This is a guest article by Ryan Nelson. We thank him for his contribution!
In the preseason, the Florida State Seminoles were ranked 4th in the country, received some first-place votes and were one of the favorites to make the ACC championship and perhaps the College Football Playoff.
Then Derwin James got hurt, the defense got shredded week after week and Florida State is a road underdog in its sixth game of the season, perhaps on the precipice of dropping out of the Top 25 rankings entirely.
James is doing all he can from the sidelines to help his teammates, but there remains no concrete timeframe for his return from a knee injury. With him out, the Seminoles have been atrocious. According to ESPN, against FBS opponents, the Seminole defense is on the field less than any other Power 5 school yet is allowing a national-worst 42.3 points per game. It is also dead last among Power 5 teams allowing 6.98 yards per play. Outside of injury, “issues of misalignments, missed assignments and a lack of communication” are pointed to as culprits for the unit’s fall. It certainly isn’t a lack of talent. Recruiting and building a talent base have never been issues for Florida State or Jimbo Fisher, and much was expected of this group prior to the season. Getting elite execution out of his players apparently is instead the issue.
Giving up 63 points to Lamar Jackson and Louisville was perhaps the worst statistical performance that could have transpired for this squad, but it wasn’t rock bottom. Losing on the road to a Top-10 team is nothing to be disappointed with. The game was noncompetitive pretty quickly. At that point, it is only natural to pack it in and bring down your level of effort. That’s how 63 points happens.
What is harder to explain is how FSU could give up 37 points at home to North Carolina in a back-and-forth game that came down to the final score. UNC scored nine points in the final 2:31 of the ballgame. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky encountered little to no resistance all game on his way to completing 81.5 percent of his passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns. If the Louisville game was the eye-opener, the Carolina game was the panic button.
When there is talent on the field, a lack of effort is still a death sentence; it doesn’t matter how naturally talented players are if they are not using those abilities. This group is filled with four- and five-star recruits but seems to lack discipline, attitude and other intangibles that lead to cohesive football. Compounded with the mental mistakes this defense is making pre-snap and in recognition, it is hard to be successful no matter how many stars stood by your name coming out of high school.
Some former players blame the coaching staff for the issues, saying such mistakes come from a lack of leadership, direction and culture. Others say it is on the players to correct such shortcomings. Either way, the performance has been putrid and isn’t showing any signs of being turned around.
According to Coach Fisher, there is no issue with the scheme being played. It is the same defensive scheme Florida State has been using to much success the past three years. Instead, it is about getting the new players to execute the plays as they were intended. Fisher even went as far as blaming the coaches for not teaching said scheme well enough. None of it bodes well for defensive coordinator Charles Kelly.
But removing Kelly is no guarantee of a turnaround, especially with 10th-ranked Miami and Brad Kaaya on the horizon this weekend. Then comes a game against Clemson before the month is out. If something doesn’t change on the defensive side, Florida State will find itself outside the Top 25, below .500 and a far cry from a berth in the playoff.