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Florida State’s offense still Dalvin-Cookin’, but defense has been inconsistent

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The Noles are coming off a tough loss to Clemson.

Clemson v Florida State Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Florida State is a little bit difficult to figure at first glance. I mean, just from a superficial level, this is a team that is a modest 5-3 overall and only 2-3 in the ACC. The Atlantic, she is a harsh mistress indeed. One year you are steamrolling everybody, another year you’re getting beat up a little bit, despite still having quite a bit of talent.

And that’s the thing about Jimbo Fisher’s FSU teams—there’s rarely any doubting the talent on hand. The Seminoles have been blown out by Louisville this season, but they also have good wins over Ole Miss and South Florida, and their losses to UNC and Clemson were by a combined five points. They are a few breaks from still being right in the division title conversation. Instead they find themselves eliminated from contention.

Florida State S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Offense 21 6.5 (20) 5.2 (17) 7.9 (34)
2016 Offense 5 6.4 (25) 4.9 (37) 8.2 (25)

Despite transitioning to a true freshman quarterback in 2016, Florida State’s passing game has been no worse for wear, though that’s probably not terribly surprising for anyone who watched Everett Golson and Sean Maguire handle the Noles’ offense last season.

Given his talent, Deondre Francois seemed perfectly capable of being at least as good as Golson/Maguire, and he’s certainly done that, relegating Maguire to a backup role in the process.

Francois has perhaps eluded more attention because, for one thing, the ACC is loaded with star power at the quarterback position. For another, Francois has only 11 touchdown passes in eight games. But he’s been steady, completing over 60% of his passes while averaging a very impressive 8.4 yards per attempt. He’s also thrown only four interceptions in 256 attempts.

With Francois in the backfield is, of course, running back Dalvin Cook, a ridiculous terror of an athlete who seems like 10 times faster than any human should conceivably be while wearing football pads. Cook may not have wowed folks quite as often this season, but he’s already over 1,000 yards and averages six yards per carry. It’s just really tough to follow up the kind of year he had in 2015.

After a quiet start to the season, Cook has gone for at least 100 yards rushing in each of FSU’s last five games, and he has nine rushing touchdowns in that span. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry against Clemson.

Florida State S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Defense 10 4.7 (10) 3.8 (36) 5.6 (4)
2016 Defense 43 6.2 (101) 4.3 (68) 8.4 (113)

While FSU’s offense held steady—or got better, as the advanced metrics see it—defense has been a problem for the Seminoles. There’s not a ton to like about the Seminoles’ performance on this side of the ball, no matter what you’re looking at. (Although this is definitely not the No. 101 defense in the country, as its per-play output suggests.)

The Noles have been exposed to a lot of good quarterbacks, and they’ve had their share of injury problems this season. Star safety Derwin James hurt his knee in Week 2 and has not played since. James had 91 tackles last season.

To some degree FSU has been injured in the wrong places at the wrong times, but the Seminoles once again lost a lot of production to graduation and/or the draft, and not everybody’s capable of whatever voodoo shit Dabo Swinney has going on right now.

None of this is going to matter if NC State’s can’t figure out how to get out of whatever slump it’s in right now. The Pack scored 17 or fewer in its last three games, and just as it was true in those contests, I promise you that sort of anemic output isn’t going to be enough to win this game, either.