TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Like most coaches, Jimbo Fisher prefers that his defense be ahead of his offense at this stage of the year.
With that in mind, Fisher had to be pleased with the results of Florida State’s Garnet and Gold spring game.
Limited to just two scholarship receivers and facing a bevy of talented and disruptive defenders, both offenses found little room to operate for much of the afternoon. A pair of Deondre Francois-led touchdown drives – including a 90-yard march in the second quarter – proved the difference in a 17-7 victory for the Gold.
Otherwise, the day belonged to the defenses, which combined for 12 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and one interception returned for a touchdown.
That includes a game-high seven tackles and two sacks for safety Derwin James, who looked simply dominant in his return from a season-ending knee injury.
“I liked the scrimmage today from a standpoint of it was very physical,” Fisher said. “Guys tackled well, played well. … Even though there wasn’t a lot of scoring, there wasn’t a lot of missed assignments. Guys just really beat a block or made a play. …
“I’d much rather be ahead on defense right now, which I think we are.”
Which is not to say that offense didn’t have its moments, especially on the ground.
Akers, the blue-chip, early-enrollee from Mississippi, made a fine first impression by racking up a game-high 85 rushing yards on just 10 carries – a figure boosted by a 35-yard scamper down the right sideline during the second half.
Patrick added 64 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries for the Gold, while fifth-year senior Ryan Green led the Garnet by carrying six times for 36 yards.
“I liked the way we ran the ball,” Fisher said.
And, despite watching his four quarterbacks combine to complete just 26 of 64 passes (40.6 percent), Fisher isn’t concerned with his passing game, either.
With sophomore Keith Gavin still nursing an ankle injury (he played a few snaps in the first quarter before Fisher thought the better of it and pulled him), FSU had only Nyqwan Murray and Da’Vante Phillips available from its pool of scholarship receivers.
Murray (5 catches, 59 yards) and Phillips (5-45) each led their respective sides in receiving, but, otherwise, the teams had to get creative when moving the ball through the air.
Both teams featured their tight ends, and several walk-on receivers took advantage of chances to make plays in front of a crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium.
More often than not, though, the depth and talent in Florida State’s secondary made passing yards – or, for that matter, completions – hard to come by.
“I ain’t worried about it,” Fisher said. “We’ve always been able to throw the ball. We’ll throw it and we’ll throw it well. We did earlier in spring.”
After a relatively low-key three quarters, the game offered a bit of drama in the fourth.
With the Gold leading 10-0 and holding the ball, Garnet defensive back Kyle Meyers stepped in front of a Francois pass that was intended for Phillips and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
Then, after forcing three straight incompletions on the Gold’s ensuing drive, the Garnet took over with 1:36 to play and a chance to take a late lead.
But in keeping with the overall theme of the game, the Gold defense tightened up and sacked quarterback J.J. Cosentino on back-to-back plays to force a turnover on downs.
A few moments later, Francois connected with tight end Ryan Izzo for a 1-yard touchdown to provide the final margin.
“I’s hard when there’s a lot of guys that you’re not used to, and I didn’t have the receivers that I usually have,” Francois said. “So, it was good to work with some guys who I’ve never worked with before, but there are pros and cons that come with that.
“But it’s all good, and I feel comfortable with how the spring ended.”
He’s not the only one.
Fisher reminded throughout the week that the Garnet and Gold Game is a game in name only – he’s worried far more about how the Seminoles grow and improve than anything in the box score.
And, to that end, Fisher believes the Seminoles are right on schedule. FSU’s season opener against Alabama is now just 147 days away.
“We’re far from a finished product,” Fisher said. “We’ve got a lot of things to do, but there’s a lot to work with there and the attitude is coming in the right direction.
“So I really am pleased with where we’re at. I know we’ve got a lot of thing to do, but I like the group we’ve got.”