WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Like the rest of his teammates, Emmett Rice wasn’t much in the mood to talk about individual performances in the wake of Florida State’s 22-20 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday night.
Same as his offensive counterpart, Cam Akers (199 total yards, two touchdowns), Rice did all he could to boost the Seminoles’ efforts: A career-high 14 tackles, nine solo stops and a tackle for loss in one of FSU’s better defensive performances this season.
Lined up across from the most prolific offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Rice and his cohorts on the Seminoles’ defense limited Wake Forest to 424 yards and a season-low 22 points. That’s 116 yards and 17.7 points beneath the Deacons’ season averages.
“That is something we can build on as a defense,” Rice said.
Indeed, as the outer edges of Tropical Storm Nestor rolled toward Winston-Salem, and as conditions inside BB&T Field slowly deteriorated, Rice racked up tackle after tackle.
The redshirt junior wasn’t keeping count, but by the time the game had finished, Rice had topped his previous career best by nine tackles.
“I didn’t know,” he said. “I was just trying to run to the ball and make as many as I could.”
He didn’t just pad his numbers in meaningless moments, either.
Rice’s stops midway through the game helped the Seminoles’ defense force five consecutive punts after falling behind 12-7 in the early goings.
And, along with freshman Akeem Dent, Rice made the tackle that held Wake to a go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter and kept FSU within striking distance for the remainder of the evening.
“We just told each other we’ve got to stand tall, and we’ve got to come away with a victory,” Rice said. “That’s all we said.”
They didn’t, but Florida State head coach Willie Taggart said that fact didn’t reflect poorly on his defense.
Playing without starting safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen, the Seminoles were susceptible to big plays in the passing game, but they also took the teeth out of Wake Forest’s potent rushing attack.
The Demon Deacons came into the game averaging 209.5 yards per game, but managed only 116 rushing yards against FSU.
“All we did, we just harped on staying in our gaps and building a wall,” Rice said.
That’s exactly what Rice and his teammates did with their backs pushing up against their goal line.
Thanks to those deep strikes in the passing game, Wake Forest reached FSU’s 9-yard line or closer on six separate occasions.
The Seminoles held the Deacons to field goals on five of those six trips. Had just one of those trips gone differently, and ended in another Wake Forest touchdown, Florida State might not even have had its late opportunity to come back and win.
Instead, the Seminoles gave themselves a chance.
“We just told each other just because they get down here doesn’t mean they have to score,” Rice said. “So stand tall. Take three.”
Rice admitted Saturday night that he still has plenty on which to improve, and felt that he could have had even more tackles had he not missed on a few that came his way.
But even still, Rice is grateful to be on the field and contributing after a series of injuries conspired to sidetrack his career over the last few seasons.
After missing all but four games a year ago, Rice now has 30 tackles (just one shy of his total from the previous three seasons combined), 2.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. And he’s appeared in FSU’s starting lineup in three of the last five games.
“I still make a lot of mistakes and miss a lot of tackles,” Rice said, “but it is probably the highest point (of my career) because of all the injuries I had throughout the years.”
And Rice hopes to go even higher, starting with next week’s Homecoming contest against Syracuse (3:30 p.m., ESPN2).
“We have to come back to work. That’s it,” Rice said. “What you didn’t do this week – that you can do next week to ensure a victory – that’s all we’ve got to do.”