TALLAHASSEE — The word “quit” is not thrown around lightly in the world of football.
In the pantheon of four-letter words, “quit” is right up there with “soft.”
So Florida State coach Willie Taggart didn’t mince words when he spoke about some players quitting following the Seminoles’ 59-10 home loss to Clemson on Saturday.
“We’re going to find the guys that quit and we’re going to find the guys that kept playing and make sure that we keep those guys in there,” Taggart said.
One player who consistently brought energy when the game was well out of reach: Junior defensive end Brian Burns.
He entered the game leading all Power Five players with 9.0 sacks and is on the verge of becoming an early draft pick if he decides to go pro after this season. He’s probably months away from becoming a millionaire and could’ve folded with FSU down by 30+ points in the second half, but Burns kept on shooting off the line in an attempt to disrupt Clemson’s pass game.
Even when his attempts failed, Burns kept coming and he was clearly trying to push defenders to match his intensity throughout the game.
“I’ll never be happy about it because I had given my all and I’m also trying to encourage others to give their all and they can’t give me anything back is exhausting,” Burns said. “But it’s what I signed up for.”
Burns ended up leaving the game late with a reoccurring hand injury, but his energy was noteworthy throughout the contest.
Who else matched Burns’ effort even as the game got out of hand? Taggart’s search to find and reward those who hustled on Saturday could result in a substantial change-up to FSU’s depth chart this coming week against N.C. State. The players below are by no means the only ones who showed some signs of life in the bleak affair, but they did stand out as those who seemed to keep trying until the bitter end.
Even with FSU down 52-3 late in the third quarter, Marvin Wilson was hustling. The sophomore defensive tackle has been FSU’s top interior defender this season, even if his production doesn’t always show up in the boxscore. This is because of his strength, quickness and energy…all of which were on display as he chased down this Wildcat run in the backfield:
FSU’s pursuit largely trailed off throughout the game, so having a 300+ pound defender charging into the backfield was noteworthy. Wilson was clearly chasing down plays and trying to make a difference well into the second half.
Freshman wide receiver Keyshawn Helton has been waiting for a chance to carry over strong performances on the practice field to the game. He got an opportunity on Saturday and made the most of his chances, catching three of his five passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
His 73-yard score was the top highlight of the day for FSU’s offense (slim pickings), but this 16-yard reception showed some grittiness from the diminutive rookie:
He caught the ball short of the first-down marker, but forced two missed tackles to move the chains. He then picked up about 10 extra yards by cutting upfield and forcing two more broken tackles on the play.
The redshirt freshman played hard until the bitter end. He was flying downfield on special teams (a targeting call on him was correctly reversed) and making blocks about 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
And he kept fighting when the ball came his way.
This is earlier in the second half, but Terry was still battling for the ball as he drew a P.I. and recorded a catch in which he fought for extra yards on the same drive.
CB A.J. Lytton
He wasn’t perfect on Saturday, but freshman cornerback A.J. Lytton is at least going to give you effort and work to be in the right position.
The former four-star recruit picked up a pass interference in the end zone earlier in the game when he got a little too much of Tee Higgins’ arm, but being in the right place is a sign that he can cover and is willing to work to get in position.
That effort pays off later in the game when Lytton rips the ball away from a Clemson receiver in the end zone to turn a touchdown into an interception.He was initially out of position, but kept chasing. It’s a prime example of what happens when you don’t give up on a play.
It’s worth noting that this pick came a couple plays after Lytton saved a touchdown on a run in which Clemson RB Darien Rencher broke three tackles to surge into the open field.
RB Anthony Grant
This is a small moment, one that doesn’t impact the play, but watch No. 10 Anthony Grant work after the play-action look to get downfield and be in position to make a block if Helton busts free:
Grant is going to still make some rookie mistakes, but his burst and hustle are worth throwing into the mix more often. If you’re looking to build your program around guys who care…Grant is one of them.
Helton’s long touchdown reception came with a little help.
First, James Blackman made a nice move under pressure to split two pass rushers (Brady Scott, who struggled on the day, helped clean up a block on the play…it was good to see him still trying despite a rough outing) and kept his eyes downfield to hit Helton on the run.
Terry, who we mentioned earlier, blocks downfield to free Helton up. And fellow freshman Tre’Shaun Harrison flies in from out of nowhere to help keep Helton clean downfield.
These are all small moments in a blowout loss that should be qualified by the fact that FSU was dominated from the second quarter on. But if Taggart is going to restore FSU into a national power, it starts with identifying those players who will try hard regardless of the situation. These are some of the players who showed a pulse.