WATCH: Harlon Barnett, Sept. 11
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After seeing his group surrender 80 points and more than 1,000 yards combined in Florida State’s first two games, defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett is open to any and everything that might help the Seminoles improve in a hurry.
That process started a week ago against ULM, when Barnett had FSU mixing in more four-man fronts and man coverages than in its opener with Boise State.
The Seminoles won the game, but, after giving up 44 points and 419 yards, no one on defense felt especially satisfied with the outcome.
And so the process has continued this week, as FSU prepares for its visit to No. 25 Virginia (7:30 p.m., ACC Network).
At the start of Barnett’s weekly Q&A session with local media, a reporter asked if sophomore Jaiden Lars-Woodbey might be a candidate to move from linebacker to safety – a reasonable question, given that Lars-Woodbey played safety in high school and was officially considered a safety during spring camp earlier this year (Lars-Woodbey was injured during the spring and took minimal reps at the position before moving back to linebacker.)
Barnett addressed the question directly, noting that Lars-Woodbey is doing a good job at his linebacker spot, and that coaches typically don’t like to move players around too much after they’ve locked in at a certain position.
But what Barnett said in the middle of that answer, in broader terms, was just as telling:
“We’re looking at everything,” he said, “and all possibilities.”
Meaning that when it comes to righting FSU’s defensive ship, nothing is off the table.
That mandate came Monday from head coach Willie Taggart, who in his weekly press conference said that neither he nor “anyone associated with Florida State football” were happy with the defense’s performance against ULM.
Barnett has and will continue to tailor schemes and game plans, both to his players and for each opposing offense the Seminoles have left on the schedule.
After all, what’s effective against one team might not work so well against another.
But Barnett also echoed something that Taggart mentioned Monday – which is that if problems can’t be corrected via schemes, then it might be time to start shuffling lineups.
Make no mistake, Barnett will only make changes if he feels they’ll actually lead to a positive result – “You don’t do it just to do it,” he said.
But, as he spoke Wednesday, Barnett made clear that he’s open to it.
If a veteran starter continues to make the same mistakes, he could find his spot on the depth chart in jeopardy.
“Your job is not just your job, cemented in stone, just because you’re out there for us,” he said. “We’ve got enough guys, competition-wise, that if you keep doing things that are detrimental to the team, that you’ll be on the sideline and somebody else will be in the game.”
To that end, Barnett was asked specifically about FSU’s group of inside linebackers, which is perhaps the deepest it’s been in year.
Three freshmen – Jaleel McRae, Kevon Glenn and Kalen DeLoach – have all shown promise in their young careers, and Barnett said that a few veteran reserves have put themselves in position to play more, too.
“Those guys are really coming along,” Barnett said. “Not only the freshmen, but some of the other guys are playing well, doing well in practice. And they’ll get their chance because they’re earning it, not just because we’re going to give it to them.”
UVA’s Perkins ‘a big-time challenge’: The Seminoles on Saturday will have to contend with a talented Bryce on each side of the ball. FSU’s offense will be up against Bryce Hall, a likely future-pro cornerback.
And the defense, meanwhile, will tangle with quarterback Bryce Perkins, who in his year with the Cavaliers showed that he could hurt opponents with his arm and legs in equal measure.
An Arizona native who transferred to UVA from Arizona State, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Perkins threw for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2018, and he added another 923 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
WATCH: Cyrus Fagan, Sept. 11
“That’s a big-time challenge,” Barnett said. “He’s a good football player. Arm and legs, he can get it done. He’s experienced. He understands their offense, where to go with the ball and all those types of things.”
Regardless of the team or season, most defenders, when asked how to properly defend a dual-threat quarterback, will say that it comes down to discipline. If all 11 defenders manage their responsibilities, while resisting their urge to leave their post or help where they think they’re more needed, then the quarterback is accounted for.
“We are just going to be on our job, to just do what we’ve got to do to help get Florida State to a victory that we need,” safety Cyrus Fagan said. “… If we focus on and do our job, we ain’t worried about nobody else.”
First Tomahawk stickers issued: Eagle-eyed Florida State fans noticed something unusual during last week’s game against ULM – gold helmets, adorned with nothing but the usual spear decals on either side.
That’s typical for a season opener, but, by Week 2, those helmets have typically started collecting the “tomahawk” stickers that are rewarded for making things happen on and off the field.
The tomahawk stickers are still issued by FSU’s coaching staff, but with a new wrinkle: no one gets a tomahawk after a loss.
“I think it’s special to get a tomahawk, and I think you should get them if you win,” Taggart said. “If you don’t win, then you shouldn’t get any. The object is to win, and if we don’t win, you didn’t do enough to help us win.”
There were more than a few tomahawks dealt after Saturday’s win over ULM. And, no surprise, running back Cam Akers seemed to have the most of the bunch after his workhorse performance.
“It goes to show you what guys are taking care of business,” Taggart said. “It also shows you who’s not.”