It’s all about the defense. This was our Florida State assessment heading into the season.
If the offense can do just enough the defense—and a manageable schedule—will carry this team through the ACC and beyond. Looking up and down the roster for a team absolutely loaded on the defensive line, it’s easy to see why they had that approach.
Florida State outscored opponents in their first three games 176-3. While the numbers are jaw-dropping, Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest don’t exactly provide a solid measuring stick.
We knew they were good, especially on one side of the ball, but we didn’t know where the ceiling was.
After their dominating (and we’ll get to that term in a minute) win against Clemson, we still don’t know where the ceiling is. This is a good thing. We do know, however, know that this team has a much different makeup than we originally planned. That’s scary, especially if you have the Seminoles on the schedule in 2012.
It wasn’t a dominating performance out of the gate, and the scoreboard might not tell the whole story. Clemson’s approach in this game was brilliant. Their play-calling was aggressive, they had success on some massive plays early, and they went to the trickery as often as possible.
Double-passes, fake field goals and creative formations were featured frequently in the first half, and the vaunted FSU defense was on their heels. In fact, up until the fourth quarter, the defense was not to be found.
With the Florida State team we thought we had, that would have been the case. More than 667 offensive yards later, however, we learned a lot about this team—it’s not all about the defense.
E.J. Manuel was tremendous, and although a few throws got away from him early, he settled down and looked very calm throughout. He finished the game with 380 yards passing, 102 yards rushing and was the rock when they needed him most. It wasn’t just him, though.
Chris Thompson and James Wilder Jr. are proving to be a fantastic combination at running back, and Thompson put a move on Clemson defenders that made our kneecaps comfortably seated in our recliners shiver.
They have different styles, but both are capable of beating teams in a variety of ways. Thompson also caught eight passes for 79 yards and was the team’s leading receiver.
With the defense nowhere to be found, the offense came up with the plays to completely flip the game. This wasn’t the dominating defensive shutdown that we expected, but a shootout that FSU was on the right side of. With that, we suddenly have to look at Florida State much, much differently going forward.
Although the Clemson defense certainly isn’t the toughest group, they are a formidable bunch. This wasn’t Wake Forest, this certainly isn’t Alabama, but this was a significant hurdle for Florida State that they cleared.
It didn’t go as expected, but perhaps that’s what was so impressive.
There are very few teams that have established talent on both sides of the ball. Alabama certainly is the name we begin with, although after that the picture is murky.
LSU struggled mightily with Auburn in Week 4 and Oregon still is a bit of a mystery. The Ducks defense is certainly better than advertised, but not on this level. Nowhere close. There are others certainly capable of entering this discussion, but none more deserving than Florida State.
On Saturday they proved they could win off of protocol. And now, the larger picture is a bit clearer.
Florida State’s toughest games are at South Florida, at NC State, at Miami, at Virginia Tech and a finale with the Gators. They will likely be a double-digit favorite in each of these games (or at least close) and an undefeated season suddenly seems like a very realistic possibility.
The defense will play better, and none of these opponents have the offensive firepower and creativity that Clemson exhibited. The Seminoles took the Tigers’ best punch, wobbled a little and overpowered them as the game progressed. Clemson just ran out of steam, and Florida State showcased that they are a national heavyweight to be heard from.
The game did not go as planned, and the Florida State defense showcased that they are very much mortal. For most, this would be a giant red flag. Not this team, though.
The found an offense, and the defense will be just fine. The road ahead is favorable to say the least, and perhaps this is the year Florida State finally matches the incredible expectations.
At this rate, they’ll likely soar past it.