Strategy Session: Size Does Matter... At Least On Defense.

Florida State's defense has a problem.  It's a problem that some might not have realized the 'Noles have.  Others might have thought about this issue without realizing how big of a problem it actually is.

Over the course of the next five months we will get into the problems of the Florida State defense.  We'll discuss the problems with the Noles scheme, personnel, coaching, and voice our concerns over something that should interest all Seminoles fans. 

Mickey Andrews will go into the college football hall of fame as one of the best defensive coordinators in history.  A past winner of the Broyles award, Andrews produced some of the better defenses in college football history.

Andrews was so successful that offensive coordinators began to design their schemes to beat the defense Andrews ran (along with the other great defensive coordinators of the day).  Andrews almost snuffed out the I-Formation.  Offenses had to find a way to combat defenses that stacked the box with 8 defenders with a bunch of speed.  Of course, the solution was to spread out the formation (goodbye fullback) and utilize the quarterback as a running threat.  By doing so, offenses were now able to play 11-on-11 as opposed to 10-on-11. 

We'll discuss that further at a later date.  What you need to understand is that teams who relied on stacking the box were forced to adapt.  They did this in different ways, but the recurring component of the successful adaptations was the ability to stop the run without committing the extra defender to the box (the so called "8th man).  

Unfortunately for FSU, this change was occurring right during the height of the "Nepotism Era."  As head coach Bobby Bowden forced his nepotous hire down the throats of the concerned FSU family, the organizational disfunction began to permeate the defensive side of the ball.  It wasn't as noticeable at first, but it definitely happened.  During that period, FSU's recruiting dropped off somewhat, including defensive recruiting.   The defensive coaches finally realized it was happening about a year later.  They did not, however, realize the gravity of the offensive change that was occuring across the college football landscape.  Where FSU formerly recruited speed and some size, they now recruited only speed.   FSU made a choice that it might not have even realized it was making:  they focused solely on speed in their attempt to stop the non pro-style attacks they were faced with increasing regularity.  That move, along with an injury and an unexpected early departure would cost the 'Noles Defense dearly in the 2008 season. 

A problem in the 2008 season?  Believe it.  By typical statistics, FSU's defense looked very good.  Consider that those numbers were compiled in a very defensive minded conference, however, and read something I threw together in November:

Note:  go here for an explanation of the advanced measurements we've used to gauge FSU's performance.

FEI is the best measure of performance we have, as it is opponent adjusted and breaks down the game on a much deeper level.

DEFENSE

  • In 2007, the Noles entered the UF game ranked 18th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (ADE), posting a 0.218 score.  
  • In 2008, the Noles entered the UF game ranked 19th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (ADE), posting a 0.021 score

Hmm, not much improvement, but still a good score.  What might account for this?  Why then, are we still disappointed in the defense?  This defense needed to be elite (top 5).  It showed no improvement, sliding a spot from 2007 to 2008.  Unlike the offense, who went with a clear youth movement, the defense was very talented and loaded with returning starters.  The defense returned 7 of 11 starters from the 2007 team, and did not feature a sophomore of freshman!  Additionally, the 2007 unit was constantly injured-- a fate the 2008 unit did not suffer.  After the 2008 season, the Noles defense will suffer massive causalities.  A minimum of 8 starters (out of a possible 11) will leave.  All told, it is entirely possible that 13 of the top 22 defensive players (22 encompass the 1st and 2nd string) will not be with the Noles in 2009.  This was an experienced, talented unit that stayed remarkably healthy and did not produce dominant results under the direction of Mickey Andrews, Chuck Amato, and Jodey Allen.  The defensive staff has no excuse.  They did not inherit a huge mess as Jimbo Fisher did.  

NOTE: remember that FEI automatically adjusts for rules changes because it measures performance on drives, as opposed to only games.  It also doesn't count non-competitive drives (drives where the game is locked up, for instance a drive when a team leads by 40 in the 4th quarter).  This explains why FSU got little credit for crushing UAB and DUKE in the 2007 ratings.  FSU received zero credit for their wins against the I-AA competition in 2008.  

We can dig deeper still, but we need to consider a few things as well.  First, the following numbers are not opponent adjusted.  This is raw data.  Second, the 2007 data includes a game against Duke (goes hand in hand with the lack of opponent adjustment).  Third, the clock rules changed this year, giving offenses about 12 less plays per game (about 17% less opportunities).  

  • in 2007, the Noles allowed 4.99 yards per play in ACC competition.  Removing Duke, the Noles allowed 5.05 yards per play.  
  • In 2008, the Noles allowed 4.86 yards per play in ACC competition. 

These results bode well for those arguing to keep Mickey Andrews.  In his favor they did show improvement against much tougher competition.  Still, this is not enough improvement for a unit with this sort of talent and athletic ability.  

What about offensive points allowed per play?  Remember that First, these are not opponent adjusted.  This is raw data.  Second, the 2007 data includes a game against Duke (goes hand in hand with the lack of opponent adjustment).

  • In 2007, the Noles allowed 0.29 offensive points per play in ACC competition (0.32 if you edit out Duke).
  • In 2008, the Noles allowed 0.33 offensive points per play in ACC competition.  

Again, these numbers show that the 2008 defense did not improve or reach an elite level, despite being deeper, more talented, more experienced, and much healthier than the 2007 edition.

NOTE:  FSU ended up 20th nationally in Defensive Efficiency

Back in December, I tried to sound the alarm.  People were very worried about facing Wisconsin's huge offensive line.  I told everyone to relax:

I believe that FSU struggled against not huge offensive lines, but rather teams who ran something other than the pro-style offense (2-backs with a non-mobile quarterback).  Why would I think this?  Mostly because I've seen teams adapt their offense to counteract the schemes of Mickey Andrews and other legendary defensive coordinators of the 90's. 

Why would I think this?  Mostly because I've seen teams adapt their offense to counteract the schemes of Mickey Andrews and other legendary defensive coordinators of the 90's. 

So, what teams run these offenses?  NC State (with Russell Wilson and the zone read), Boston College (who ran that zone-read give out of the gun 20+ times), and UF.  Georgia Tech Runs majority option, so I Included them as well.  The results? 

Against majority Pro-Style Offenses:


Total Off.

Rushing


Passing






Opponent PPG
Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
Wake Forest(3-12) 12 68 276 4.1 38 59 1.6 9 30 17 217 0 0 2 16.0 117
Colorado(39-21) 21 73 278 3.8 37 124 3.4 10 36 17 154 3 1 4 10.0 105
Miami (Fla.)(41-39) 30 63 256 4.1 14 51 3.6 6 49 21 205 1 3 2 25.5 72
Virginia Tech(30-20) 20 56 243 4.3 34 82 2.4 10 22 12 161 1 0 6 4.7 137
Clemson(41-27) 27 71 316 4.5 36 79 2.2 14 35 20 237 2 1 6 6.8 127.17
Maryland(37-3) 3 60 252 4.2 29 103 3.6 10 31 16 149 0 2 6 6.2 79
Per Game 19 65 270 4.1 31 83 2.6 10 34 17 187 1.2 1.2 4.3 8.8 100

These numbers are excellent.  4.1 yards allowed per play is very good considering that these 6 games came against BCS competition, as I removed the two games against 1-AA competition.  Note that we allowed only 2.6 yards per rush.  If you don't think these numbers are impressive, just wait till you see the difference between our defense against a pro-style attack (like Wisconsin)and a Non- Pro Style scheme...

Non Pro-Style Schemes: 


Total Off.

Rushing


Passing






Opponent PPG
Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
North Carolina St.(26-17) 17 47 338 7.2 21 157 7.5 4 25 13 181 2 0 1 26 139.22
Georgia Tech(28-31) 31 51 343 6.7 44 288 6.5 2 6 4 55 0 1 0 NONE 110.33
Boston College(17-27) 20 74 357 4.8 46 176 3.8 13 27 14 181 1 1 1 28 113
Florida(15-45) 45 68 502 7.4 46 317 6.9 8 22 12 185 3 0 1 23 170
Per Game: 28 60 385 6.4 39 235 6.0 6.8 20 11 151 1.5 0.5 0.8 28 138

That's quite the difference.  Every single category got significantly worse.  Also note that removing UF's numbers don't significantly reduce the categories.  I was shocked at just how well NC State's offense played.  Clearly, our Offense won that game by holding the ball for a long time. 

For those who want the clear comparison in table form, you are in luck...

Total Off. Rushing Passing
Opponent PPG Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
Against Pro-Style 19 65 270 4.1 31 83 2.6 10 34 17 187 1.2 1.2 4.3 8.8 100
Against SBGUNOPTION 28 60 385 6.4 39 235 6.0 7 20 11 151 1.5 0.5 0.8 28 138

Yeah... we get destroyed by anyone with an ounce of talent the the motivation to break away from the popular offenses of the 90's.  The Noles own pro-style attacks.  In other news, Clemson will shift into a non-Pro Style offense in 2009.

 

That answer is too simple, however, as the issue is deeper than the inability to adapt a once-dominant scheme to the modern day offense.

Florida State's absolute preference for smaller, faster defenders has not worked as a substitute for adapting to the more modern, non pro-style offensive schemes. 

Below, you'll find a list of the best 20 defenses nationally, as measured by Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (the best available measure of defensive performance) and the combined weight of their front 7's.

 

4-3 Schemes (4 defensive linemen and three linebackers). 

Note:  I also included teams that run the 4-2-5 here and counted their largest safety as a linebacker for comparison purposes.

USC  #5 Defense  Total Weight:  1860lbs

SDE Kyle Moore | 6-6, 270
WDE Everson Griffen | 6-3, 265
Clay Matthews | 6-3, 240 (Matthews sometimes plays linebacker and sometimes plays weakside/rush end.
NT Averell Spicer | 6-2, 295
DT Fili Moala | 6-5, 295
LB Brian Cushing | 6-3, 255
LB Kaluka Maiava | 6-0, 230
LB Rey Maualuga | 6-2, 260

2008 USC is obviously the model that every defense should endeavor to emulate.  They total 1860lbs across the front 7.  Owning the West Coast, it's probably a tad unrealistic to believe that any other team can get this combination of size and speed on the field at the same time, but I wanted to start with the best.  Tomahawk Nation writer CaStauch chimes in on the excellent USC attack

Addressing the state of Florida State's defensive Front: USC as an Ideal Case

The basic schematic structure to the Southern California Trojan's defensive front is the 43 under. Within this basic framework, each of the front seven players are responsible for a single gap between the offensive line. Inherently, this is an unforgiving discipline, because a single missed responsibility could potentially lead to a big gain by the offense; there usually isn't any backup if we're not considering the defensive backfield.

So, coaches that utilize this front are forced to whittle out each and every efficiency-sapping imperfection. Not necessarily flaws, but things that aren't optimized in order to compensate for the unkind discipline with which this style must be played. In doing this, each position within the front seven has a specific archetype that has been tested and carved to its optimal level. Coarsely, these positions are: Weakside Defensive End (WDE), Nose Tackle (NT), Defensive Tackle (DT), and Strongside Defensive End along the defensive line, and; Weakside Linebacker (Will), Middle Linebacker (Mike) and Strongside Linebacker (Sam) make up the LB corps. Each position has a specific responsibility and players must be recruited that can fill these roles as best as they can. There cannot be any square peg in round hole recruiting here.

The 43 under- one gap scheme denotes particular responsibilities to each player. Concurrently, each of these responsibilities are themselves the foundation their teammates responsibilities: each position reflexively impacts and allows each other position to function. Starting from strongside and going to weakside, with respect to the defense's point of view of the offense (in that the strongside of the defense lines up opposite the strongside of the offense, usually the one with a Tight End), the first position to analyze is the Strongside Defensive end. The SDE lines up on the outside shoulder of offensive tackle to his side. His position is important because it cuts off the angle from which the offensive tackle can move without resistance. This is the form of protection that he bestows upon the LB behind him: because of the angle of his lineup, the OT cannot easily block down on the second level LB without either going through the SDE or amidst the congested middle of the line. In order to make the former as difficult as possible, the SDE must possess some method of holding his ground. Most naturally, this would imply weight. Usually SDE's range from 270-285 pounds. E.J. Wilson, of UNC (Coached by John Blake, one of the foremost DL minds in the collegiate game) weighs in at 280 lbs. Tyson Jackson at LSU clocks in at 285. Southern Cal's SDE, on the other hand, weighed in this past season at 6'6" 275 lbs.

In addition to weight, the SDE needs some form of body composition that utilizes this girth.  There are two options. The first, is two evenly distribute the weight in a lankier frame, like USC's Moore. A longer body implies longer limbs. This, in combination with the greater amount of space that a longer body eats up, allows the SDE to control the line of scrimmage by dictating the movement of the OL with his longer arms. Another model for this method is Carlos Dunlap from UF. If you were with us earlier in the season, you may remember my piece on spatial and temporal playmakers (http://www.tomahawknation.com/2008/11/23/668913/strategy-session-did-the-d).  A lankier SDE is an example of such a spatial constriction: his control of his opponent and longer frame shortens the negative space between him, his opposite OL, and the next D-Lineman, thus constricting the space in which the offense has to exploit.

The second option for an SDE to utilize his size is a stockier frame to produce leverage. This requires a slightly heavier player, like UNC's to exasperate the adequate leverage over what is no doubt a much taller OL.

The moral of the story for the SDE is that his job is to be a clogger. He prevents the Linebackers behind him from being blocked by the OL and TE opposite him. His angle of deployment, that on the outside shoulder of the OT and inside shoulder of the TE, along with his girth and size, allow him to do this. FSU has suffered the lack of an SDE for much of this decade. Our SDE this past season?  Neefy Moffett. As admirable he performed at times, his size (256 lbs) preventing him from consistently manning the clogger role needed.  Behind him, we have Kevin McNeil and Everette Dawkins, both of whom may be able to weigh in at the necessary weight (at least 275). We're also recruiting a bevy of diversity at this position, including David Perry (6"6 240) and Darious Cummings (6'2 260) both in their junior years.

Next in line is maybe the most integral man in the 43 under front, the Nose Tackle. He lines up in the gap between the center and guard on the SDE's side. More than any other, his role is singularly that as a clogger. It is imperative that his physical presence prevents either the Center and Guard to a) defend him 1 on 1, freeing up one of the blockers, and b) bypassing the NT to the Mike or Will LBs behind him. To meet this responsibility, the NT, like the SDE, has choices. Either actually clog the middle of the line with his immense girth (this is the popular approach within the NFL and was clearly illustrated by B.J. Raji and Boston College), or prove to be strong enough and have enough of a competent knowledge of technique and leverage that the same goal is accomplished. The latter is more likely for FSU: not only is it easier to teach technique and develop strength on top of necessary bulk, but we've one of the better technical NT coaches in the country. Coming in at a mere 262 lbs, Coach Haggins turned Brod Bunkley into a chiseled 290 lb NT worthy of first round draft pick and pro bowl consideration. Southern Cal's analog was Averall Spicer, 6'2" and 295. Last year, we played with Budd Thacker, who weighed in at 275, and Paul Griffin, at 280 (doubtful). This was the most direct reason for our porous run defense.

The future, however, looks bright if not tenuous. Moses McCray is expected to play at ~305, and will add that impressive bulk with the mechanical muscle memory imbued from wrestling in high school that will make learning the technical skills much easier. Behind him, Jaccobi McDaniel should start at 280 but gain weight steadily from there, and every coach that has witnessed his domination at the last two All Star games has come away incredibly impressed with his technical ability already.

The Strongside Defensive End and Nose Tackle serve as the foundation upon which the 43 under front is built. They are the necessary brick and mortar that enables the next two pieces, the Defensive Tackle and Weakside Defensive End, to perform as disrupters that cut the spatial and temporal advantages inherent in the Offense.

The Defensive Tackle lines up on the outside shoulder of the Guard on the weak side. His position, labeled a Three Technique affords him the luxury of a one on one matchup with the Guard. Shielded both by the body of the Guard with whom he’s matched up, and his Nose Tackle’s clogging responsibility tying up the center, it is the Coach’s responsibility to recruit and develop a player that accentuates this disruptive potential. Here, Florida State has traditionally excelled. Darnell Dockett, arguably the MVP of the Cardinals late season surge, exemplifies this most clearly, as does Travis Johnson. Southern Cal’s Fili Moala weighs in at 6’2" 290, and possesses the necessary fast-twitch acceleration and understanding of technique and leverage to consistently beat the OG he’s opposite and disrupt the play

Florida State’s answer to this need is Justin Mincey. So as long as he develops mentally (stays eligible) and physically (fills out), Justin is potentially the next in a long line of first round picks produced by Coach Haggins. His width and length, at 6’5", allows him to control and dictate the contact with the likely shorter and slower OG. His speed isn’t gone to waste; shielded by his angle and the NT, he is provided an ample two gaps worth of protection with which to work.

Alongside him, the Weakside Defensive End also serves as a disruptor. He deploys on the outside shoulder of the left tackle, and the inherent disruptive qualities and unrivaled spatial isolation are the reasons Left Tackles are paid more than any position in Football. While the DT is also matched up against a single blocker, he is not awarded the space with which to work like the WDE. As such, he is the principle source of pass rush in this scheme. His size and physique must illustrate this principle goal: normally between 250 and 260 lbs, allowing him not to sacrifice speed and agility with which he can attack an environment (one blocker and nearly ~30 yards of space) that is unrivaled by any other frontal configuration. While Souther Cal has Everson Griffin, FSU counters with Everette Brown and now Markus White. For all of our struggles these past seasons in fielding satisfactory SDEs and NTs, the WDE position has not been a source of angst, at least personnel wise (schematically however, has caused some frustration, but that is the seed of another article for another day).

Behind the defensive line, the Linebackers serve as the second source of necessary aggregate size. It could even be said that Southern Cal’s line, while holding the minimal compulsory weight, was still a little light along the defensive line. However, they make up for that lack with bigger, while still retaining the athleticism to cover ground, linebackers.

Smallest among these is the Weakside Linebacker, the Will. Lining up in the gap between the NT and DT, the Will is provided unequaled protection and shielding from blockers in an ideal case. In fact, unless the Offense purposefully allows either the DT or WDE to come unabated (on a screen, for example), there cannot be a blocker to interfere with the Will. As such, in typical economic fashion, Southern Cal accentuates and enhances the advantages of this situation with a personnel choice that allows the Will to take advantage of this freedom. Maiava, at 230 lbs, has the requisite ability to read the direction and momentum of the play and the speed and agility to make the play once it is read.

Florida State, too, hasn’t been shy in its production of Weakside Linebackers in the past. Geno Hayes is the most recent; Derrick Brooks the most acclaimed. True to the running theme that FSU produces these freelancers and disruptors in droves while neglecting the equally necessary cloggers and holders, The 2009 FSU defense is well represented at this position: Nigel Bradham, Recardo Wright, and maybe the most talented of the bunch, newcomer C.J. Mizell.

Manning the middle of the park, the Mike Linebacker is often the most recognizable figure in a defensive front. Lining up in the gap between the SDE and NT, he is afforded protection from downfield blockers. However, his role is similar to that of a NT and SDE, in that he is first a clogger and holder and second a disruptor. As such, he must carry enough weight to provide the physicality this inherently congested spatial and temporal (in that everything happens faster in the middle) responsibility requires: anywhere from 240-260 lbs. Southern Cal's Rey Malauaga tipped the scales at 260 lbs, compensating for the slight deficiency in overall weight at their NT position. The propensity of the offense to run its offense through the space the Mike occupies requires this additional size and strength in order to shed blocks and fulfill his role as a holder instead of consistently playing out of position.

As FSUn has referenced, our own Middle Linebackers are of less than ideal size. In a vain attempt to compensate for this, they consistently push themselves out of position either by not maintaining their position in the face of a block, not being able to shed a block, or voluntarily moving out of responsibility in an attempt to avoid a block. Compounded with the already mentioned too-light linemen, this provides the offense with an alleyway up the middle of the field with nary but speed bumps in the way. Unfortunately, Derek Nicholson served as one of these speed bumps at 230 lbs.

However, Jimbo Fisher has proved to be an observant foreman, and we've addressed our needs at this position more adequately of late. Vince Williams, the favorite to win the Mike position for 2009, will more than likely weigh in at 245 lbs. With an above average strength quotient, and a natural leverage that his weight stuffed into a 6'0" frame provides, future offensesshould find the stroll through the middle of the park a little less luxurious this season.

Finally, the Strongside Linebacker serves as the dictator of the LB group in a 43 under scheme. Lining up on the outside shoulder of the Tight End, his foremost responsibility is play-side contain and dictation. While the strongside defensive end holds the playside offensive tackle and cracks (chips) the Tight End or extra blocker, the SAM must also serve in this holding and clogging role. This responsibility is necessary in order to provide the force which turns the play inside for the free and pursuing weakside help to make the tackle unabated (the protected Mike and Will LBs.) To achieve this goal, he must be strong enough to withstand and ultimately redirect play-side pressure: if he's too small, then he will be unable to serve as the dam that directs the flow back inside. The blockade will burst, and the offense will gush through the opening, most likely for 6. Unfortunately, FSU has had a penchant for providing these aquatic tropes. In their decision to employ a SAM whose primary responsibility is coverage of the TE instead of play dictation and redirection, they have rendered the protection afforded to the Mike and Will useless and in vain. Instead, a stronger and bigger SAM would be ideal: Nigel Bradham if the beast is unleashed could swell up to 260 without losing his size (USC's CUshing played at 255). Dams and levee's aren't successful when built with twigs and mud, Dekoda Watson at 225 was composed as such.

The 43 under scheme is a complex, interconnected and interdependent defensive approach. Each position must be manned by a player able to physically fulfill his responsibility. If not, then not only is his singularly manned gap vulnerable, but those other positions that depend on his support are compromised. While Florida State has been a prodigious provider of the disruptive agents employed by this scheme, their effectiveness and utility is dulled by the inability to recruit and develop the foundational parts of the front: NT, SDE, and SAMs. These positions aren't glamorous or flashy. Without their ability to tie up blockers and dictate the space in which the offense can operate, the weaknesses of the WIlls, DTs, and WDEs are made all too easy to exploit. As such, it is the opinion of this blog, as FSUn has already
written at length, that FSU realign their recruiting efforts of the foundational pieces to reflect more closely the ideal case of USC along with a sizable contingent of the top 25.

USC did it not with huge defensive tackles, but rather with great overall size.  Linebackers at 250 and 260, and a proper fit for the SDE position at 270lbs.  USC is the a shining example for the theory that it's not huge defensive tackles, that matter, but rather the overall bulk of the front 7.  In fact, it would be easy to argue that USC's interior linemen were on the small side.

 

Florida:  #1 Defense, 1845 Lbs

WDE J. Cunningham | 6-3, 250
SDE Carlos Dunlap | 6-6, 290
DT Terron Sanders | 6-2, 300
DT Lawrence Marsh | 6-5, 305
LB A.J. Jones | 6-1, 225
LB Dustin Doe | 6-0, 230
LB Brandon Spikes | 6-3, 245

The Gators #1 rated defense totaled 1845lbs in the front 7 and were probably the only unit to come close to equaling both the size and speed of USC.  They did play better than USC when you factor in opponent adjustments. 

People think of UF's defense as solely a speed defense.  The numbers, however, show that this could not be further from the truth.  The Gators rarely had to commit 8 men to the box (or 7 against a 4-wide set).  They did not fall into the predictable coverage trap that the 'Noles found themselves in.

 

Boston College:  # 2 Defense, 1902lbs. 

SDE Austin Giles | 6-3, 283
WDE Jim Ramella | 6-4, 243
DT B.J. Raji | 6-1, 323
DT Ron Brace | 6-3, 324
LB Mark Herzlich | 6-4, 242
LB Will Thompson | 6-1, 235
LB Mike McLaughlin | 6-0, 252

At 1902 lbs, Boston College was able to compensate for their reported lack of speed by maintaining their leverage and being able to fight through blocks within the context of their scheme.  They never put 8 men in the box and the size of their defenders allowed them to play slightly wider than a typical team could afford, as they could fight through blockers attempting to turn them out, while still compensating for the lack of burners on the outside.

 

Wake Forest:  #3 Defense, 1875lbs

WDE Matthew Robinson | 6-2, 248
SDE Antonio Wilson | 6-1, 270
NG Boo Robinson | 6-2, 325
DT Dennis Godfrey | 6-3, 320
LB Aaron Curry | 6-3, 247
LB Chantz McClinic | 5-11, 225
LB Stanley Arnoux | 6-1, 240

Wake's defense was truly special this past year.  With 8 of the 11 defensive starters being seniors, Wake's defense was maybe the shining example of playing as a unit.  Wake's size in the middle was probably under reported by the general media and certainly underestimated by me.  They also had large linebackers.

 

Clemson:  #4 Defense, 1785lbs

SDE Da'Quan Bowers | 6-5, 265
WDE Ricky Sapp  | 6-4, 240
NG Dorell Scott | 6-4, 320
DT Jarvis Jenkins | 6-4, 300
LB Scotty Cooper | 6-1, 210
LB Kavell Conner | 6-1, 225
LB Brandon Maye | 6-2, 225

At 1785lbs, Clemson is one of the surprises from this group.  They had a very experienced group Clemson ran more of a 4-2-5 scheme.  Their excellent performance can be attributed to the work of Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenig, who utilized a wide variety of zones.  Koenig's work is consistently under appreciated.  One team that did spread Clemson out by running non pro-style sets was FSU, as they tallied the highest point total against the Tigers.

UConn: #6 Defense, 1738 lbs

WDE Cody Brown | 6-3, 246
SDE Julius Williams | 6-2, 258
NG Rob Lunn | 6-4, 279
DT Alex Polito | 6-6, 271
LB Scott Lutrus | 6-3, 228
LB Lawrence Wilson | 6-1, 217
LB Greg Lloyd | 6-2, 239

The only Big East School on the list is a bigger mystery than Clemson.  So, how did they do so well?  They faced Rutgers, UVA, and West Virginia before those teams hit their collective stride.  

 

North Carolina: #7 Defense, 1865lbs

SDE E.J. Wilson | 6-2, 280
WDE Robert Quinn | 6-5, 260
DT Marvin Austin | 6-3, 300
NG Cam Thomas | 6-3, 330
LB Bruce Carter | 6-3, 230
LB Quan Sturdivant | 6-2, 235
LB Mark Paschal | 6-0, 230

CaStauch touched on UNC (above), but they are a model of consistent defense.  Like Wake Forest, Boston College, UF, and USC, the Tarheels can take care of an opponent's running game without ever needing to call upon an 8th defender.  When you can stop the run with only 7, life is easier.  Better yet, UNC can use 6 against a 4-wide receiver set, pulling Quan Sturdivant off the field in favor of a 5th defensive back, while still knowing they have the run threat controlled.

 

TCU:  #8 Defense, 1876

SDE Jerry Hughes | 6-2, 260
WDE Matt Panfil | 6-2, 253
NG Cody Moore | 6-1, 295
DT James Vess | 6-3, 290
LB Daryl Washington | 6-3, 232
LB Jason Phillips | 6-1, 238
ROV 29 Stephen Hodge | 6-0, 228

TCU plays a 4-2-5 attack and they play it well.  They are 8th on the list because of their game at Oklahoma, in which they ran some very unorthodox packages, flustering the Sooners for a half before OU took over.  They also handled Boise quite well. 

 

Texas #9 Defense, 1807 lbs

WDE Brian Orakpo | 6-4, 260
SDE Henry Melton | 6-3, 265
NG Roy Miller | 6-2, 300
DT Lamarr Houston | 6-2, 275
LB R. Muckelroy | 6-2, 230
LB Sergio Kindle | 6-4, 239
LB Rashad Bobino | 5-11, 238

Texas is an interesting case.  Nearly every major team in the Big 12 runs an advanced version of the spread.  From Kansas to Texas Tech to Oklahoma to Oklahoma State to Missouri, defenses in the Big 12 have a challenge.  Granted, the Big 12's offenses are ovverated compared to their unreachable National Reputation, but they do present unique challenges.

 

Ole Miss: #11 Defense, 1800lbs

SDE Greg Hardy | 6-4, 280
WDE Kentrell Lockett | 6-5 240
NG Ted Laurent | 6-0, 303
DT Peria Jerry | 6-2, 290
LB Ashlee Palmer | 6-2, 222
LB Allen Walker | 6-1, 225
LB Jonathan Cornell | 6-1, 225

Ole Miss had some injuries on the defensive side rendering them a bit light, but at full strength they were larger.  The Rebels did an excellent job against Texas Tech in the cotton bowl, holding Tech to their worst offensive game of the year.

 

IOWA #12 Defense, 1833lbs

DE Christian Ballard | 6-4, 284
DE Adrian Clayborn | 6-3, 282
DT Mitch King | 6-3, 280
DT Matt Kroul | 6-3, 281
LB A.J. Edds | 6-4, 244
LB Jeremiha Hunter | 6-2, 230
LB Pat Angerer | 6-1, 232

Iowa is a very interesting case.  They do not have a defensive lineman over 285lbs!!  Iowa runs what I want to see FSU run.  Because of their versatility across the line, Iowa is able to drop any lineman into coverage at any time (a crucial requirement of the zone blitz).  They create a great amount of uncertainty.  Iowa's defense was better than FSU's despite a complete lack of elite talent.  Of course, they do have a lot of coaches influenced by Saban and Belicheck. 

 

UTAH #14 Defense, 1707lbs

DE Koa Misi | 6-3, 263
DE Paul Kruger | 6-5, 255
DT Derrick Shelby | 6-3, 245
DT Greg Newman | 6-4, 260
LB Kepa Gaison | 5-11, 230
LB Sylvester | 6-2, 224
LB Mike Wright | 6-2, 230

Utah had 10 seniors on defense and benefited from playing Michigan in it's first game as a spread team and faced Alabama without both of the Tide's starting offensive tackles.  To call them a good defense would be accurate.  To deny that they were the beneficiary of some circumstance is foolish. 

 

Boise State #16, 1726lbs

WDE Mike T. Williams | 6-3, 248
SDE Ryan Winterswyk | 6-4, 261
DT Steven Reveles | 6-0, 280
DT Billy Winn | 6-4, 282
LB Kyle Gingg | 5-11, 209
LB Tim Brady | 6-1, 213
LB Derrell Acrey | 6-1, 233

Boist played pretty good defense.  They don't have to face elite competition on a weekly basis, however, and their game against Oregon (when Oregon lost two quarterbacks) weighs heavily in their overall defensive efficiency ranking.

 

South Carolina #17 Defense, 1882lbs

DE Clifton Geathers | 6-7, 284
DE Cliff Matthews | 6-4, 259
DT Nathan Pepper | 6-1, 287
DT Ladi Ajiboye | 6-1, 298
LB Jasper Brinkley | 6-2, 269
LB Eric Norwood | 6-1, 267
ROV Darian Stewart | 5-11, 219

South Carolina was big and good.  UF did destroy them, but it's important to remember that 21 of the Gator's points came on South Carolina turnovers returned for touchdowns or on drives of 5 yards or less (resulting from a South Carolina turnover).  Their defensive coordinator is excellent. 

 

East Carolina:  #18 Defense, 1829lbs

WDE Zack Slate | 6-5, 221
SDE C.J. Wilson | 6-4, 271
DT Jay Ross | 6-3, 306, Jr.
NG Linval Joseph | 6-6, 358
LB Jeremy Chambliss | 6-0, 227
LB Pierre Bell | 6-2, 231
LB Nick Johnson | 6-1, 215

East Carolina was an extreme example of using huge defensive tackles and nothing else.  Using really fat guys can work in a non-BCS conference when teams do not see quality offensive linemen on a weekly basis, but it's incredibly rare to find 18-21 yearold guys who have control over their bodies at 330+ lbs.

 

Ohio State: #19 Defense, 1811lbs.  

SDE Nader Abdallah | 6-4, 300
WDE Thad Gibson | 6-2, 240
DT Cameron Heyward | 6-6 287
NG Doug Worthington | 6-6, 276
LB Marcus Freeman | 6-1, 239
LB Ross Homan | 6-0, 229
LB James Laurinaitis | 6-3, 240

Ohio State utilized a very stout strongside end to control the strong side.  Ohio State did very well against every team except USC, including an impressive showing against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. 

 

3-4 Schemes (and the 3-3-5 Stack)

I won't discuss the 3-4 at length.  Some argue that this is the defense we should run, but I vehemently disagree.  Why?  Huge men don't grow into their huge body until they are 25 or 26.  It's extremely rare to find a Terrence Cody of Alabama or BJ Raji type player.  Most of the players who are 330+lbs are uncoordinated and out of shape.  The 3-4 defense is heavily dependent on having that fulcrum at the Nose Guard position, and the 'Noles should not bet their year to year defensive fate on consistently finding those kids.  If one or two schools do it, that's fine, as they are exploiting somewhat of a market inefficiency.

CAL:  #13 Defense, 1831lbs

DE Tyson Alualu | 6-3, 290
DE Cameron Jordan | 6-4, 286
NT Derrick Hill | 6-2, 298
LB Eddie Young | 6-1, 234
LB Zack Follett | 6-1, 238
LB Anthony Felder | 6-3, 235
LB Worrell Williams | 6-0, 250

Cal's 3-4 was a thing of beauty.  With 5 seniors in the front 7, the Bears were one of the more underrated defenses in college football.

Historical Note:  Cal's 3-4 was essentially the Bum Phillips 3-4 defense and is not the same 3-4 scheme that is run by most 3-4 teams.  The Cowboys and Chargers run Cal's scheme, which is very difficult to teach, as it is the rare one-gap 3-4 defense.  The rest of the 3-4 teams run Bama's.

Alabama #16 Defense, 1914lbs

DE Bobby Greenwood | 6-5, 278
DE Brandon Deaderick | 6-4, 286
NG Terrence Cody | 6-5, 365
LB Cory Reamer | 6-4, 223
LB Brandon Fanney | 6-4, 257
LB Rolando McClain | 6-4, 255
LB Donta Hightower | 6-4, 250

Extremely young, but big and talented, Bama's defense excelled under the brilliant defensive scheming of Nick Saban.  Nobody ran on Bama and the Tide were never forced to use the 8th man to stop the run.

 

But what about the 'Noles? 

Florida State:  #20 defense, 1735 lbs.

SDE Neefy Moffett | 6-1, 256
WDE Everette Brown | 6-4, 248
NG Paul Griffin | 6-2, 280
DT Bud Thacker | 6-5, 275
LB Toddrick Verdell | 6-3, 222
LB Dekoda Watson | 6-2, 221
LB Derek Nicholson | 6-2, 232

1735lbs is tiny and appalling.  They did not improve or reach an elite level, despite being deeper, more talented, more experienced, and much healthier than the 2007 edition.  While the injury to Dunbar and the early departure of Guion definitely hurt the 'Noles, the defense was still entirely comprised of upper classmen.  Is 20th okay for a Seminole defense with 11 upperclassmen starters?  Surely not.  As CaStauch explained (above), the 'Noles were handcuffed by their lack of size and Andrew's scheme.  Where other programs have the option of using the 8th man in the box, FSU has forced itself into using the strategy on a huge percentage of downs.  With the current personnel, the 'Noles defense has become sort of a high school basketballesque "pack it in" defense.  Of course, The "pack it in" doesn't work at the college level and neither does the 'Noles defense as it is currently comprised.  FSU could be in some serious trouble in 2009 as teams are going to realize FSU cannot stop the run and will run first before passing.  The 'Noles must pray that Moses McCray improves a lot and stays healthy, that Justin Mincey stays in school and gets to practice, and that they can get something from Stewart/ Thacker.  Expecting a major contribution in 2009 from Jacobi McDaniel is unrealistic.  

In Table Form, it's easier to see.  (BCS teams only, as the small conference teams do not take the same week to seek pounding that the BCS squads do).

Team Front-7 Weight (In Lbs) Defensive Ranking
Alabama 1914 16
Boston College 1902 2
South Carolina 1882 17
Wake Forest 1875 3
North Carolina 1865 7
Sourhern Cal 1860 5
Florida 1835 1
Iowa 1833 12
California 1831 13
Ohio State 1811 19
Texas 1807 9
Ole Miss 1800 11
Clemson 1785 4
Florida State 1735 20

Look at how small Florida State is.  That's very disappointing.

What I hoped to prove from this article:

  • Size in the front 7 is a crucial component of a successful defense
  • That size in the front 7 does not necessarily need to come from the defensive tackle position.  Teams meet their size needs in many different ways.
  • The 'Noles get gashed by any offense other than the typical Pro-Style Attack.
  • FSU needs to adapt to stop the Non- Pro Style offense and the way they have chosen (solely speed) is ineffective. 

Editors Note:  We needed to write this before continuing with the Spring Previews on the defensive side of the ball so that our readers can understand where we are coming from when discussing the defense.

In the next installment, we will discuss possible long-term solutions as well as immeidate stop gap measures.

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