Keeping Perspective On The Florida State Defense

I've seen some really ridiculous claims about Florida State's defense over the past few days. Perhaps the most ridiculous is that it hasn't improved from last year's defense. That's simply not true. 

Offensive Performances By Florida State's First Four Opponents
Louisiana Monroe Oklahoma Clemson Wake Forest
Opponent Yards/Play Opponent Yards/Play Opponent Yards/Play Opponent Yards/Play
at Iowa 4.8 Ball St. 8.5 Troy 6.8 N.C. State 6.3
at TCU 4.6 Missouri 6.8 Auburn 6.8 at Boston Coll 6.2
Arkansas St. 4 Tulsa 6.6 Boston Coll 6.4 Florida St. 5.3
at Florida St. 3.1 Texas 6.4 Florida St. 5.2 at Syracuse 4.8
    at Florida St. 4.7 at Va Tech 4.8

The advanced metrics that account for opponent quality show this, but so do more traditional measures, like the trusty yards/play. Take a look at this chart I put together.

The people claiming this are the same who foolishly claimed that last year's defense was better than last year's offense. Those who get it understood that FSU's defense, while much improved, was far from great last season and that it often relied on rather lucky turnovers in big games. See the big 2010 chart and notice how teams often had little trouble moving the ball against FSU:

Game-by-game offensive performances by FSU's 2010 Opponents (yards/play)
Oklahoma   BYU   Wake Forest   Virginia   Miami  
Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P
Texas Tech 7.5 at Colorado St. 8.2 at Virginia Tech 8.2 North Carolina 8.3 at Georgia Tech 7.9
Iowa St. 7.1 New Mexico 6.4 Duke 6.5 at Georgia Tech 6.7 Notre Dame 6.6
Colorado 6.8 UNLV 6.2 Navy 5.2 Eastern Mich. 6.6 Florida A&M 6.5
Connecticut 6.6 UTEP 6 at Vanderbilt 5.2 Maryland 6.6 Maryland 6.4
Florida St. 5.9 Washington 5.6 Boston College 4.6 at Duke 6.4 at Virginia 6.3
at Baylor 5.8 at Air Force 5.2 Georgia Tech 4.1 Miami (Fla.) 6.3 Virginia Tech 6.2
Nebraska 5.7 San Diego St. 4.9 at Stanford 3.9 at Boston College 6.1 at Duke 5.9
at Oklahoma St. 5.5 Nevada 4.6 Clemson 3.4 Florida St. 6 North Carolina 5.8
at Missouri 5.4 Wyoming 4.3 at North Carolina St. 3.2 at Virginia Tech 6 at Ohio St. 5.3
Utah St. 5.2 at Utah St. 4.2 at Florida St. 3.1 at Southern California 4.8 at Pittsburgh 5.2
Air Force 4.8 at Utah 4 at Maryland 2.8     Florida St. 5
at Cincinnati 4.8 at Florida St. 2.7         at Clemson 4.9
Texas 4 at TCU 2.6         South Fla. 4.8
at Texas A&M 3.5                
                   
Boston College   N.C. State   North Carolina   Clemson      
Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P    
Virginia 6.1 Cincinnati 6.5 at Virginia 8.3 North Texas 9.2    
at Duke 5.8 at Georgia Tech 6.5 at Florida St. 7 Georgia Tech 6.2    
at Wake Forest 5.1 Virginia Tech 6.2 at Duke 6.4 at Wake Forest 6.1    
Clemson 4.9 Wake Forest 6.1 Georgia Tech 6.2 at Auburn 5    
at Florida St. 4.7 at East Caro. 5.2 East Caro. 6.2 at Florida St. 4.9    
at North Carolina St. 4.5 Boston College 5 North Carolina St. 5.8 at North Carolina 4.6    
Kent St. 4.4 West Virginia 4.7 at Miami (Fla.) 5.8 South Fla. 4.4    
at Syracuse 4.4 Florida St. 4.5 Tennessee 5.6 Miami (Fla.) 4.3    
Maryland 4.3 at North Carolina 4.4 LSU 5.5 at Boston College 4.2    
Virginia Tech 4.2 at Maryland 4.4 at Rutgers 4.9 South Carolina 4    
Notre Dame 3.9 at Clemson 4.2 Virginia Tech 4.8 North Carolina St. 3.7    
Nevada 3.1 at UCF 3.4 Clemson 3.9 Maryland 3.3    
                   
Maryland   Florida   Virginia Tech   South Carolina      
Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P Opponent Y/P    
East Caro. 8 Kentucky 6.8 East Caro. 7.9 at Kentucky 8.6    
Florida Int'l 7.6 South Fla. 6.4 Central Mich. 7.4 Troy 7.6    
Navy 7 Georgia 5.8 at North Carolina St. 7.2 Southern Miss. 6.9    
at Virginia 6.6 at Vanderbilt 5.5 Duke 7 at Auburn 6.7    
North Carolina St. 6.1 Mississippi St. 4.9 Wake Forest 6.8 Tennessee 6.7    
Wake Forest 5.7 at Alabama 4.5 at North Carolina 6.3 Florida St. 6.1    
Florida St. 5.5 at Tennessee 4.4 Florida St. 6.2 at Vanderbilt 5.8    
at Clemson 5.1 at Florida St. 4.4 Virginia 6 Alabama 5.5    
at Miami (Fla.) 4.6 LSU 4.3 at Miami (Fla.) 5.9 Auburn 5.5    
Duke 4.5 Penn St. 3.9 at Boston College 5.6 at Florida 5.2    
at West Virginia 4.3 Miami (Ohio) 3.8 Georgia Tech 5.2 Georgia 5.1    
at Boston College 3.1 South Carolina 3.8 Boise St. 4.8 Arkansas 4.9    
        Stanford 4.3 at Clemson 4.9  

FSU's defense hasn't had that luck this season, but its been playing sound defense for the most part, and is much improved.

Florida State has held each of its first four opponents to their worst or second-worst offensive game of the year. This defense is absolutely improving. The 2010 chart simply did not look like that. In 2010, when FSU faced an elite offense, it got torched. In 2011, FSU's defense has held the two elite offenses it has faced to their two worst offensive performances of the season.

No, FSU's defense hasn't been perfect. It's been plagued by a lack of turnovers (largely luck), penalties (some legit, many not and covered on this website), and a lack of success on third downs. 

I'd much rather have a defense limiting yards/play and struggling with the above issues because I know those can and should turn around if the defense is playing as well as the yards/play indicate.

The reverse is not true. Defenses don't typically dominate on third down after being terrible on first and second, and teams that force a bunch of turnovers and give up a ton of yards/play are almost always frauds.

This defense isn't a fraud. It's good, maybe very good, and easily better than last year. It doesn't have an elite offense protecting it like the 2010 edition did. And that's just hard for some to see right now. 

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