The Daily Nole

North Carolina’s Trubisky to Test Struggling FSU Secondary

Mitch White/FSU athletics

After a 3-1 month of September, No. 12 Florida State still has big expectations for the remainder of the season, but there are areas that need significant improvement. After a 647-yard offensive effort that culminated in 55 points last week, the biggest dilemma appears to be on the other side of the ball.

While South Florida rushed for more yardage than it passed for against FSU last Saturday, the biggest concern for coordinator Charles Kelly’s defense this season has been giving up the big play through the air. Prior to the season, the secondary led by sophomore safety Derwin James and senior cornerback Marquez White was supposed to be one of the most talented defensive backfields in the country.

White has been solid, but James has missed the last two weeks with a knee injury, which has clearly hurt FSU. Senior safety Nate Andrews, junior Trey Marshall and freshman cornerback Levonta Taylor have also been hampered by injuries. Regardless of whether the blame falls on a lack of cohesiveness, new faces in the lineup or just mental breakdowns, the Seminoles are giving up better than 18 yards per completion and 8.9 yards per pass attempt through four games, which ranks 117th in the country.

“We’ve got to stop giving up big plays on defense and that’s something we’ll continue to work on,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said at Wednesday’s ACC teleconference. “The way to stop big plays is to make smart plays and do your job.”

Doing their job will be a tall task this week for the Seminoles. FSU will face a North Carolina offense that is good in virtually every phase with a junior quarterback in Mitch Trubisky, who couldn’t be any hotter. During the Tar Heels’ 3-game winning streak, Trubisky has passed for 1,150 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 80 percent of his throws…without a turnover.

Trubisky will be protected by a veteran offensive line with three quality seniors and two juniors. The Tar Heels have a deep and talented corps of skill players, led by running back Elijah Hood and receiver Ryan Switzer. Reserve running back T.J. Logan has scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and on a kickoff return this season and is averaging 8.3 yards per offensive touch.

In the passing game, the Tar Heels have four different receivers with at least 180 yards receiving. Switzer is coming off a career-performance with 208 yards on 16 catches. After leading the nation in yards per catch last season, senior Mack Hollins is putting up similar numbers with 183 yards and three touchdowns on just eight receptions.

“North Carolina’s an extremely explosive team on offense,” Fisher said. “Receivers are dynamic, the quarterback can make plays. The line does a good job.”

Though FSU held South Florida to just five completions on 14 attempts last week, the Bulls were able to stretch the field against the Seminoles. USF opened the game with Quinton Flowers completing an 84-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Adams, who was working against Tarvarus McFadden. Flowers also found tight end Mitchell Wilcox for a 52-yard reception in front of Andrews.

Finding a way to buck the trend of giving up big plays will be key for FSU this week. In North Carolina’s only loss this season — a 33-24 defeat at the hand of Georgia to open the year — Trubisky was held to fewer than four yards per pass attempt and had just one completion longer than 20 yards. Since then, Trubisky has averaged nearly 12 yards per attempt.

Though the Seminoles haven’t been good against the pass, they’ve managed to offset that by being opportunistic. While McFadden and Andrews were beat deep against the Bulls, they also each recorded interceptions in the 55-35 win.

As a team, FSU has a +6 turnover margin for the year and rank 10th in the country with six interceptions, including an FBS-high 3 from McFadden. The secondary will be facing a quarterback on Saturday in Trubisky, who has yet to throw a pick.

Changing that may not just be on the secondary, but the defensive line as well. The Seminoles are among the nation’s leaders in sacks with 13. Senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker leads the group with 5.5.

Whether it’s correcting the blown coverages, getting to Trubisky or finding a way to force him into uncharacteristic mistakes, the Seminoles will need to find a way to get the talented junior out of rhythm and off the field on Saturday. If they can’t, there’s a good chance they’ll be saying goodbye to their ACC title hopes and the nation’s longest home winning streak.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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