Willie Taggart brought in a great staff when he took over at FSU this spring. One of the better hires on that staff was Harlon Barnett as the defensive coordinator. Barnett’s defenses weren’t overwhelmingly great at Michigan State, but most attributed that to the lack of talent in East Lansing. So far, the defense hasn’t been the issue for Florida State but they also haven’t been as consistent as you’d like them to be.
The defensive front for the Noles had some questions in the middle but the ends were very good at the top of the depth chart. Brian Burns is one of the best defensive ends in the conference and his pass rushing abilities are key for this defense that likes to rush four as much as they can. He’s gotten off to a slow start so far, but he will be a good test for Louisville’s tackles who have held up pretty well so far. Burns has the length and speed to get around UofL’s big tackles.
The interior of the FSU line has played pretty well this year outside of the Syracuse game. They have forced offenses to work the edges more and they haven’t really been bad at eating up blocks on the inside. The issue is that they don’t get enough penetration. They need for these guys to make more plays than they have so far. Demarcus Christmas was the lone returner here but he hasn’t been able to do much of anything so far. The depth is solid, but they need a consistent play maker to push the pocket and to stuff some run plays. Marvin Wilson is starting to live up to his five star billing. If they can get these guys to start getting some numbers on the stat sheet, the defense as a whole will improve.
Just as the offensive line doesn’t have much talent, the linebackers for the Noles leave a lot to be desired. They just flat out missed on a lot of guys at this spot and now they’re trying to move guys around and try different combinations to find some consistency. Dontavious Jackson is the only linebacker on the roster that has recorded a stat outside of tackles. No one else has made a single impact play. You’d at least expect someone to stumble into a tackle for loss.
The secondary was supposed to be a strong group this year but they have been unbelievably inconsistent on the year. They have made a lot more impact plays than the front seven, but they have also given up seven touchdown passes so far and almost all of them have been one on one coverage where they just got beat. What’s more surprising is that Levonta Taylor has given up the most touchdowns out of anyone. He was supposed to be one of the top corners in the country but that just hasn’t been the case so far. Kyle Meyers has actually been the top corner on the team so far and he’s actually had a very impressive season.
True freshman Jaiden Woodbey starts at the “star” position and he’s will play a big role in this game. I don’t know who Louisville will start at quarterback but Woodbey will factor in against either of them. He would be used to set the edge against the option if they start Malik Cunningham and he would be used in underneath zones against Jawon Pass. Woodbey is a very smart player that understands coverage schemes well but he is also a high level athlete that can play downhill and close down space well. We’ve seen how the lack of speed on offense has hurt UofL and Woodbey is the next defender that can exploit that and make plays in the open field.
The safety spot for FSU has played pretty well so far this year. A.J. Westbrook returned for his fifteenth season at strong safety and Stanford Samuels has switched to free safety from corner. Both have made some nice plays getting up the field in coverage and in run support. They haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play deep center field but Westrook has done well when that opportunity has presented itself. The leading tackler on the team is actually Hamsah Nasirildeen who is a reserve safety. He is the type of guy you want at that spot. He plays fast and he plays like his body is a weapon. They’ve worked to get him in the game more and I think he compliments the starters well as they are more coverage guys.