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Nole Analytics: Was the 2020 FSU defense the worst in program history?

Taking a deep dive into the advanced stats of Seminoles history

Sun Sentinel

Spring is here and that means we can look back at the 2020 football season and see how it stacked up to previous FSU campaigns and to the teams that they played during the season.

In terms of analytics, I will continue using the yards per play metric since it is simple to understand and because we’ve already looked at this season from an Expected Points perspective.

I am also going to use process behavior, and Sharpe ratio charts since they are relatively simple to understand and to be consistent with the previous articles(See: Analyzing FSU’s Success as a Program Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4).

So how does the 2020 defense compare to past FSU teams?

Looking back at the defense performances since 2010 we see this:

Fig. 1 Defensive Yards per Play 2010-2020
Data Source:,

The defensive performance is comparable to the 2018 team in terms of consistency, though it is much worse than both the 2018 and 2019 teams in how many yards per play they gave up. This is evident when you see the Sharpe plot:

Fig. 2: Sharpe Chart of Defensive Yards per Play 1987-2020.
Data Source:,

I have highlighted the 2009 and 2018-2020 teams in order to make the comparison with the last coaching staff and with the 2009 team. Remember that defenses in the upper right quadrant of the chart are bad.

The 2020 team gave up an average of 6.46 yards per play per game on defense. This was definitely a step back from a relatively consistent 2019 defense that gave up 5.37 yards per play on average. Compared to the 2018 team (SD = 1.38 YPP), they were more consistent game to game (SD = 1.23 YPP), but gave up more yards.

This makes it the second-worst defense since 1987 with only the 2009 team (6.81 yards per play) performing worse. The 2020 defense was more consistent, but that could mean consistently poor.

How did the FSU D compare to the teams they played?

Given the unusual 2020 season, we are only going to compare FSU’s performance to the teams they played. There were enough cancellations league-wide that it doesn’t make sense to compare FSU to the teams in the league as a whole.

When we look at how all the teams that FSU played, game-by-game, we see this:

Fig 3: Defensive Yards Per Play for teams on 2020 schedule.
Data Source:

One thing that is evident. The game-to-game performance of all the defenses was inconsistent and a good many teams that we played had games that were bad. The blue lines are the avg. yards per play and only Pitt in 2020 averaged less than 5 Yards per Play.

Looking at the Sharpe Chart, we see the following:

Fig. 4: 2020 Schedule Sharpe Plot of Defensive Yards per Play
Data Source:

The two best defenses that FSU faced this year were Pitt and Notre Dame. Both were in that lower left quadrant of the chart which means they were relatively productive and consistent.

Compared to the teams they played, FSU’s defense played poorly. The high standard deviation for Miami is most likely due to the 10.2 YPP given up in the North Carolina game. Either way, this is a year that many a defensive coordinator would like to forget. The onus is on defensive coordinator Adam Fuller to utilize both new and experienced talent to successfully pull off a 4-2-5 base defensive formation and replicate his work at Memphis.