CLEMSON – In the week prior to Saturday's 35-14 loss to Clemson, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden expressed concern that the Seminoles' defense had been exposed.
Injuries and inexperience have Florida State struggling to control opponents for an entire game, and as the schedule winds down there's a sense that now they have to regroup and find a way to stop this backward trend.
"Our defense isn't as good as they were at the beginning of the year," said Bowden. "We're just not as strong."
The Seminoles established an identity on defense early in the season, but invincibility has become vulnerability. Clemson scored more points Saturday than it had in any of its previous meetings with Florida State.
From the opening whistle, the Seminoles had trouble slowing the Tigers' offense. Clemson struck on back-to-back drives to start the game, and by the end of the first quarter the Tigers had out gained FSU in yardage 203-30.
"If we could've erased that and tried to get a lot of momentum and keep rolling we would've been alright," said Andre Fluellen.
Defense was nearly able to turn the game around in the second quarter.
Clemson was held to two yards of offense and went 0-for-4 on third down conversions. With a little help from special teams on a blocked punt that Eugene Hayes recovered in the endzone, FSU tied the score at 14.
But the Tigers found a rhythm again after halftime. Clemson scored on its first two possessions, and after Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford was intercepted deep in his own territory, the Tigers grabbed its final touchdown.
"We never actually took over the game," said Roger Williams.
Bowden said that he doesn't see an offense that is mature enough to be able to dig its way out of holes. For the sixth consecutive game, opponents have scored 20 or more points, something that has never happened in Seminoles' school-history. If Florida State is going to snap this losing streak, Bowden believes that the defense will have to improve.
"Defense has to get us good field position and shut people down," said Bowden.
Players have noticed a change since the start of the year, but some say their confidence isn't shaken. Others are searching for the type of dominating play that helped define this defense in the past. The upcoming bye-week will give Florida State a chance to heal, and an opportunity to figure out what's gone wrong.
"We can't get down on ourselves," said Fluellen. "A lot of people want to start pointing fingers, but that's not what we need to do. We've got to get Florida State confidence back."
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