No. 17 Florida State secondary looks to contain Syracuse QB
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State’s secondary was considered to be the strength of the defense coming into the season. This month, the banged-up unit has been a glaring weakness.
Going into Saturday’s game against Syracuse, the 17th-ranked Seminoles have allowed an average of 248 passing yards in four games in October, which is worst in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Now comes a matchup Saturday with the ACC’s most efficient passer. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey’s 159.8 passer efficiency rating leads the conference and is ninth nationally.
”He can run the ball, he can throw it, makes all the plays,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. ”I think he likes contact and feeds off of it.”
Florida State (6-1, 4-1) did well against the pass early in the season but the past three weeks has seen the unit tested due to injuries.
Miami’s Brad Kaaya threw for 405 yards on Oct. 10, which is the second-highest passing yardage total in the ACC this season. The following week Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who came in completing only 53.6 percent of his passes, had his first 300-yard game (307).
Last week, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas completed just four passes but one was for 36 yards to Brad Stewart during the fourth quarter on a drive that set up a tying field goal. The Yellow Jackets, who don’t pass much due to their triple option offense, eventually won 22-16 on a blocked field goal to deal the Seminoles their first regular-season loss since 2012.
The injuries have just continued to mount for the Seminoles’ secondary.
-Safety Nate Andrews suffered a knee injury against Wake Forest on Oct. 3. He has played the past three games but has been limited.
-Nickel cornerback Trey Marshall suffered a bicep injury against Louisville that has him out for the remainder of the regular season.
-Tyler Hunter struggled against Louisville and did not play last week against Georgia Tech due to a concussion. That has left Fisher to rely on walk-on senior Javien Elliott and freshman Tarvarus McFadden more than anticipated. Fisher said after Thursday’s practice that he expects Hunter to be available on Saturday.
One bright spot in the secondary has been the play of corners Jalen Ramsey and Marquez White, who have continued to make plays. But opponents have been feeding off mismatches in nickel coverages and attacking whoever has been tasked with defending the slot receiver.
Fisher said the biggest thing with the younger players is learning not to play hesitant.
”You can’t sit and worry about every little thing. You have got to play fast, you have to play free and you have to react to things,” Fisher said. ”Everything’s not perfect but the adjustments and tackling in space are coming. All freshmen are going to make a few mistakes here and there.”
Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) runs a spread option to take advantage of Dungey’s running abilities but its receivers have started to develop. Sophomore Steve Ishmael has 11 catches the past two games and has a touchdown the last three weeks. Junior Brisly Estime is averaging 17.8 yards per catch.
”Their corners are going to cause some issues,” Syracuse offensive coordinator Tim Lester said. ”They’re not all over the field but you have to be timely with your calls and just try to put them on their heels a little bit. But you have to earn it.”
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.