – and seemingly everyone who has spoken about the defense, including Barnett, Willie Taggart and players has said that the defense either “settled down” or “settled in” – there was a lot to like.
And besides, if FSU’s defense can make the same type of jump from Game 1 to Game 2 as it did from its first drive to its second, then the Seminoles might be in pretty good shape moving forward.
“We need some improvement, but like they always say, the biggest improvement is from Game 1 to Game 2,” Barnett said. “So we’re looking forward to that this Saturday.”