TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Harlon Barnett spoke at length Sunday about Florida State’s revamped defense. About how he plans to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and about how head coach Willie Taggart’s priority on “Lethal Simplicity” applies to his defensive philosophies.
But perhaps the most insightful glimpse into what Florida State’s defense will look like this fall came from Barnett’s counterpart.
Walt Bell, the Seminoles’ new offensive coordinator, held that same post at Maryland in the last two seasons. And during each of those seasons, he went up against Barnett’s defenses at Michigan State.
Asked how hard Barnett’s Spartans were to prepare for, Bell offered a surprising answer:
“They’re not, really,” he said.
And that, Bell said, is what makes Barnett so effective.
“They line up and do what they do,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s (a negative).
“Schemes and Xs and Os, there’s a million guys in this business that can do that. There’s a lot of guys that are unbelievable on chalkboards. (But) I think what makes Coach Barnett and what made Michigan State so successful is (that) everybody in the world where they were going to be. … They don’t care that you know.”
No complex reads or pre-snap shuffling. The Spartans were as simple as can be. And yet, when things were clicking, they were as hard to solve as any defense in the country.
With Barnett on staff, Michigan State had a top-10 total defense in five of the last seven years. That includes a No. 7 finish a year ago, Barnett’s third as co-defensive coordinator. Even better, the Spartans were impossibly tough against the run – they ranked either first or second nationally in run defense in 2017, 2014 and 2013.
“You’ll hear Coach Taggart say, ‘Lethal simplicity,’” Bell said. “I think one of the strengths about what Coach Barnett and those guys do, is they are not all worried about, ‘What are we doing?’ …
“So, when you’re not teaching (schemes) all the time, you can teach what really matters: Tackling, turnovers, what are the offenses actually trying to do to you. I think the strength of what they do is they have the confidence to not do a ton of stuff.”
That’s just fine with Taggart, who when he was hired said he envisioned a return to the days of Deion Sanders and Derrick Brooks – defenses that were fast, physical and content to simply line up and win 11 one-on-one matchups.
To that end, Taggart likes what he sees when he peeks his head into the defensive meeting rooms.
“They just go hand-in-hand with what I said from Day 1 about ‘Lethal Simplicity,’” Taggart said. “The way he teaches and coaches over there is the same way we do on the offensive side of the ball, where it’s simple and allows guys to play fast.”
And it’s a defense that Barnett believes will have the Seminoles in fine position to tangle with the ACC’s high-octane offenses.
While the Big Ten traditionally has a reputation for more traditional – some might say “slower” – attacks, Barnett said that perception doesn’t always align with reality.
“There are a lot of (Big Ten) teams that try to do some of the things that are done in the ACC, believe it or not,” Barnett said. “A lot of teams are going to what we call ‘blue’ personnel, or ‘11’ personnel – one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers. … You see that with Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, and people going fast and all that kind of stuff.
“We’ve felt like, now, the defense has gone against those types of teams over and over, over the years, and feel like we’ve got some answers to the things they like to do.”
No matter the question, Barnett’s answer is likely going to the be the same: Fast, physical and simple.
“Every coach in the country on offense can tell you where they are going to be on first and second down, and they are still one of the top defenses in the country every year,” Bell said. “It’s how hard they play, the details in their jobs, and how they play the game that makes them so special.”