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Friday, May 31, 2013
The Big Board: More takeaways coming?

By David M. Hale

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The excitement was obvious throughout the spring, regardless of any attempts by Jimbo Fisher to downplay the significance.

Jeremy Pruitt had come from Alabama, fresh off consecutive national championships, and in spite of Fisher's claims that it would be business as usual on defense at FSU, it was clear that a whole lot of change was coming.

Jeremy Pruitt
Jeremy Pruitt put the emphasis on stripping the ball and causing turnovers during FSU's spring practices.
"We're watching film of how Alabama ran it," linebacker Telvin Smith said this spring. "And I'm not knocking those guys, but I love this team and guys we've got running that defense, and I feel like we can really put something together."

And that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to enthusiasm about Pruitt's scheme.

The overriding theme of the spring on defense was pretty simple: Florida State would no longer be boring but consistent. This was going to be an aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach that promised to pay big dividends for the Seminoles' athletic defenders.

"I love this defense," safety Terrence Brooks said. "It's amazing. A lot more blitzing, a lot more chances to make plays, moving guys around."

And, Brooks said, a lot more chances for takeaways.

Add it all up, and it sounds pretty good. The only problem, of course, is that Pruitt is at FSU because the Seminoles' last coordinator, Mark Stoops, was so successful that he landed a head coaching job.

The fact is, all that boring consistency on defense might have actually helped disguise just how successful Stoops' unit was during his tenure at Florida State.

The Seminoles finished second in the nation in total defense last season, sixth in scoring defense, third in rush D and first in passing defense.

But even with those gaudy totals, there was some criticism, which often started with takeaways.

"Definitely Coach Stoops wanted more takeaways," Brooks said. "He told us that numerous times. But as players ourselves, we didn't really focus on it while we were playing. I feel like we were really thinking of it as just interceptions, but just stripping the ball any chance we get, that's what we have to do and that has to be our mind-set."

So this spring, with Pruitt in command, takeaways were a priority. There were constant drills designed to get players to focus on stripping the football and creating an opportunity to get a turnover. It fit well with the aggressive overall approach, and it added more fuel to the fire as players trumpeted the big-play potential of the 2013 D.

The only problem with the mantra is that, for all the talk of a lack of takeaways under Stoops, Florida State was actually pretty good at getting turnovers. The Seminoles rank fourth in the ACC in takeaways per game since 2010 and 34th nationally -- not prolific, but solid. More importantly, the teams that created more turnovers didn't necessarily see much of an overall impact on the bottom line.

In other words, during Stoops' tenure, Florida State recorded 25 percent fewer turnovers than NC State, but also allowed 25 percent fewer yards per game. Moreover, FSU's year-by-year takeaway totals were remarkably consistent -- 22 in 2010, 23 in 2011, 27 in 2012 -- which speaks to the focus on fundamentals.

And that's really what takeaways come down to -- a combination of fundamentals and luck, being in the right place at the right time. Under Stoops, the numbers suggest FSU was very good at the former, and had just enough of the latter to chalk up a reasonable number of takeaways.

Of course, all that doesn't mean there's no chance for the Seminoles to improve under Pruitt. In fact, when it comes to stripping the football, he could be on to something.

Here's a list of the fewest forced fumbles (per game) by AQ schools since 2010:

"[Pruitt] harps a lot on practicing stripping the ball," Brooks said. "Even when the ball's on the ground, if they drop the ball, we've got to go pick it up and run as a team and treat it like an interception. It gets us in the habit."

It's a nice idea, and if it creates some results in the fall, it could be a boon to a unit that will certainly endure a few growing pains in other areas.

With all that said, however, there's still one other thing to consider: Pruitt has used Alabama's game film as his blueprint for how things will be done at FSU, and the Tide certainly provide a nice role model. But while Alabama, like FSU, has thrived on D the past few years, the Tide haven't actually done much better in the turnover department.

But it's the summer, and Pruitt is bringing some excitement, so there's probably no point in reading too much into the numbers just yet anyway. After all, this is just the beginning.

"You've just got to see it," Brooks said. "It's going to be good."