The Florida State defense headed into the Boston College game minus Marvin Wilson, its best defensive player, to face one of the best running games in college football. Seminoles defensive coordinator Harlan Barnett’s unit needed someone to step in and fill the void left by its star defensive tackle’s absence and what it got was one of the best tackling performances in FSU history by junior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen.
Nasirildeen racked up a team-high 22 tackles against BC, including 11 solo stops. It’s not idle to have a safety credited for almost two dozen tackles against an opponent that runs for 281 yards on 64 carries. Some of his tackles were made once the Eagles running backs made it to the second level, but it didn’t make those tackles any less important or impactful. Several of Nasirildeen’s stops kept BC from breaking off runs that could have changed the game in favor of BC.
“Bend don’t break,” answered Nasirildeen when asked what the mindset of the defense was with BC’s success on the ground. “Plays are going to happen. The other team is going to make plays. You can’t fold once they get into the red zone, you have to stay locked in, make plays.”
Not only did Nasirildeen’s performance against BC earn ACC Defensive Back of the week honors, it was also one the most productive defensive performance by an individual player in FSU history. His 22 tackles are the most by an FSU defender in over 50 years and ranks third all-time for tackles in a single game. The school record was set by Dale McCullers in 1968 when he racked up 29 tackles in 1968 against Texas A&M. McCullers’ 26 tackles against Florida in 1968 ranks as the second-best single game performance at FSU.
After making 41 total tackles through FSU’s first seven ballgames, Nasirildeen has turned into a tackling machine since the Syracuse game. In his last three starts, he has totaled 44 tackles – including 17 against Syracuse three weeks ago. It’s the first-time a Seminole defender has had two games in a season with over 17 tackles since linebacker Marvin Jones accomplished the feat in 1990.
“He’s come a long ways,” said Barnett of Nasirildeen after the Syracuse game. “You can tell he was raw in his football knowledge and things like that. Just because he hadn’t played a whole lot. And he’s still ready to be shaped and molded. He has a real, real bright future ahead of him. Really proud of him and how he works at it even off the field. He wants to be good and he’s always trying to soak up all the knowledge you can give him.”
Barnett said his star pupil has earned his success on the field this season.
“All of it,” said Barnett on what has led to the safety’s improvement. “The film study, on the board work. Just talking about different things. Not only where he belongs and where he fits, but where the entire defense fits. Understanding the entire puzzle, and that’s where his game has gone to another level. Just understanding everybody’s fits and where they need to be. Not only himself. And he continues to work on it each and every day.”
With all the adversity the FSU football team had to handle leading up to the Boston College game, the firing of head coach Willie Taggart and losing Wilson for the season, Nasirildeen felt responsible for stepping up as a leader.
“There is definitely a time when you have to step up and be a leader but more of the focus was (that) we have a game this week,” said the safety of how the team prepared for BC despite the distractions. “We have to prepare the same way we prepare for any game. We have to get on the film, we have to get these practices in and have good practices and come out here and perform.”
Nasirildeen, who now leads the team in tackles with 85 stops, wasn’t aware during the game that he was involved in stopping so many plays against Boston College.
“I felt like I had some tackles but nowhere near what I had,” said Nasirildeen.
In a week where FSU was looking for new leadership on the field and off, it looks like its defense might not have to look any further than its star safety to find it.
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