Coming into this afternoon's game, Florida State was flying at a certain trajectory in Doak Campbell Stadium. The defense was holding opposing teams to about one score per contest while the offense typically hung 55 points and over 600 yards.
As of Saturday night, even without their best performance, Florida State was right at those benchmarks. The Seminole offense ran up 560 yards of offense and 48 points against the Blue Devils, right on their average home pace.
The disconcerting aspect of Florida State's season has been, and continues to be their performance on the road. After their first Saturday off this upcoming weekend, Florida State gets their toughest road test of the year in Blacksburg in 12 days.
Go ahead and toss Virginia Tech's record out the window, the Hokies are in the thick of the ACC hunt. Virginia Tech can still drop their games to FSU and Clemson and win the ACC Atlantic if they knock off Miami next month, but a win over FSU would put Virginia Tech's season officially back on track.
Given how hungry Virginia Tech usually plays at Lane Stadium and how hapless Florida State has looked at times on the road this year- some of the Seminoles' miscues in the second half become even more glaring.
"We had a little lapse," said Jimbo Fisher. "We put a punt on the ground- took our eyes off it trying to make a big play. EJ had a fumble on a loose ball. It was a shame Rodney had one one a big play down the field, waving the ball. We come out and do ball security at the beginning of every practice. We're going to fix that."
Good, because that will bite the Seminoles in the rear end if they don't. I've said all year that Virginia Tech doesn't start playing their best football until winning the ACC would embarrass the conference. That means that the Hokies should be rounding into shape around the time Florida State shows up.
The Seminoles were as good as they wanted to be on Saturday, but in the second half you could see them losing interest. A lot of the little mistakes that were made were preventable mental lapses that good teams typically don't make. That won't fly in Blacksburg.
I don't want to just dwell on just the miscues in the second half, but they are worth spending a little bit of time on. FSU out-classed Duke in this game, but down the stretch when they should have had killer instinct, they got a little sloppy.
It didn't matter against Duke, it will against Virginia Tech. Florida State has to work on staying sharp and focused. They cannot afford to lose the killer instinct again this season.
One of the other things that caught me by surprise on the stat sheet was that Florida State didn't register a sack. I'm not sure that's how Sean Renfree will remember this game though, he was hit a lot by FSU's defensive line until finally being knocked out of the game by Karlos Williams.
Duke had a couple of pretty good receivers, Conner Vernon will eventually become the all-time ACC receiving leader (though not today), but against Florida State the Duke air attack was hapless. Vernon caught three balls for 12 yards, the most any Duke receiver hauled in was four catches for 38 yards. Florida State wasn't getting sacks on Saturday but they were applying consistent pressure, forcing bad throws and hitting the quarterback.
Essentially, the Florida State defensive front was as disruptive as one can humanly be without actually collecting any sacks.
The Punt Return Problem
It's not really a problem so much as it is a concern. Tyler Hunter wowed fans in the first half with a 75-yard punt return touchdown. It was his first game returning punts after replacing Rashad Greene this week. This marks the first time in FSU history that two different players have returned a punt for a touchdown, but as Jimbo Fisher reminds everyone on a weekly basis, the first job of any punt returner is to field the ball.
And that's still an issue for the Seminoles.
"[Tyler] had a great day," said Fisher. "If you watch the punt [he muffed], he was looking at it and all of a sudden he looks down real quick. First job as a punt returner is not to return it, but to catch it. That's what we've got to remember and I think we got a little greedy. I still think he had a good day, but that's inexcusable and we've got to get it fixed."
In a way, this issue is a microcosm for Florida State's entire team, heck, their entire season.
With both Hunter and Greene, once the ball is in their hands they're as dangerous as anyone in the entire country, but the simple act of just fielding the punt still gives them problems. They nail the hard stuff, stumble over the simple things.
Essentially once the ball's in their hands they can score on any play, it's just a matter of catching that pesky thing... It's not unlike taking Clemson's best shot and then dismantling them in response one week and then dropping a winnable game against NC State the next... It's all about consistency.
I'll be back with more coverage tonight and tomorrow, keep checking back...