Here are 6 thoughts on why the defense is struggling:
(1) FSU misses Lamarcus Joyner
Joyner registered 5.5 sacks, 69 tackles (7 for loss), and forced 3 fumbles a year ago and while the DB play has been solid, it has lacked some of the big play ability that was on display a year ago. FSU DBs had 8.5 sacks a year ago, but just one this season. Football games are decided by under 10 plays a game and FSU needs to create a few more big plays on the defensive side of the ball. There are play-makers in the secondary.
(2) FSU misses Telvin Smith
Telvin's 9.5 tackles for loss last year along with three INTs, 2 fumble recoveries, and 90+ tackles has not been replaced this year. Again the production is fine at LB, but FSU is missing some of the big plays that put that defense over the top a year ago. Telvin also had the experience to get FSU to line up properly and his understanding of the defense was one of the not so obvious keys to the undefeated NC. The Smith/Smith/Jones trio at LB a year ago all finished in the top 6 in tackles.
(3) Jeremy Pruitt was hot hot hot in 2013
Being a defensive coordinator in today's college game can't be easy, in fact one would think that the prolific passing offenses that abound would keep DCs up at night. Pruitt called "A" games last year. When Joyner came on the blitz it seemed to be the right time to do that against the right protection. This year, new DC Charles Kelly has been caught with his pants down a few times and we simply did not see that a year ago. There is an element of "luck" here, but Pruitt was more aggressive as play caller and that creates big plays.
(4) The FSU offense has left the defense in some bad spots
While FSU did not get off to a super fast start in EVERY game a year ago (B.C. for instance), they certainly were more consistent early in the game than they have been this year. Last week's Louisville game saw the offense put the defense in several terrible spots. There is no question that situation can be frustrating for a defender. It is also human nature, particularly for college age kids, to allow a bad play or two to affect their performance. The good news is that the offense appears to be hitting it's stride and that should help the defense reach it's ceiling by not placing it in situations that are difficult to get out of.
(5) It is tough being the hunted
FSU is getting everyone's best shot this year. Opposing coaches have game-planned in the off-season for FSU and then executed at a high level. This is not an excuse it just reality and it is why it is so difficult to go back to back. This is not a new thing, we have seen complacency set in at Alabama and USCs great run saw plenty of games where the Trojan's played down to their competition.
(6) Nile Lawrence-Stample's injury has hurt more than people know
One player should not make a team or a defense, but FSU clearly misses NLS and they have struggled replacing him.
The Good news:
Some youngsters have started to step up. We saw Lorenzo Featherston flash early in the season (before an injury), Jacob Pugh has been Johnny on the spot a few times, Matthew Thomas has returned off of suspension, and behind the scenes players like Derek Nnadi and Rick Leonard are being raved about. All players should be getting more familiar with what Charles Kelly is trying to do and Kelly should also improve with experience.
We are literally talking about turning 3-5 plays AROUND. Instead of letting a 15+ yard play happen, FSU needs to start to shut that down. The talent is there to do it. There are players that can get to the QB. There are DBs that can flat cover. At this point the Safeties (Hunter, Andrews, Ramsey) have plenty of experience. While the defensive line may lack high end talent, Edwards, Goldman, Mitchell, Hollin, Walker, Casher, Newberry, etc are plenty of bodies.
This week's game against Virginia provides an opportunity for the FSU defense to begin to show the country that this is not just about Jameis Winston being the best QB in the country......there is a defense here to. The Cav's have lost three straight and have been held to 13, 27, and 10 points by Duke, UNC, and GT respectively. UNCs defense may be the very worst in the country. In addition, we feel that the guys who are looking at leaving early for the NFL, namely Mario Edwards, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, and Eddie Goldman, need strong finishes to the season. That is some headline making talent that needs to start making headline type plays.