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Michigan State’s Harlon Barnett fits what FSU looking for in defensive coordinator

Harlon Barnett
COURTESY OF MICHIGAN STATE ATHLETICS

Willie Taggart didn’t come to play when considering candidates for potential assistants and coordinators.

Initially, everyone expected him to bring his talented defensive coordinator from Oregon, Jim Leavitt, with him to Florida State. In Leavitt, Taggart would’ve been bringing in a guy who essentially would be the head coach of the defense.

Leavitt stayed at Oregon and Taggart’s search has widened.

Toughness and accountability were lacking the past four seasons for FSU’s defense. Statistically, while FSU was decent in the total defense rankings every season, it seemed to fall apart in big games, particularly against spread teams that threw a lot.

The names on Taggart’s short list all currently run defenses with these attributes in common: tops in total defense, good against the pass, don’t give up a ton of points.

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After apparently missing out on Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard, the focus and attention now seems to be on Harlon Barnett. Barnett has been at Michigan State for 11 seasons, and has been co-coordinator for the past three seasons. This season, the Spartans finished in the top 10 in total defense and are second in the nation, behind Alabama, in run defense.

Barnett is a former defensive back, and that experience could help him improve the Seminoles’ pass defense; the secondary has a ton of talent but has come up short on results. The current recruiting class has top cornerbacks and safeties already signed, and FSU still is in the running for five-star corners Patrick Surtain, Jr and Brendan Radley-Hiles.

In an interview with Big Ten Network analyst Howard Griffith, Barnett called MSU’s defense a “nine-man front.” The corners are on islands playing a lot of press-man coverage. You need athletes to do that, and there is no lack of rangy, fast and physical corners at FSU. Even if he were to alter that alignment to adjust to the spread, disruption of timing is something that is necessary to stop it.

This philosophy leaves you susceptible to the big play, but it’s about putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. A panicked and uncomfortable quarterback has a hard time finding open receivers.

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