Florida State defense has struggled against up-tempo teams
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has been happy with his defense's progress over the past month, but a true indication of how much improvement the unit has made could come Saturday at Syracuse.
The 17th-ranked Seminoles (7-3, 4-3 ACC) have struggled against teams that run up-tempo offenses. The Orange (4-6, 1-5) come until the game averaging 79.3 offensive plays per game under first-year coach Dino Babers, which is an average of 16 more plays per game than last year. They also average one snap every 21.4 seconds on offense.
FSU has already faced three teams - Ole Miss (16.3 seconds). South Florida (21.1 seconds) and North Carolina (21.5 seconds) - that averaged a snap in under 22 seconds. The Seminoles are 2-1 in those games but fell behind in all three. Miami also went up tempo at times as it built a double-digit lead only to see FSU rally to win in the fourth quarter. In all four games, communication problems and missed assignments were common.
Even with quarterback Eric Dungey out in last week's loss to North Carolina State, the Orange still averaged one snap every 21.2 seconds. Dungey (shoulder/head) is doubtful for Saturday's game which means Zach Mahoney could get the start again.
''They still threw it for a bunch of yards and moved it up and down the field. They're still going to do what they do,'' Fisher said. ''They've got skilled receivers and backs and big guys. They do a good job.''
Linebacker Matthew Thomas, who is second on the team in tackles with 50, said that getting the call in from the sideline quickly to line up will be a big key this week. Starting with the Oct. 1 game against North Carolina, the Seminoles have used play cards on the sideline when facing up-tempo teams.
Thomas added that ''everybody has to be on the same page and communicate...so we don't give up any busted plays, stuff like that.''
With the defensive line mostly healthy, Florida State is hoping to generate consistent pressure. It comes into the game second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in sacks with 33 while Syracuse has allowed the fourth most in the conference (27).
Besides tempo, the challenge for the Seminoles' secondary will be containing chunk plays. They have allowed 42 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which is tied for fifth most among Power 5 teams.
They also can't focus in on just one receiver. The Orange are one of six Football Bowl Subdivision teams to have three receivers with 40 catches or more.
Senior Amba Etta-Tawo is fourth nationally in receiving yards per game (124.6) and junior Ervin Phillips has two games of 10 receptions or more. Junior Steve Ishmael did not play last week due to injury but could return this week.
Syracuse has 40 pass plays of 20 yards or more with Etta-Tawo accounting for 19.
''They like to get the ball out quick and take shots when they can. They do a good job of playing with their personnel,'' cornerback Marquez White said.
White is likely to be matched up against Etta-Tawo, who he compared to North Carolina's Bug Howard because he is more of a possession receiver.
''I think the main thing for us this week is to take away that space,'' he said. ''You see a lot of teams like to play him off and give him soft throws. That's not what I plan on doing this week.''
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