Florida State’s defense is bad. Like, off to the worst start in school history bad.
Florida State’s defense has now given up more points through its first five games than any other squad in program history. Specifically, the Seminoles have surrendered 177 points through five games.
By the national rankings, FSU is 125th in yards/play, 94th in yards/game, and 105th in points/game.
It’s bad because Florida State’s defense plays with lackluster effort, blows assignments regularly, doesn’t always seem to understand what is called, and lacks physicality, instincts and aggressiveness. It appears to be a poorly coached unit so far.
That explains a good part of the rankings.
Injuries, too, have hurt in the secondary and up front. That explains another part.
But do you really believe there are 100 defenses nationally better than FSU’s defense? How can the stats be that bad?
The key is the quality of offenses faced.
I asked SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, one of the leading experts in the football analytics field to pull some numbers for me on the quality of offenses Florida State has faced to date — Ole Miss, Charleston Southern, Louisville, USF and North Carolina, and compare them to the slate of offenses faced by the other 128 FBS teams.
The numbers were staggering.
The difference between the No. 1 slate of offenses faced and the No. 2 schedule of toughest offenses faced is as big as the difference between No. 2 and No. 17 — a full standard deviation separates No. 1 and No. 2. That’s incredible. It’s the same as the difference between No. 18 and No. 53.
The team that has faced such an incredible slate? It’s Florida State.
FSU comes in No. 1 with an average opponent S&P+ Offense rating of 38.7, compared to No. 2 Oklahoma at 35.6, No. 17 Illinois at 32.2 and No. 53 Wisconsin at 29.
This isn’t to claim that FSU is playing good, or even acceptable defense. It is not.
But it is to say that FSU’s defense is not as bad as some think, or as traditional metrics that do not account for opponent think.
Let’s compare the offenses faced by Florida State to those faced by in-state rivals Florida (at Tennessee, Kentucky, at Vanderbilt, North Texas, Massachusetts) and Miami (at Appalachian State, at Georgia Tech, Florida Atlantic and FAMU). Florida and Miami rank 3rd and 4th nationally in yards/play allowed, but that stat does not tell the whole story.
While FSU’s offensive opponents rank No. 1, and by a huge margin, Florida’s offenses faced come in at No. 109 and Miami’s come in at 119th. FSU has faced four offenses that are considerably better than any offense faced by the Gators or Hurricanes.
|Florida State||Ole Miss||44.6||4|
|Florida State||North Carolina||44.3||7|
|Florida State||South Florida||39.9||15|
|Florida State||Char. Southern||17||128|
In fact, the vast majority of college football teams will not face four offenses as good as what FSU faced through its first five weeks in an entire season.
To be clear, these are opponent-adjusted numbers, so no, those offenses are not rated that high due to playing FSU’s lackluster defense.
It’s very interesting to note that the team with the No. 1 yards/play nationally, Boston College, has faced the second-worst slate of offenses nationally. Similar trends are found at the top and bottom when comparing traditional v. advanced analytics.
Elite string of QBs highlight weaknesses
In looking at the quality of opponents faced, one thing really stands out: quarterback.
Florida State went on the road and faced Lamar Jackson, arguably still the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy even after a loss at Clemson. It faced Chad Kelly, one of the best QBs in the country. It faced Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina, who has a 13-0 TD/INT ratio, 76 percent completions and four rushing touchdowns as well. All three are legitimate NFL prospects. And it played Quentin Flowers, a dynamic college QB who is a better runner than thrower. When Flowers is the fourth best QB a college defenses sees in five weeks, that really says something.
Again, most college football teams will not face a foursome of QBs like this in an entire season, much less the first five weeks.
What has happened is that in facing such an elite slate, every defensive error is magnified, so FSU’s errors are punished at a much higher rate than that of other defenses. If FSU had faced an average or good slate of offenses, it would not look nearly this bad.
How many fewer points would a good defense have allowed?
While giving up 34 points and 5.94 yards/play to Ole Miss on opening night looked bad, that is actually the best any defense including Alabama (43/7.15) and Georgia (45/8.36) have allowed to the Rebels.
Similar examples to varying degrees exist with Louisville, USF and North Carolina, though not as great as the Ole Miss example. And there is no doubt FSU should have played better in those games and that jobs are on the line because the Seminoles did not.
It’s reasonable to think a good defense could have held Louisville to about 10 fewer points in Louisville, given what FSU’s own offense was doing. And a better defense probably would have held UNC in the high 20s or low 30s. A better defense might have allowed fewer points to USF, but the majority of the Bulls’ points were in garbage time anyhow.
If FSU had a better defense, it is probably 4-1 right now instead of 3-2. But it doesn’t. Even adjusting for opponent, FSU’s defense cannot be considered good. It’s still below average, which is way below the standard in Tallahassee. This level of assignment unsoundness and loafing isn’t acceptable. Perhaps that improves, but it would have to improve by leaps and bounds for this defense to have an acceptable season.
Things get tougher before they get easier.
And things do not get much easier from here. FSU must now travel to face Brad Kaaya of Miami and then host Deshaun Watson, of Clemson. We’ll re-visit where the offenses faced by FSU rank in the coming weeks, but it’s a safe bet that the gap between No. 1 set of offenses faced and No. 2 will continue to grow in the next few weeks.
But in the second half of the season, opposing offenses will get easier. It’ll be important to be remember that when judging the defense’s improvement, if it does come.