For Harlon Barnett, the Challenge is to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

Being the defensive coordinator for a college football team is a tough job. The DC catches it from all sides: top, bottom, and middle. He must train, motivate, and, when necessary, discipline players. He must work with the head coach in designing and implementing strategy.

Last but by no means least, he’s the one who has to handle the sports media when plans go awry. Case in point: the hot seat upon which ‘Noles DC Harlon Barnett currently sits.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether he can navigate his players through the rough waters that lie ahead. If so, then he may find himself as FSU’s head coach in a few years. If not, then it’s a different ball game entirely.

Plugging the Holes Before the Dam Bursts

The concerns over FSU’s defense began with the first game of the season. The Seminoles lost 36-31 to Boise State, a loss which probably could have been avoided had FSU’s defensive line chosen a more aggressive style of play.

Instead, the ‘Noles defense played…well, defensively, a strategy which gave the boys from Boise opportunities they never should have enjoyed.

A key example is the 32 yard pass Boise quarterback Hank Bachmeier completed just before the end of the first half. Yes, Bachmeier is a good QB. But that good? Not when FSU is playing at its best.

This was far from FSU’s only SNAFU of the game. Missed tackles played another big role in the defeat, along with a defensive line that melted before Boise’s hard-charging attacks.

All of this is a matter of perspective, of course. From Boise’s point of view, the win was due to excellent strategy empowered by an amazing QB. But the perspective here in the Sunshine State was decidedly different, as ‘Noles fans looked back on the game with all the regrets of a fisherman who lets the catch of a lifetime slip away.

Back to the Drawing Board

A single missed opportunity doesn’t mean the sky is falling, of course. FSU bounced back from its initial defeat to win against UL Monroe in a nail-biting overtime game.

A loss to the Cavaliers was followed by a victory over Louisville, which brings us up to the present.  What is Barnett doing to revive FSU’s defense? The answer comes down to three steps he has taken in recent weeks, all of which are straight out of the handbook.

Step 1: Know Thy Opponent

This bit of sagely advice dates back to The Art of War, the classic tome on military strategy written by Sun Tzu back in the 5th century BCE.

Apparently Barnett is a student of the late great warlord, as revealed by the words he spoke in the wake of the September 21st’ victory over Louisville:

“You’ve got capture and you’ve got kill quarterbacks… The last couple weeks we’ve been facing capture quarterbacks and we’ve been going in trying to kill them. You’ve got to break down and get big with these guys instead of just trying to take a shot on them.”

Those are the words of a man who is wise enough to learn from his mistakes. It’s also an apt summary of what gave FSU the winning edge over Kentucky on that fateful September day.

Step 2: Keep it Simple

This is another bit of time-honored wisdom that FSU has put to good use in the recent past. As Barnett said in the same interview, “We simplified it to a point where everybody can just dominate their gaps. Everybody understands where their gaps are and what their fits are.”

He’s right. It just goes to show that sometimes less is more.

Step 3: Remember the Past But Look to the Future

Modern broadcasting technology is an amazing thing. Nowadays fans can watch the action update in real time, whether they’re following the game on TV or keeping up with it on sites like Fox Bet. This makes it a great time to be an NCAAF fan.

But no website or TV network can show us what will happen tomorrow. That’s because tomorrow doesn’t exist yet. The best we can do is learn from the past and carry those lessons with us – which is exactly what Barnett is doing. As long as he sticks to this strategy, Seminoles fans can expect brighter days to come.

Marcelo Villa

About Marcelo Villa

Marcelo is an associate editor at The Sports Daily, and has covered the San Diego Chargers for Bleacher Report. He also writes for Sportsdirect Inc.