The Daily Nole

Hot Take Tuesday: FSU’s Ceiling is 7-5 With Barnett as Defensive Coordinator

Ross Obley/FSU athletics

According to our Thursday article where we poll the Florida State fan base, the Clemson game went about as expected. Clemson winning by multiple scores was the overwhelming result of the poll — in fact, it had the outright majority of votes.

Most of us were not expecting a particularly great performance by Florida State’s defense. We thought it might hold out for a couple of quarters before getting worn down, but a final tally near or above 40 points for the Clemson Tigers was fully expected.

Well, the Florida State defense let them get there pretty quickly. Every weak spot of the defense became a glowing target for Trevor Lawrence, and the running backs had no issue getting to the second level on almost every hand-off. The only encouraging development on that side of the ball was the effort. They didn’t give up.

They should be commended for that. So should the coaches. But if it’s not an effort issue, their performances fall entirely on the coaching. Right now, they simply aren’t coached well.

Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett doesn’t have the excuses that head coach Willie Taggart and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles do. The offensive line lacked talent and depth before they arrived, and essentially no coach could turn them into a decent unit in one year. The only comparable unit on defense was linebackers, and it was nowhere near the travesty the offensive line was. Even though they added blue chip talent in the offseason, the linebackers are still performing downright terrible and look poorly coached.

You’ve all heard this before.

It is to the point where I’m not sure if Taggart can wait for the season to conclude. While most of the offenses they will face the rest of the year are not juggernauts, offenses don’t have to be juggernauts to move the ball effectively against the Seminoles. If NC State was the barometer for how FSU might look the rest of the year, it should be noted that their offense ranks 88th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings system. Wake Forest, Miami, and Florida all have significantly better offenses according to the ratings — each by at least 20 spots. Syracuse is closer to the Wolfpack, but it is still ranked above NC State.

The obvious choice to be defensive coordinator is current analyst Jim Leavitt. Taggart is familiar with Leavitt from his Oregon days, and Leavitt’s ability to quickly turn around a struggling defense is well known. Could there be a similar improvement from FSU? Probably not to the extent that it occurred at Oregon.

He would essentially be taking over a team midseason, without a full offseason to install whatever system he’d want. But he would be able to coach up parts of the team that he’s currently unable to, and his philosophy could substantially alter how the Seminoles attack teams.

It would also mean he gets a jumpstart on next season, when he is widely expected to be named defensive coordinator. That is not guaranteed — and we are not claiming to have sources telling us it’s happening — but that was the assumption when he was hired.

Yet if Taggart is genuinely concerned about making a bowl, he might want to keep Barnett for no other reason than consistency. If it can turn in similar performances to the NC State contest, Florida State has a baseline of six wins. That’s just enough to get FSU into a valuable postseason game.

That same decision means they will not win more than seven games. There is no massive improvement coming as long as the current defensive staff remains in place. Their weaknesses are well known and there is virtually no indication that the current coaches are anywhere close to fixing them. It’s simply smart money to bet that the defense leads to a loss in a winnable game.

Clint Eiland is the lead writer for The Daily Nole. Follow Clint on Twitter @ClintEiland. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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