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FSU’s second-half defense sparks optimism

The defensive turnaround was remarkable in every statistical manner — points allowed, yards given up and third-down conversions among them.

Learning from the mistakes and what went wrong early, allowing 31 points before halftime and giving up 8 of 10 third-down conversions, will be valuable moving forward as Florida State looks to replicate the second-half shutout and dramatic improvement on third downs.

“It was really bad in the first half,” FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “We work really hard on practicing the right things. Conceptually there were zero things Louisville did different. They ran the same plays, the same actions. They give you a couple of different presentations. With our guys right now, it’s about practicing the specific things they’re going to see because that allows them to play faster. Even if two guys line up on one side and another guy lines up on the other side and that makes the picture look different, I’ve got to continue to find ways to show them it’s the same thing we’ve worked it’s just x is here and z is there and trying to get us play a little bit faster and reaction. You don’t want them to see things for the first time and not move well.

“That’s the small picture. Big picture: It’s third downs, it’s not even close.”

FSU is ranked 103rd in the nation in third-down defense, allowing opposing teams to convert on 31 of 69 (44.9 percent). The Seminoles showed one picture in the first half on Saturday but then held the Cardinals to 1 of 8 on third-down opportunities in the second half of the 31-23 loss.

“You’ve got to get off the field,” Fuller said. “First series, third-and-9 and we give up a conversion. Second series, we have a third-and-6 and we get a late hit. Those things add up and you end up staying on the football field. There’s adjustments between series and at halftime. There’s always those things. A tribute to seeing it again and again and reacting in a better way. We’re constantly trying to educate them in between each series this is what you’re getting and this is the way it needs to be played.”

If FSU is turning the corner, it is a critical one heading into Saturday’s game against Syracuse (3-1). The Orange love to run, ranking 20th in the FBS and averaging 216 rushing yards per game, so making stops on third-and-short will be essential to preventing them from building long drives and wearing out FSU’s defense.

The Seminoles are perhaps both versions of what they showed, the first-half struggles and the second-half promise. Slow starts on offense and defense have been a constant this season, forcing FSU to dig out of early deficits, but how the team performed in the second half is an example of learning and continuing to fight.

“We made a couple of adjustments but not too many,” said defensive back Jammie Robinson, who had 13 tackles. “We just really went out and told each other we had to win our one-on-ones. Especially on third down. That’s what it came down to. In the first half we didn’t do too good on third down. Everybody had to strap it up and go to work.

“We definitely want to lead off on that half coming into the next game this Saturday.”

Observations

Quarterback Jordan Travis returned to practice on Wednesday and was often quite accurate, especially on the move. Chubba Purdy has also seen considerable reps in practices open to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday. Defensive tackle Fabien Lovett and tailback Lawrance Toafili were active in practice. The offensive line has continued to cross train at various positions with backups at times seeing time with the first-team offense.