We’re already a quarter of the way through the 2013 Florida State football season and there has been little to find issue with thus far. The offense has been explosive and put up fantastic numbers regardless of the competition. However, there has been one area in particular that has caused concern among many Nole faithful – rushing defense. The past several years Florida State fans have become accustomed to a smothering rush defense that has finished the year ranked #1 in yards per carry in 2011 (2.35 YPC) and #3 in 2012 (2.74 YPC). Thus far, early in 2013, the Noles sit at 29th in the nation allowing 3.36 YPC. Let’s look at the first 3 games from 2012 and the first 3 games from 2013 to compare:
As you can see from the table, the stats aren’t even close and can be a cause for some concern, particularly giving up so many 10+ yard carries. There are two things to consider when looking at those particular numbers, however. First, the small sample size of just 3 games and, secondly, the quality of the rushing offenses that were faced last season compared to this season. Below, we’ll take a look at the rushing attacks of the first 3 games:
As you can see from this table, the rushing offenses faced thus far are considerably better than the ones we faced last year and that can be shown from the commitment to running the ball in the 1st table – 128 rushes in 2013 versus just 85 in 2012. Pitt is the best rushing offense statistically that the Noles have faced this year and the defense allowed 4.6 yards per carry against them. For comparison, let’s look at the two teams closest in YPC average from the 2012 schedule, Georgia Tech and Miami.
The numbers certainly continue to show that 2012 was a much better defense against the run that what the 2013 defense has done so far. Miami was held to their lowest average rush for the entire season and Georgia Tech was held to the 3rd lowest output of the season.
Forget the Stats, Man
Outside of a statistical perspective, there just has been something “off” about the run defense this year. There seems to be more room to run up the middle, less sure tackling, and less stuffs. Early on against Pitt, the Nole defense seemed to lose contain on a couple of occasions and gave up big runs. In the past two games they have been gashed up the middle a few times (though I would still point out an excellent play design by Nevada that netted both of their long runs). Linebacker play hasn’t been poor, but it’s been tentative and instead of stuffing a run for a 2 yard gain or less, there have been more 4 and 5 yard runs so far. Stats may show that the run game, while down from the domination of the past two season, has still been solid, but the eyes don’t seem to agree.
Causes and Solutions
I think it’s a mixture of things that has been the cause for giving up more on the ground. First, we lost some outstanding defensive ends from last season that were equally as impressive against the run as they were rushing the passer. We also lost a couple talented veteran defensive tackles on the interior. This years starters (last years backups) were arguably better than the starters last year, so there isn’t a dropoff there. It’s quite possible that the backups this year are a dropoff, however. There is also a change of scheme to consider. It seems early on that more gap discipline and assignment football is required of the front seven. There certainly could be some growing pains when it comes to getting a handle on new responsibilities within Jeremy Pruitt’s system.
It’s also important to consider the amount of substitution, position changes, and experimentation that has gone on early this season. I think the depth chart released before the season threw everyone for a loop, even those beat writers in the media closest to the program. Is this big front 7 with 5-2 and 3-4 looks going to be the same alignment we see all season? Will there be as big a rotation early on in games among the linebackers and defensive line once we get into the meat of our schedule? These are questions that only the coaches really know the answer to and, at this point, even they may not truly know the answer yet.
It’s hard to really make any conclusion out of what we’ve seen so far. Between opponent, scheme, substitutions, and suspensions it’s hard to really know what we have in 2013, but I’ll try to sum it up by answering 3 questions:
Will the 2013 run defense be as good as 2012 or 2011? No, I don’t think it will be. However, that’s a tall task to expect that sort of domination to continue.
Will the 2013 run defense cost us a game this season? I don’t think so, but it’s certainly possible. It will be imperative to slow the run games of Clemson, Miami, and Florida to come out with a victory in those 3 contests. At this point, I think improvement must be made to feel more confident going in to each of those contests.
Will the 2013 run defense be an average or below average squad? No, I fully expect the Noles to rank in the Top 25-30 teams against the run this season. They certainly could be a Top 20 unit, but I currently don’t see them breaking into the Top 10 against the run.