Commentary

Florida State's defense is close to elite

Mark Stoops' brand of assignment-oriented football will be a boon for Seminoles

Originally Published: September 1, 2010
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider
Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher and new partner-in-crime Mark Stoops should field a good defense this fall.

In attempting to turn around the Florida State Seminoles' defense, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops would do well to follow the example of another famous defensive playcaller who spent a lot of time in the Sunshine State, Bill Arnsparger.

Arnsparger is best known for being the creator of the famous "53" defense, but he should actually be known as one of the great turnaround coaches of all time.

His record in this area is quite impressive. In 1970, he followed Don Shula when Shula took his staff from Baltimore to Miami; the Dolphins had allowed 332 points in 1969, the fourth-most in the AFL and the ninth-most in pro football. In one season under Arnsparger, that unit decreased its points allowed total by more than 100 (228) and two years later that total fell to 174, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL.

In 1983, Arnsparger jumped to the college game as the coach of the LSU Tigers; there, he took a defense that allowed 23 points per game (72nd out of 112 teams) and in his first year dropped that to 18.8 (39th out of 110) and by more than 50 percent by year two (11.2 PPG, fourth out of 110).

Chapter three of Arnsparger's turnaround saga came in 1992 when he became the Chargers' defensive coordinator. San Diego allowed 342 points the previous year but in its first season under Arnsparger's tutelage lowered that mark to 241.

As creative of a playcaller as Arnsparger was, the secret to his success really didn't come from a playbook but rather from getting his defenders to play higher percentage football. He knew that the first step in improving a struggling defense is to get his charges to be where they are supposed to be on a play; when combined with coordinated tackling and coverage efforts, it keeps the defense from giving up a bunch of easy yards and makes the offense have to work that much harder to move the ball.

Giving up a bunch of easy yards was a defining characteristic of the 2009 Seminoles -- but a closer look at the numbers shows that Stoops might not have a long way to go to get this team on the verge of an Arnsparger-like turnaround.