Clark: Why one all-time effort play might be a great sign for FSU Football

Clark: Why one all-time effort play might be a great sign for FSU Football

We all remember the third-and-17 screen pass from Sunday night.

It will forever be burned into our memories. You have a front-four getting pressure, you have the Notre Dame offense backed up in a huge hole, you really don't need to risk an all-out blitz in that spot. Because the Fighting Irish offense might just do what the Fighting Irish offense did — call a simple screen pass to their really good running back.

Kyren Williams caught the ball at the 20, there were three big Notre Dame linemen in front of him and barely any FSU defenders in sight. Because more than half of them were in the backfield.

When we talked to defensive coordinator Adam Fuller earlier this week, he admitted the blitz was a bad call. And he admitted Notre Dame made a great call against it. He wanted to be aggressive, but in that instance, it backfired in a big way. To the tune of about 50 yards.

Fair enough. It's over. We've all had time to heal. We can move on.

And this column isn't about the play-call itself anyway.

This column is about something that happened on that play. And why I think — think! — it could be a great sign about where the FSU program is heading under head coach Mike Norvell and his staff.

Linebacker Kalen DeLoach was one of the FSU defenders who blitzed on that play.

So when Williams caught the pass, DeLoach was in the Notre Dame backfield, with his back to the play. Nowhere near the star running back.

It would have been understandable — or at least a bit more in line from what we've seen around this program lately — for DeLoach to jog downfield, almost as a spectator, hoping one of the FSU defensive backs would do enough to bring Williams down.

After all, it wasn't HIS fault Williams had broken free. He was blitzing the quarterback on the other side of the field when the ball was caught. It wasn't his job to make that tackle. He had already done what he was supposed to do on that play. The Seminoles had just gotten caught in a bad call. Oh well.

There were a lot of things that felt different about Sunday night.

This play, for me, was right near the top.

DeLoach, who had already played a majority of the reps at linebacker, didn't sulk. Didn't jog. Didn't throw up his hands. He sprinted — and I mean sprinted — downfield chasing after Williams.

The Florida State defensive backs didn't bring Williams down, but they did manage to make him cut back to his left. And when he did that, DeLoach was there, having raced 60 yards downfield to make the tackle.

It was an all-time great effort play. One of a few similar efforts that Fuller made sure to point out in film review.

"I showed that play (on Tuesday)," Fuller said. "We showed a missed tackle, get up and chase it down (by Akeem Dent). We showed 10 guys on a ball carrier. ... How do you fix problems? With great effort, great determination and great finish. And listen, nobody was excited after that play. Especially me.

"But that play by Kalen is a defining play."

It reminded me of the play Lamarcus Joyner made during the 2013 season against Idaho. The context of that game was that the Seminoles were the best team in the country and the Vandals were, literally, the worst. FSU would go on to score 81 points in that game. And could've scored 120 if it wanted. It was an all-time mismatch.

And yet in the first half, knowing his team could name its score, Joyner made one of the most incredible effort plays a Florida State defender has ever made.

Click on that link above. That's just an all-time display of determination.

Now, look, I know they wear the same number, but I am in no way comparing Kalen DeLoach to Lamarcus Joyner. So don't come at me! Joyner is one of the best to ever play here, and DeLoach is trying to make a name for himself during a rebuild.

And context matters, too. Part of the reason that Joyner play was so special was because of who it came against. It's one thing to go run down a Notre Dame running back in a season opener on national TV in the second half of a close game. It’s another to do it against the worst team in the country in a game you end up winning by 67 points.

But, still, what DeLoach did could very well be a defining type of play for what Norvell and Fuller and the rest of the coaches are trying to build. That kind of effort, that kind of will, isn't something we've seen around here a lot lately.

The reason Florida State fans were so encouraged by what they saw on Sunday night wasn't just because the Seminoles kept it close against a Top 10 team. It’s HOW they looked in keeping it close against a Top 10 team.

The defense wasn't great. Or even good, really. But it played with effort. With physicality. With finish. Nobody dropped an interception and then did a finger wag. Nobody made a hit in the end zone and then stood over the guy that just scored.

Instead, they swarmed to the ball. They raced guys 60 yards downfield. They sent ball-carriers backward. Repeatedly.

It's too neat and tidy to try to sum up a mindset shift with just one play in one game. But that DeLoach tackle sure was nice to see.

And what I loved most about it was his answer after the game. He wasn't patting himself on the back about his effort. He wasn't taking bows for actually trying his hardest. He was just trying to help his team get a stop and win a game.

"I just wanted to get to the quarterback and get the sack," DeLoach said. "But after I had seen the screen, I wanted to give us another opportunity to get another stop on the field. I wanted the defense to get out there and make another stand so they wouldn't score."

The box score says DeLoach's tackle didn't end up mattering.

Notre Dame scored a few plays later when Williams juked Stephen Dix Jr. on third down and dove into the end zone to put the Irish up 31-20.

But I think we all know plays like that most definitely matter.

Florida State isn't yet blessed with national championship talent. The Seminoles aren't going to be in Pasadena this year. What was so special about that 2013 team is that it had gobs of NFL talent, but it was still hungry and hard-working and full of drive. Every week. Against everyone.

This FSU team doesn't have gobs of talent. But, at last, it sure seems to be hard-working and hungry and full of drive.

That's a start, right? That's something to build upon as the Seminoles prepare to face Jacksonville State tonight (8 p.m. ET, ACC Network) and then Wake Forest next Saturday.

Offensive coordinator Kenny DIllingham was asked this week about starting running back Jashuan Corbin. Dillingham was effusive with his praise, saying Corbin is a player fans love cheering for because he works so hard and has come so far.

He started off talking about Corbin, but Dillingham wound up talking about the entire team. Because it's a team that, for the season opener at least, looked like it has found a heart again.

"Everybody should cheer and be happy with how we're playing," he said. "And we've got to get a lot better. But our kids are playing hard. And, to me, that's the minimum standard of what it should be. And we're finally getting that minimum standard of just playing hard.

"Now, we've got to play smarter, we've got to play faster, we've got to play more efficient. But we have finally ... hit that minimum standard of just giving effort. It sounds like we should be praised and cheered about that, but at the same time that's the minimum standard. That should never be an issue here. That should be who we are."



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