In 2018, Florida State relied on a solid defense to keep them in a handful of games. For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to replicate the success this season. The Seminoles have given up a lot of yardage and a ton of points so far this year and Willie Taggart has already added his former defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, to the staff as an analyst. Harlon Barnett came from Michigan State with a very good reputation but it seems that his defense at FSU is having some of the same problems it had at MSU.
The defensive front for FSU is probably the best overall group on this defense. Marvin Wilson is the top player of the group and he’s arguably the best player on the team. Wilson is one of the rare five-star players that plays with the effort of a two-star walk-on. At 6-5/311, Wilson can eat up blocks very well but he is at his best using his quickness. It’s unbelievable watching a guy as big as him be so nimble and explosive. Wilson doesn’t always make the plays that show up on the stat sheet but the fact that he creates so much havoc and no one else ends up in the stat sheet is the problem.
Corey Durden has emerged as the opposite defensive tackle in the 3-4 scheme that FSU is running. Durden was once a Louisville recruit who has put on a lot of good weight to get over 300 pounds. As this is more of a traditional 3-4 that eats up blocks and lets the linebackers run around, Durden also doesn’t end up in the stat sheet much but he plays fast for a big guy and could cause some issues beating blocks in the run game. Robert Cooper mans the middle for FSU at 346 pounds and he has been pretty impressive against double teams. Cooper lost 30+ pounds over the last year and you can tell that he moves well because of that. Depth is a concern for the Noles but the backups have made a handful of tackles.
FSU lost their best edge player last week as former five-star Joshua Kaindoh suffered a season ending injury. Kaindoh led the team in tackles for loss and had a sack on the season. Janarius Robinson started the first two games, so I would expect him back in there. The linebackers have been a major issue for this defense and the edge guys have been underwhelming. Robinson and Leonard Warner are the outside linebackers in this scheme with Warner being the guy more likely to end up in coverage. The issue is that none of the guys that they play at those spots can cover anyone. They also haven’t done much as pass rushers. So they essentially play five defensive linemen that don’t put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
The inside linebackers haven’t been much better. Jaiden Lars-Woodbey was outstanding last year as a sort of rover but he hasn’t played up to his potential as an inside linebacker this season. Run fits and handling blockers are essential for a linebacker and Lars-Woodbey still has issues with trying to avoid blockers instead of maintaining gap discipline. Dontavious Jackson is a senior linebacker and he might be worse when it comes to the things mentioned above. He constantly tries to shoot other gaps or just goes into the wrong gap against the run. He is also a complete liability in pass coverage. At this point, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Emmett entrench himself as the full time starter. Rice at least plays with the type of effort that you expect to see from your man in the middle.
(Tashan Reed who covers FSU for the Athletic tweeted that Lars-Woodbey and Warner had switched places in practice on Tuesday, but there’s no way to know that will translate to the game.)
Lars-Woodbey swapped places with Leonard Warner III, who’s with the inside linebackers. https://t.co/7mbub2Odx2— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) September 17, 2019
Florida State’s secondary is littered with four and five-star players and they have been fairly unreliable in pass coverage so far. FSU is allowing opposing offenses to complete 64.3% of their passes, 7.3 yards per attempt, and they’ve given up 51 first downs via pass plays which is second to last in the country. It’s all bad and it’s not all because of a bad pass rush. Guys have been beaten in single coverage and guys have also been very slow to react in zone coverage. Barnett admitted that he was too soft in the first two games but Virginia routinely beat man coverage when he blitzed last week. I’m not sure how Barnett will try to defend Louisville’s scheme but Scott Satterfield should look to test this secondary.
Amonte Samuel and Stanford Samuels will start at the corner spots for FSU. Both players have three pass break ups on the season and Samuel made a solid catch on an interception last week. The Noles need more from these guys in coverage from a play making standpoint. As of now, the defense tends to just let teams matriculate the ball down the field and they haven’t had anyone step up to make big plays.
At safety, Hamsah Nasirildeen is the top player. Nasirildeen leads the team in tackles for the second straight year and plays just as hard as Wilson does up front. I expected the staff to move him to linebacker this season and keep Lars-Woodbey in the secondary but I think they like his range in the back end. He will be key this weekend with Louisville running on the edges so much. Lovanta Taylor and Cyrus Fagan will split duties opposite Nasirildeen. Taylor came to FSU with a ton of potential and hype but hasn’t really been the star they anticipated. As a combo, I think they’ve been pretty good. They all cover ground really well but Nasirildeen is the guy they want to go after in the slot.