Florida State hears critics, but working to fix defense's big-play issues

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the aftermath of the worst defensive performance in Florida State history, Charles Kelly heard the criticism from fans, many of whom identified the third-year coordinator as the root of the No. 12 Seminoles’ defensive struggles after the Louisville loss.

“Coaches, you can deal with it,” Kelly said on Showtime’s "A Season With Florida State Football." “But my kids, I got a senior in high school and an eighth-grader and my baby girl, they go to school and they hear the criticism. And that comes with the territory when you don’t perform well, but it still doesn’t make it any easier for them. But you always take the high road. Just like I was raised, my kids are tough. Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

“That’s why you got to work. You do something about it rather than sit around and think about it all the time. You go through it in your mind thousands of times, but you just go to work and that’s what we’re doing.”

Through four games, Florida State has allowed 140 points, an average of 35 points per game. In 12 regular-season games last season, the defense allowed 189 points. The Seminoles have allowed 450 yards or more twice in 2016 after allowing it to happen only once last season. Kelly has had success coordinating the defense before, but the unit has failed to meet the high expectations set before the season.

The two areas that seemingly need the most work defensively are allowing first downs and explosive plays. Florida State has allowed 28 plays of 20 yards or longer, which ranks 126th, and many of the big plays have come on first downs. The Seminoles are 125th nationally in yards per play (7.43) and yards per attempt on first down (11.05). They’re 104th in percentage of first-down plays resulting in another first down or touchdown (23.7).

The Seminoles are just as poor on the first play of a drive, allowing opposing offenses to set the tone and get into their no-huddle rhythm. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said if the defense can get a stop on first down, it limits what offenses can do on second and third down.

“There's no rhythm and the defense is set again. You've taken [away] the aura of eye violations, and [those offenses are] all based on eye violations and speed. It's illusions of the eye,” Fisher said. “But once you stop them, then you're sitting, waiting on them, and a lot of them aren't severely complicated. There isn't a lot they do, because you can't go that fast and have a lot of calls and do a lot of things. So it's based on having that early success to get the momentum to do that.”

Many of the explosive plays Florida State has allowed come on first down, too. They’re 119th in percentage of first-down plays that gain at least 10 yards at 23.7 percent. Twenty-seven drives have included at least one explosive play -- considered a rush of at least 10 yards or completion of at least 20 yards, which ranks 101st. A third of those drives end in touchdowns, and worse is that none have ended in field goals. The Seminoles haven’t been able to hold in the red zone after allowing a chunk play.

“I always talk about minimizing the damage. They're in the red zone? Minimize,” Fisher said. “Make them try a field goal. If they make it, OK, we can come back from three. Or they miss the field goal.”

That responsibility falls on the players and not Kelly, senior cornerback Marquez White said. He hears the criticism aimed at Kelly from fans and fellow students, but he said it should be directed at the players for their missed tackles, busted coverages and lackadaisical efforts.

“I hate it for him because I know how hard he works. He’s one of, if not the hardest-working coach on the staff,” White said. “There’s nights he stays here all night and doesn’t even see his kids. It comes with the territory and he understands that, but it’s up to us to make those plays.”