The Daily Nole

By the Numbers: FSU’s Second Half Improvement on Defense athletics

Florida State fans might not be clamoring for defensive coordinator Charles Kelly to be retained for 2017, but for the most part, the pitch forks have been put away.

That’s because the defensive effort from Florida State has been much better over the last five games as compared to the first five. For the most part, FSU has stopped having breakdowns in coverage and is doing a much better job “bending, but not breaking”.

Following a dominating 45-7 win over Boston College in which the Seminoles pitched a shutout for most of the game and held the Eagles to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, FSU has a top 50 defense nationally for the first time all season.

Senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker has been solid all year, but in recent weeks, players like defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, defensive end Josh Sweat, linebacker Matthew Thomas and some youngsters like cornerback Kyle Meyers and linebacker Dontavious Jackson have all emerged. One of the bigger surprises is how well Ermon Lane has fit in at safety after moving over from wide receiver mid-season.

Here’s a look at the numbers from FSU’s first five games as compared to its last five:

*Charleston Southern not included in offensive rank average

The difference is obviously staggering. With perhaps the exception of passing yards per game, just about every area stands out. In terms of points allowed, the Seminoles were giving up more than five touchdowns per game through Oct. 1 and since then, only Clemson has managed to put up more than 20 on the Seminoles.

For the most part, Florida State is completely shutting down the run and has stopped giving up the big play through the air, hence the significant dip in yards per pass attempt allowed. The Seminoles have obviously improved significantly on defense, but do the numbers tell the whole story?

As bad as the numbers are for the first part of this season, they would look even worse had Charleston Southern’s numbers not been factored in. The Seminoles defeated the Buccaneers 52-8 on Sept. 10 while Charleston Southern was without some key players lost to suspension.

If those numbers are excluded from the first half of the season, the Seminoles gave up 42.3 points per game, 273.5 yards per game passing, 201 yards rushing per game, 9.9 yards per pass attempt and 5.6 yards per rush.

While improvement seems to be obvious in recent weeks for Florida State, it should be noted that the Seminoles haven’t exactly been playing offensive juggernauts. The worst statistical offense among FSU’s first four FBS opponents was North Carolina, who currently ranks 41st nationally.

Since then, Clemson is the only offense that Florida State has faced currently ranked in the top 50 at No. 15. Others like Wake Forest and Boston College fail to even rank in the top 120 among 128 FBS teams. The Eagles are actually dead last.

So how did FSU fare against Clemson? The Seminoles gave up 37 points and 511 yards of total offense — 378 yards passing and 133 yards rushing. The total and passing yardage numbers are higher than the average FSU gave up when it was struggling, but when you look at yards per pass attempt, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson averaged 8.8 yards per throw. It’s still high, but well below the average the Seminoles were giving up early in the season.

Clemson’s 133 yards on the ground against FSU came on just 3.5 yards per carry. As a team, Clemson is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and that’s against a very good slate of defenses.

That however, isn’t the only team that FSU has struggled against over the last half of the season. Though N.C. State mustered only 20 points against the Seminoles on Nov. 5, it put up 469 yards of offense — 304 passing and 165 yards rushing.

What FSU did do however, was force the Wolfpack to be methodical as they averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt and four yards per rush. The Seminoles were able to stiffen in the red zone and force N.C. State into field goal attempts, which is something FSU didn’t do early in the year.

Although the competition has weakened, there’s no denying that Florida State has seen significant improvement defensively. Eliminating breakdowns in coverage is a big reason, but perhaps the biggest that can be seen in the numbers is the fact that FSU is stopping the run. Not a single team has averaged more than four yards per carry against the Seminoles since Oct. 1.

It should be noted that Florida State has not only faced weaker offenses in recent weeks, but it has also seen fewer offenses that have talented quarterbacks like North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly or Louisville sophomore and Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson. With the exception of Clemson, FSU also hasn’t seen many offenses that go uptempo. Clemson put up good offensive numbers against FSU, but did so on lower per play averages than the Seminoles were giving up early in the season.

For the FSU defense, the final two weeks of the regular season appear promising. Syracuse, whom the Seminoles visit this week, has a top 50 offense and likes to go uptempo, but its production has been largely skewed by falling behind early in games and having padded passing numbers. The Orange have also struggled to run the ball or protect the passer. They’ll also likely be without quarterback Eric Dungey. FSU then closes the year at home against a beat up Florida team that ranks just 95th in the country in yards per game.

What’s transpired over the last several weeks might not be enough to keep Kelly’s job, but is a testament to the third-year defensive coordinator that he hasn’t lost his team. Whether or not Kelly is retained will be up to the FSU head coach (presumably Jimbo Fisher), but after several solid weeks, Kelly can at least make some case for remaining in Tallahassee. That seemed impossible about a month and a half ago.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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