Yes, I modified that title from the famous axiom “live by the sword, die by the sword,” and for good reason: in Saturday’s season-opening loss to Boise State, Florida State got off to a great 24-6 start, then watched as the Broncos methodically crept back to capture a 36-31 upset victory in Tallahassee.
Did FSU’s offensive ineptitude in the second half have something to do with that? Naturally. But the Seminole defense, all too often unable to get off the field in surrendering 10-19 third-down conversions, owns the lion’s share of the blame and has plenty to address moving forward.
The defensive line has to create more havoc, the linebackers must trigger quicker and through the right gaps, and the secondary has to play more aggressively in coverage. And all of these goals could be more readily realized by FSU blitzing more often. Blitzing places a premium on a team’s athleticism, where the Seminoles are stocked, allowing athletes to utilize their athleticism and perform more instinctually.
But there’s another side to that coin, as there always is: Florida State is going to relinquish some big plays. So let’s talk about both the positive and negative aspects of this strategy, and why the downside isn’t as bad as you may think.
To begin, this isn’t really much of an option for the Seminoles. After losing Brian Burns to the NFL after last season, the ’Noles are left without a proven pass rusher, so getting after the opposing QB was already a concern. And against Boise State, FSU showed its willingness to blitz at times.
The Seminoles occasionally stunted with linebackers and brought DBs off the edge, and that’s why four of its six sacks (against a good Bronco OL) came from players other than edge defenders, with safety Carlos Becker registering a game-high two, one of which resulted in a forced fumble. Fellow safety Levonta Taylor also created some mayhem, tied for a game-high two QB hurries. The upside is obvious: if it’s not directly creating a turnover (and the Seminole defense took two balls back to the house on Saturday, even if they were called back after review), getting home on blitzes still tends to shorten drives.
But those truncated drives work both ways, which prompts the obvious question: if you’re blitzing, aren’t you exposing the rest of your defense? Yes.
Follow-up: doesn’t that increase the possibility of a big play for the other team? Yup.
And that’s alright? Absolutely.
Listen, in a perfect Seminole world, Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson exist on the edge in perpetuity, and everyone else can just sit back and wait for dying quails to issue from the arm of the opposing QB and fall lifelessly into the ghost of the turnover backpack. But if you haven’t noticed lately, FSU’s GPS has lost the coordinates to perfection, so the ’Noles need to play the hand they’ve been dealt.
And that means blitzing, even if it allows a big play here and there. Strike that: because it results in the occasional long, quick strike.
Do you want to concede scores? Of course not. But back to the sword analogy. If you’re gonna shed blood, and every defense loses from time to time, would you rather have it be swiftly, with a sharp instrument, or slowly, mauled to death with a dull spoon? Sword, please.
Why? because as the saying goes, there’s also life in wielding the sword, in the form of sacks, and turnovers, and shortening your opponents’ drives. When FSU got conservative on Saturday —like on that 3rd-and-16 in the fourth quarter when Florida State rushed just three and allowed a first down — it opted for a passive spooning.
A lot has been made of the speed at which Seminole offensive coordinator Kendal Briles wants to run his offense. And because of that strategy, FSU’s defense has to due its own symbiotic part and play fast as well. It cannot sit back and attempt to bend without breaking, tiring itself out while the offense sits and loses the rhythm so important to Briles’ attack. As it was said in The Shawshank Redemption:
Don’t flail, don’t languish— be bold, take your chances, and roll the dice, especially on the back end, where FSU boasts a plethora of talent and depth. Will they get beat from time to time? Sure. But they’ll also make some plays. Either way, at least it’s an active, aggressive attempt to win, and not a passive concession. Moreover, it’s not selfish: it’s actually more of a buy-in to what Briles is trying to do. If you get beat, okay: the offense gets the ball back quicker, and maybe your defense doesn’t die a slow death over 108 plays, the way it did against Boise State.