Five Takes: defense fails when needed and season on life support

Gene Williams, Publisher
Warchant

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1. Defense fails when needed most

There was little doubt that Florida State was going to field an elite defense in 2017. Nine starters returned from a group that finished out 2016 on a high note. Throw in the fact that four players are projected by various mock drafts to become first-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, and all signs pointed to FSU having a defense that would roll through opposing offenses.

With a relatively young offense that needed time to develop, it was incumbent that the defense carry the team early. That became even more of a priority when true freshman James Blackman was thrust into the starting quarterback role after Deondre Francois went down with a season-ending injury. Charles Kelly’s group failed miserably in this important task in Saturday’s home opener.

The overall numbers weren’t awful, with N.C. State posting 365 total yards of offense, but nearly every time the defense was called upon to make a play or a stop, it came up short.

Don’t let N.C. State get early lead. With a rookie quarterback making his first start, the last thing FSU could afford was to let the Wolfpack jump out to a quick lead and put pressure on the offense. Sure enough, N.C. State marched the ball down the field, scoring on its first two possessions, racking up 134 yards of offense and seven first downs. Before you knew it, FSU was exactly where it didn’t want to be, down 10-0.

Force punts on thirds-and-long situations. Dave Doeren’s trademark on offense is to churn out long, time-consuming drives that wear down defenses and keep opposing offenses off the field. With two weeks to prepare, FSU clearly knew this was what the Wolfpack hoped to accomplish on offense. Quarterback Ryan Finley runs this system extremely well, distributing the ball to his various skill players on short pass plays. The best way to limit the effectiveness of this offensive scheme is to get stops on third-and-long situations. Florida State’s defense again fell short when presented with these opportunities. Five times during the course of Saturday’s game, the Wolfpack offense converted a third-and-6 or longer. Those failures allowed N.C. State to continue drives that resulted in 13 points. The final dagger happened with just over a minute left in the game, when running back Nyheim Hines ran for 15 yards on third-and-7. Had FSU’s defense come up with a stop, it would have at least given the offense some chance to mount a potential game-winning drive. Instead, N.C. State was able to run the clock out and leave Tallahassee with a six-point victory.

Don’t give up an easy score.

Get all FIVE TAKES on Warchant's Tribal Council

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Melina Vastola - USA Today Sports Images

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