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Florida State Seminoles

North Carolina: another challenge for FSU’s beleaguered defense

Michael Berg/Icon Sportswire

It has been a conga line of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks this season, and the Florida State University defense is poised to face another one on Saturday afternoon.

This time, it’s North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who has merely completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 1,306 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions for the Tar Heels (3-1).

For the Seminoles (3-1), it’s another prime challenge for a defense still operating without its best player, injured safety Derwin James. Even with a winning record, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher isn’t pleased.

Last weekend, following a 55-35 victory at the University of South Florida in which FSU thwarted the passing game of Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers but fell victim to his scrambling, Fisher was angry. Yes, even after a 20-point road win against a good opponent.

Why?

His defense couldn’t stop anything in the late going, after FSU had built a winning margin. Fisher said it should’ve been a rout. Instead, the Bulls hung around and nearly made it a game.

“I was not frustrated,’’ Fisher said. “Everybody keeps saying I was frustrated. I just gave you factual answers (after the game).

“What was the difference (in building a lead)? We did our job. What was the difference when they started scoring? We didn’t do our job.’’

FSU’s defensive task has been difficult, facing Chad Kelly and Ole Miss (the nation’s 44th-ranked offense, 457 yards per game), Lamar Jackson and Louisville (first-ranked offense, 682 yards per game), then Flowers and USF (21st-ranked offense, 501.5 yards per game).

Flashy offense has long been FSU’s trademark, featuring Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks such as Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston. Truthfully, though, FSU’s best teams were paced by terrific defenses.

The Winston-led national championship team of 2013 scored an NCAA record 723 points. Everybody remembers those highlights… but that season, the Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense (allowing just 12.1 points per game). In the 2012 season, the Seminoles led the nation in fewest yards allowed per game (3.86).

“You’ve got to stop that other team now,’’ Fisher said.

The Seminoles have struggled with that.

Now here come Trubisky and the Tar Heels.

It’s the nation’s 13th-best passing game (334-yard average) against FSU’s defense, which ranks 86th overall (allowing 413.5 yards per game).

Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook got back on track with a career-best 267-yard rushing game at USF, while redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois bounced back nicely after being swamped at Louisville.

Fisher doesn’t want to see another track meet, where the Seminoles must outscore North Carolina. He would be heartened by some defensive stops.

That’s not an easy task.

“Name me a team that doesn’t have trouble with dual-threat quarterbacks,’’ Fisher said.

“That’s part of it. That’s the way of the world and the way people do things and the best team in the country, Alabama, has trouble with them. Ohio State. Everybody has trouble with them.

Here’s the problem: It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what everybody else does. We have to get better at what we’re doing.’’

Against USF, the Seminoles’ defense was all over the map, surrendering two touchdown drives to open the game (including a first-play 84-yard touchdown pass) and some second-half breakdowns that led to Bulls’ points. In the middle were nine consecutive possessions where FSU had stops without giving up points.

This points the way to a better outing against North Carolina.

“There was an urgency to do it and do it right and a focus,’’ Fisher said. “I say this all the time and I joke but … kids do not focus at the level they used to focus at. Our world is a multi-tasking world.

“Part of being mature is understanding what your job is. We did it on nine straight series, then we just got a little bit lax. You can’t have those lapses.’’

FSU can win with such lapses, but not in a style that’s pleasing to Fisher.

So that’s the challenge facing FSU. Maybe the Seminoles can’t completely shut down the Tar Heels … but North Carolina must be at least slowed down.

Or else Fisher probably won’t be happy — even if it’s a victory.

North Carolina: another challenge for FSU’s beleaguered defense

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