Size, speed, depth, experience, talent. The Florida State defense has it all for 2017 except for one thing: results.
What was supposed to be the strength of the Seminoles in 2017 has been, but only because of the complete ineptness of the offense. Rather than keeping the team in games, the FSU defense has taken a step back despite returning nine starters.
As a result, FSU is off to its worst start in 41 years at 2-5. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly appears to be a dead man walking in terms of job security and he might not be alone.
So where did it all go wrong? Answering that question isn’t easy.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is effort. A number of players have been accused of loafing or being focused on the NFL Draft rather than this college football season.
Many have pointed the finger at cornerback and last season’s FBS leader in interceptions, Tarvarus McFadden. McFadden as a whole has not had a terrible season in coverage, but he has not been the game-changer that many expected. The most notable plays from McFadden this season unfortunately are getting beat by Miami’s Darrell Langham for the game-winning touchdown and muffing a punt last week that allowed Boston College to put the game away.
The biggest subtraction for FSU on the defensive side of the ball is defensive end and last year’s Consensus All-American, DeMarcus Walker. Walker had more sacks a season ago with 16 than the Seminoles currently do now with 11. Perhaps the biggest thing missing with the subtraction of Walker is the leadership that he brought.
Senior linebacker Jacob Pugh was critical of the team’s leadership to reporters earlier this week – never mind the fact that Pugh is an experienced senior himself and bears some of that blame. The fact that Pugh was willing to address it publicly seems to illustrate that it has merits and isn’t a good look for teammates or coaches.
Misuse of talent
Another key issue is that the best players haven’t really been put in position to make plays. Safety Derwin James, who was supposed to be one of the nation’s most versatile defensive players, hasn’t really been moved around that much.
James was been moved up from his deep safety spot plenty, but blitzes aren’t as common as they should be with James and the times that he has blitzed, it has been shown pre-snap. That’s not the only example. After a two-sack effort against Wake Forest, linebacker Matthew Thomas hasn’t blitzed much in recent weeks either.
Perhaps the biggest knock on the FSU defense this season has been in its inability to get key stops. The Seminoles gave up game-winning drives to Miami and Louisville. 96 or 56 percent of the points allowed by FSU this season has come in the second half.
To make matters worse, the Seminoles’ defense has performed this way while remaining virtually injury-free. FSU currently ranks 31st nationally in total defense and 50th in total defense. While that’s not terrible, it isn’t good for a defense with as much talent as FSU. If it doesn’t improve, that would be the worst finish for total defense since 2014 and worst finish for scoring defense since 2009.