Florida State comes into the ACC Championship with one of the best defenses in the country. The Noles have a top-15 scoring defense and they are ranked in the top-15 in yards per play. After giving up 12 points to Florida in the first half last weekend, they essentially shut down their offense and only allowed 48 yards in the second half. Louisville hasn’t struggled to score this year but they have ebbs and flows throughout games and they have been shut out in a half multiple times this season.
As with all good defenses, the defensive line has to be good and FSU is very good up front. Jared Verse returned this year even though he was viewed as a high draft pick. Verse’s numbers have dipped a bit but as he showed against Florida, he can take over a game. Verse had 3 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks to go along with a forced fumble. UofL will have to have a plan because he is not their only pass rusher.
Jared Verse took over in the final minutes last night.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 26, 2023
Well-timed (and disrespectful) speed-to-power! pic.twitter.com/iqRzCCV9XI
Patrick Payton lines up on the other side of Verse and he actually leads the team in tackles for loss on the year. Payton is 6-5/239 and he is a very long athlete. I’ve been impressed with his motor this year but he has stepped up his production from an impact play standpoint as the year has gone on. He can get around the edge well but I think he also has a solid ability to rush inside and use his strength to fight off blockers.
The interior of the defensive line isn’t as talented as it has been in recent years but FSU has a very good player in Braden Fiske. The transfer from Western Michigan was coveted in the portal and he has shown why. He is a boulder in the middle and he is another player that has flashed an ability to make impact plays like sacks and tackles for loss. Fiske doesn’t make the plays that Joshua Farmer does next to him but he eats up blockers and makes it hard to run the ball. They make a good duo that will be another test for the Cards' interior line.
Linebacker is the strength of the defense after being a weakness for quite a while. The development of this group has been very noticeable and Kalen Deloach is probably the best example. The senior is set to have career highs in just about every statistic and he has become a player that consistently makes big plays when they’re needed. He and Tatum Bethune know this defense backwards and forwards and I think the most impressive part of their game is how they fill against the run. Bethune delivers a lot of big hits in running lanes. They may have too many moments where they miss their gaps but when they’re where they should be they are very good.
FSU leads the country in passes broken up and they’ve done so in a variety of ways. Payton has 9 PBUs which are batted passes at the line but the FSU starting corners have combined for 18 PBUs on their own. Renardo Green has been excellent this season with 10 PBUs and an interception. Fentrell Cypress was a top transfer addition and though he hasn’t had the impact many expected, he is still a very good corner who fits well in their aggressive scheme.
FSU has one glaring issue on defense and it’s big plays. Cypress has been beaten on some big passing plays though he has only given up one touchdown. FSU is one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to giving up big plays and a lot of it comes down to tackling. Kevin Knowles has been one of the worst on the defense but the FSU starters in the secondary have been about as good as you could ask for. Their depth is an area where UofL may be able to exploit some things.
Jarion Jones has been a star for the FSU secondary at his nickel spot. He leads the team in interceptions and he also has 5 TFLs, a sack, and a forced fumble on the year. Akeem Dent has also been very good at safety and the Noles use him as a bit of a weapon as he will do everything from covering the slot to blitzing off the edge and in the interior. This defense relies on veterans who have been in the system for a few years now. But what I’ve really noticed is that defensive coordinator Adam Fuller is being much more creative now that he has more talent and depth. Reminds me a bit of Bryan Brown last season. He’s letting loose a bit.