Florida State’s best defensive performance in 2022 came in a fairly lopsided loss to Louisville. The final score was within one touchdown but UofL dominated the first half and coasted through the second half. The FSU defense finished last season ranked 30th in the country in defensive yards per play. While they allowed some very big plays against Louisville last season, they have the pieces to contain the explosive plays this season.
The strength of this defense is up front for the second straight season. While Jermaine Johnson is off to the NFL, Jared Verse has stepped in as another major transfer addition and he has been great for the Noles. Verse has four tackles for loss so far this season and he requires extra attention as a pass rusher. Both of UofL’s tackles have been beaten badly this season for at least one sack so this will be a situation to watch.
On the inside, Robert Cooper and Fabian Lovett return to provide a massive interior for the defense. Cooper is one of the largest players in the country and he and Lovett both move very well for their size. While neither will likely make a lot of plays at or outside the hashes, they both can generate push and occupy blockers. They allow the linebackers a lot of room to operate against the run. These guys pretty much shut down Louisville’s run game last season. They have to find a way to counteract them this season.
Tatum Bethune finished last season with 108 tackles...for UCF. He transferred to FSU this season to fill a void for the Noles but also to show that he could play at the highest level. Well, he’s playing at the highest level. PFF rates Bethune as one of the best run defenders in the country and FSU couldn’t have added a better player to line up behind their massive defensive line. Bethune plays downhill very well and because he doesn’t have to deal with blockers very often, he makes a lot of plays. What UofL could try to exploit is Bethune’s lack of playmaking ability against the pass.
Kelen Deloach mans the other linebacker spot in the 4-2-5 that FSU runs and he has been utilized as a spy on some occasions. I haven’t noticed much blitzing from FSU as they can rely on their great defensive line to generate pressure. Deloach can run but LSU found some success on some designed quarterback runs as well as scrambles. Depth is also a little bit of a concern here as no other linebackers have shown the ability to be playmakers so far. The linebackers seem to be a liability in coverage. Can UofL take advantage?
The secondary as a whole is a question mark for FSU but the group has looked good so far. At cornerback, they have some youth and inexperience with Omarion Cooper at one spot and Renardo Green at the other. So far this season, Cooper has been targeted six times and he has given up six catches including the touchdown pass at the end of the game against LSU. Green has been much better and he has shown that he is willing to be a factor in the run defense. UofL has to find a way to take advantage of the guys lining up opposite Green.
Greedy Vance made the move to Tallahassee after two years at Louisville and he has found himself as a rotation option for Defensive Coordinator, Adam Fuller. Vance has lined up in the slot as well as outside and he has been one of the most targeted defensive backs even as a backup. From what I’ve been able to see in over their two games, Vance hasn’t been able to make a play on any passes yet. Kevin Knowles is the starter in the nickel and the veteran defensive back has also been ineffective so far in coverage.
Safety is what balances out this secondary as FSU has one of the best safeties in the country in Jamie Robinson. This guy is good at absolutely everything and he makes this entire defense better by taking away plays down the field while also being a menace in run support. He had 13 tackles last season in this game but he didn’t make an impact in the passing game. I expect that to change in this year’s game.
Akeem Dent is a former five-star cornerback recruit who has moved to safety. Dent has been solid in his career for the Noles but hasn’t really lived up to his recruiting status. Moving dent to safety has seemed to help the defense with coverage and overall speed. I think it is fair to wonder if UofL will have the ability to push the ball down the field as they have in previous years with the talent FSU has in the back end.