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First Impressions: Short-field success, Travis’ legs key FSU win

FSU needed to do a lot of things right against Syracuse to get its first win of the 2021 season today. However, the four biggest keys we were paying attention to coming into the game were average starting field possession/short-field opportunities, FSU finding success in the running game, containing Syracuse running back Sean Tucker and limiting the amount of big plays the Orange were able to produce on offense. All of four of these areas played were key components in FSU’s thrilling 33-30 win, securing its first win of the season to moved to 1-4 with a road game at North Carolina up next.

Field Position-Short Field Opportunities

The FSU offense has struggled to find consistency in sustaining drives coming into the Syracuse game. Statistically speaking the Syracuse defense, ranked 10th in the nation in total defense coming into the game, had been stingy in giving up yardage. FSU took a 16-13 lead into the locker room at halftime in part because it did just that. The Seminoles’ first touchdown of the game came on a drive that started at midfield. It was the only short-field opportunity of the half and the five-play, 50-yard drive gave FSU a 9-0 lead against the Orange with 7:40 left in the second quarter.

FSU’s second drive of the second half started on the Syracuse 44-yard line after an 11-yard punt by the Orange and the Seminoles ahead 16-13. The Seminoles took advantage of that opportunity with a little good fortune mixed in. The Seminoles scored on 3-yard run by wide receiver Andrew Parchment, who picked up a bobbled lateral by Ontaria Wilson at the 8-yard line to make it 23-12 with 8:48 to go in the third quarter.

Conversely, the defense needed to negate Syracuse’s short-field chances. They did just that on the Orange’s first short-field situation when FSU held Syracuse out of the end zone on a fourth-and-1 at the goal line to keep FSU ahead 23-13. The Orange drive started at the FSU 34-yard line after the Seminoles fumbled a punt. Syracuse’s next drive started at the FSU 49-yard line and resulted in a touchdown four plays later to close the gap and leave FSU with a 23-20 lead with nine seconds to go in the third quarter.

With FSU leading 30-27, Syracuse corner Duce Chestnut picked off a Jordan Travis pass behind the line of scrimmage and took over possession of the ball at the Seminoles’ 41-yard line. FSU’s defense was able to keep the Orange out of the end zone but Syracuse was able to tie the game at 30-30 with 5:17 left in the game.

At the end of the day FSU scored touchdowns (13 points) on both of its short-field possessions while Syracuse was only able to produce 10 points on its three short-field opportunities. There were a lot of key plays in such a tightly contested game but none were bigger than FSU’s stop on fourth-and-1 after Syracuse took over on the FSU 34-yard line. It was ultimately the play of the game. And the three-point scoring difference on those short-field possessions was ultimately the difference in the ballgame.

Run the Ball

FSU needed to run the ball successfully because, quite simply, it is what it does well on offense. And it found success in the running game in some traditional and non-traditional ways to the tune of 247 yards. But that number doesn’t tell all the story. In the first half FSU was credited with just 47 yards rushing on the ground but used the passing game as an extension of its running game. Travis was 17 of 21 passing for 107 yards in the first half but a large percentage of the passes were glorified runs. More than a few of the passes were thrown at or near the line of scrimmage, while others were swing passes or passes into the flat that basically functioned as sweep plays.

In the second half FSU ran 200 yards on 21 attempts, some designed and others on the playmaking ability of Travis when pass protection broke down. And Travis saved his best for last, running for 58 yards on FSU’s game-winning seven-play, 63-yard drive to set up the field goal to win the game. Travis accounted for 113 of those yards on 19 carries, while running backs Treshaun Ward and Jashaun Corbin combined for 131 yards on 16 attempts.

Stop 34

Shutting down Syracuse running back Sean Tucker was the biggest key to FSU’s success on defense. He came into the game as college football’s second-leading rusher and his team’s leader in receiving yardage. Mission accomplished. In the first half Tucker rushed for just 32 yards on 11 carries and was held without a catch as the Seminoles shut down the Orange screen game. Tucker finished the game with a respectable 102 yards on 24 carries but he was not the ground force he had been coming into the game.

More impressive by FSU’s defense was its ability to shut Tucker out of the passing game. Tucker game into the game as his team’s leader in the receiving yardage and was second on the team in receptions. The Seminoles completely shut Tucker out of the passing game, he didn’t have a single catch.

What the FSU defense, nor anyone else, expect was for Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader to rush for 137 yards. He came into the game with 97 yards rushing on the season, with 53 of those yards coming on 16 carries a week ago.

That being said FSU defended Tucker well enough not to let him be the difference in the game.

Cut Down on Big Plays Given Up

The FSU defense had struggled with giving up big plays coming into the game, ranking 88th in total plays given up of 10 yards or more and 78th in giving up plays of 20 or more yards. One of the reasons they found themselves in a tight ballgame at halftime was because of the inability to limit those.

The Orange came into the game ranked 61st in plays which gained 10 yards or more and 93rd in plays gained of 20-yards or more. Syracuse’s first touchdown came on a 55-yard run by quarterback Garrett Shrader. On the next drive Syracuse scored again to take a 13-9 lead. That drive was highlighted by a 17-yard pass completion and 16-yard run by Shrader.

FSU’s defense once again was bitten by its tendency to give up big plays on Syracuse’s second scoring drive of the second half to cut the Seminoles’ lead to 30-27. The Seminoles gave up a pass play of 24 yards to start the drive and a 26-yard touchdown pass to end Orange’s six play scoring drive.

While big plays by its offense did keep Syracuse in the game, FSU did show slight improvement in this area. They came into the game giving up an average of 14.5 plays per game where opponents had gains of 10 yards or more. Syracuse had 12 plays of ten yards or more. Those plays accounted for 67 percent of the Orange’s 378 total yards to give you an example of how much of impact they had in keeping the game close. On three of Syracuse’s four touchdown drives FSU surrendered at least one play of 24 yards or more. If Syracuse had found two or more such plays against FSU tonight the outcome may have been different.

You Play To Win The Game

It may not have all been pretty on either side of the ball but wins are hard to come by in college football and that has been particularly true in Tallahassee of late. FSU fought hard, something it has done consistently this season and earned a win that it should enjoy Saturday night and one that should give it some confidence as it heads to Chapel Hill next week to take on the Tar Heels.