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The Big Board: Looking for takeaways

11/6/2012

Two weeks before the season started, Jimbo Fisher lamented the hype his defense had earned. He preached caution, noting that it would be nearly impossible for any unit to live up to the level of expectations that surrounded Florida State's defense at the time.

Three months later, Fisher's conservative projections appear unnecessary. Florida State's defense has largely lived up to those lofty expectations.

The Seminoles are tops in the nation in total defense, allowing just 227 yards per game. They're third in scoring defense and rushing defense, with top-ranked Alabama the only team ahead in both categories. No team in the country has allowed fewer passing yards per attempt, and the 77 percent success rate on third down isn't just the best mark in the nation, but a number that matches up as one of the best in recent history.

In other words, even Fisher would have a hard time downplaying FSU's defensive pedigree at this point.

Of course, that doesn't mean there's not room for improvement.

"I think we need more turnovers," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "Three-and-outs are great, holding opponents, stopping key threats -- but we have to get turnovers and help our offense."

The lack of turnovers is a strange footnote to the otherwise stellar numbers posted by Florida State's D. While the unit ranks among the best in the nation in virtually every other statistical category, the 12 takeaways the Seminoles have mustered this season is tied for 93rd -- the same number as Kentucky (1-9, 73rd-ranked defense), Florida Atlantic (2-7, 69th) and Colorado (1-8, 120th).

As incongruous as it seems, however, it's not entirely out of the ordinary. Of the top 10 defenses nationally, five have recorded 14 turnovers or fewer this season, including two that have created fewer than Florida State's 12.

Moreover, the Seminoles think there's a good reason for the lack of turnovers -- a lack of opportunity.

"Everybody's doing their job, and teams try so hard not to give us those chances," Joyner said. "I think that's the whole thing."

Or perhaps it's that Florida State isn't giving opponents enough chances to make a big mistake.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, 39.5 percent of opponents' drives against FSU this season have ended in a three-and-out -- by far the highest rate in the country. That's a lot of short drives, which in turn means fewer opportunities for takeaways.

The numbers might actually support that theory. Here's a look at the teams that have forced the highest percentage of three-and-outs this season, along with where they rank in turnovers created.