Florida State’s defensive strength neutralized in frustrating loss to the Florida Gators

Andre C. Fernandez
Tallahassee Democrat
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Jermaine Johnson knew the Florida Gators would pull out all the stops to take away what had been the strength of Florida State’s defense all season.

And the Gators succeeded in not letting one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the nation do to them what he had done to so many others during a brief, yet impactful career at Florida State.

“It was pretty frustrating,” Johnson said. “I was expecting to get chipped and double-teamed and run away from. I don’t know what coach I spoke to after the game but they said it’s hard when you’re on the field you have to be prepared for that. I expected to get chipped. But that’s no excuse.”

Johnson didn’t get to either of Florida’s quarterbacks until a little over five minutes left in the third quarter when he fought through a hold by right tackle Richard Gouraige to bring down Anthony Richardson.

That would end up being the only time an FSU pass rusher got to either Richardson or starter Emory Jones during a 24-21 loss to the Gators on Saturday.

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Johnson’s lone sack was the Seminoles’ 33rd of the season – a sum that more than tripled last year’s total of 10.

Johnson accounted for 11.5 of those and the FSU defensive line totaled 29.5 of those 33.

But a Gators’ offensive line which had only allowed 11 sacks entering the game, found a way to limit Johnson and the rest of FSU’s pass rushers.

Florida State Seminoles linebacker Kalen DeLoach (20) intercepts the ball over Florida Gators wide receiver Jacob Copeland (1) during the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“We needed to put more pressure as a unit and that’s on me, but it’s been a fun ride,” Johnson said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted. But I’m forever thankful to be a Florida State Seminole, that’s for sure.”

Both Jones and Richardson are elusive and mobile dual-threat quarterbacks.

But neither was the biggest threat in that department that FSU had faced this season.

And yet FSU rushers ended up a step short of reaching the quarterback and making some of the drive-ending stops they had grown accustomed to making in recent weeks as the Seminoles won five of their past seven.

It allowed Florida to convert 8 of its first 10 third downs including three on its initial scoring drive to open the game.

Johnson finished with three quarterback hurries and Keir Thomas had two in what would be each player’s final games as Seminoles. This came as no surprise since the duo accounted for 18 of FSU’s sacks this season.

A couple of those hurries contributed to Jones’ three interceptions, which led to him being benched in favor of Richardson in the third quarter.

FSU was unable to get to Richardson after that one instance though as the redshirt freshman energized Florida’s offense late in the second half leading them to three scoring drives including two touchdowns which proved to be the difference.

“It felt like that everything that could go wrong, did,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “It was one of those situations. You can go back now and look at this, and this or this, and wish I would’ve. But at the end of the day, it’s what we have to live back on, what we have to live with, and what we have to choose to go improve on as we move forward.”

Norvell and Johnson reflected after the game on the impact the latter had on FSU during his lone season in Tallahassee, which went far beyond the All-American caliber season he put together.

“It’s all just a blur. I feel like I just got here in January so I can’t really speak on that right now,” Johnson said. “I‘m just thankful to be a part of this family. It’s bigger than football. The kind of lessons this place has taught me is astronomical. I love this university. I love Tallahassee. I love the program and I’ll definitely be back. Some of the most fun in my life I’ve had playing for Florida State.”

Reach Andre Fernandez at afernandez@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @FernandezAndreC.

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