As a preface to this article and as a bit of a way to cover my ass. I know that the 59-6 win was against Samford, a FCS school, and to quote the great Alan Greenspan I shouldn't be "irrationally exuberant" about Saturday's result only because it came against Samford. But damn it, I want to write this article today when FSU is 1-0 and not after the very scary Oklahoma game in a few days time. So, on to the article.
Mickey Andrews had his hay day in Tallahassee and at the pinnacle of college football in the 1980s and 1990s, a time where college ball looked very different from the way it does today. Just speed, pass rushing, and man coverage was enough to have a top 25 national defense and scare everyone from Tuscaloosa to Pasadena.
Leroy Butler, Derek Brooks, and Deion Sanders are products of that vaunted defense players that have excelled both in Tallahassee and at the next level.being dominant players in the NFL, perennial All-Pro players, and in their cases will take their place in Canton, OH among the other greats.
But much like everything else in the past decade in the Seminole program, what once seemed to be unbeatable and the cream of the crop of college football had slowly started to deteriorate, show cracks, and finally in 2009 the once solid Mickey Andrews-led and designed defense exploded in a big way and FSU's defense—especially the pass defense—was outside of the top 100 in the nation.
Jimbo Fisher was quick to put his own stamp on the team and hired Mark Stoops to replace the venerable Andrews and his once great defensive prowess. The media has said a lot about Stoops and his Arizona Wildcats defense. When he got there, the Wildcats were amongst the worst in the nation and when he left last year, AU had one of the best defenses in the country.
What gave Stoops the ability to turn that program around was the use of the zone defense. In football and especially in college, playing zone has a clear advantage to playing man-to-man.
"Confusion" or "organized chaos" is created and the opposing quarterback is incapable of making the correct pre-snap reads and a well organized defensive secondary playing zone will be able to gather the ever elusive and valuable "coverage sack." On a side note, "coverage sack" isn't a separate statistical category, but it should be and would be illuminating.
Another factor which zone defense has over even the best drilled and most disciplined man defense is how easy it is to maintain gap or lane discipline. Especially in the flat, against screens and short passes, it also makes defending perimeter runs easier. Tackles for loss is the most obvious measure of this factor and FSU had plenty of those especially in the first half against Samford on Saturday.
Then if one adds conventional, front seven defensive player performance qualifiers such as tackles, yards per carry and what could easily be called an offensive "disruption" statistical measure (broken blocks and hits but not necessarily tackles behind the line of scrimmage on ball carriers) to the qualities of good a zone defense. The result should be what it was on Saturday, lots of 3rd-and-longs and obvious pass situations, which are easy to defend.
Saturday's game was the best game scenario where FSU's defense played its easiest and probably the best game it'll play all year. The real test will come in Norman next week. If the Seminoles are able to play to an adequate level against a much superior opponent with FSU's real strength being on the offensive side of the ball, they will able to compete and stay with a much higher rated and relatively proficient Sooners team.
If the defense is able to keep the level of intensity and discipline up to the level it did against Samford, to become at the very least a statistical non-factor—zero net points lost, turnovers, penalties etc.—the Seminoles will have a realistic chance of being in the game because of Christian Ponder and the offense. I will not make a prediction, but I will say that Florida State has a real chance of winning.
To leave off, sports fans and pundits often have a reductionist attitude toward the games, meaning that things that are easily quantifiable and objective will inevitably have more value on column inches and in the wider discourse. Because after all, it is the easiest way to discuss sports which is often highly subjective in nature.
Words like "intangibles" and "hustle" are tossed about willy nilly and also have no meaning because one man's intangibles are another man's trash talking. So we as fans and informed consumers of sports media need to keep this mind, and I hope I did so in this article.