Coming into the season Florida State was expected to have one of the most talented defensive lines in the ACC. It is a unit that consists of preseason All-American defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, returning nose tackle Robert Cooper and two talented senior defensive ends in Josh Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson.
It was supposed to be deep, with experienced backups like defensive tackle Cory Durden and nose tackle Fabien Lovett to go along with some young defensive ends with potential in redshirt freshmen Derrick McClendon II, Quashon Fuller and true freshman Josh Griffis. It was a unit that was supposed to be productive but it instead it is a unit that hasn’t lived up to its potential, especially when it comes to getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Granted, depth at the both defensive end and defensive tackle has taken a hit. Defensive tackle Dennis Briggs opted out of the season during fall camp, and Kaindoh was injured in the first half of the Georgia Tech game and hasn’t played since. But there is still enough talent on the field on Saturdays to be more productive than the front four has been so far in 2020. Especially when you factor in the schematics of FSU’s defense, which features zone and man linebacker blitzes in addition to a straight rush when lined up in either or four- or three-man front.
FSU failed to register a sack against Miami and its one sack in two games ranks last among the 72 FBS teams who have played at least one game this season. The defensive front four’s inability to get to the passer is also one of the reasons FSU has given up 297 yards per game through the air, which ranks 58th out of 72 teams, and opposing quarterbacks have completed over 68 percent of its passes, which ranks 61st. It is one of the reasons, surely not the only one, that Seminoles are off to 0-2 start.
Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller knows putting pressure on the passer and bringing him to the ground is something his defensive front needs to do a better job of.
“We got to keep trying to build it,” said Fuller when asked about the lack of pass rush in FSU’s first two games. “We’ve got to create it with just volume of players. We try to pressure more schematically, just kind of bring people — corners, linebacker, safeties. Sometimes the ball gets out quicker when you bring people, because that is part of an offensive plan too. It’s a work in progress, we’re still working at it. You know I’d love to be able to say, ‘Hey, listen, this guy’s gonna win one-on-one all the time.’ Not happening. We have got to do a better job of just creating those situations. We had enough third downs, with some longs that we didn’t get out of, and two of them were pressure oriented — one was a screen, one was a bang-bang throw — made a play on us. So it’s just something we’ve got to get better at, there’s no question. We need to create pressure. That’s not always going to be sacks but I mean we need more pressure, we got to get the quarterback off the spot. On third-down especially, but you know even on first and second-down throws, you don’t control how quickly the ball’s going to get out. But you do create your technique or the pressure you’re trying to bring just schematically, so it’s definitely at the forefront of things that we need to do a better job at right now.”
Fuller also knows that the defensive front needs to more productive playing the pass or run if his defense as a whole is to improve as FSU heads into its only non-conference game against Jacksonville State on Saturday.
“We need them to,” said Fuller when asked about the front four collapsing the pocket and being more productive against the run or pass. “We want them to. We’ve played a four-down front, last week we played more of a three-down front. You know we’re typically going to base for our four-down front more than we will for a three-down front. And again, I kind of went into what goes into those decisions. Typically the three down, you know we play a little bit more technique, sometimes we move. In a four-down front, we try to play our base get off run and then we have change-ups for those guys to try and free up the D line. It’s critical to get people off schedule. … We’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job just making sure that I’m changing up enough for those fronts. Then they got to do a better job of executing as well it works together. There’s been some – it hurt when we lost Marv (Marvin Wilson), Coop (Robert Cooper) got a little banged up, it’s all part of it. But Tru (Thompson) and Malcolm Ray, and the defensive ends, it’s all part. That unit’s important. We’re going to be as good as that defensive line is. I’ve got a ton of trust in JP (defensive end coach John Papuchis) and Odell (Haggins) and our players. We just we have to do it better.”
FSU will get a chance to get better rushing the passer Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks threw the ball 38 times per game last season and ranked 14th in at the FCS level in passing offense, averaging 296 yards per game through the air. They also ranked 37th in the FCS in pass efficiency offense in 2019.
With Notre Dame, North Carolina and Louisville up next for FSU after this weekend, Fuller and his defense need to figure out a way to the quarterback very soon. And more productive and consistent play from his front four is the most direct path to its target.