The Chalkboard: 'Noles 62, Bucs 10

Was E.J. Manuel's INT against CSU a mental mistake or physical error? Who was responsible on D for the throwback pass play? Former Florida State receiver Jason Staples goes to The Chalkboard again.

Seminoles on Offense: Manuel's Interception

2nd and 7. The ‘Noles are in a shotgun with three wide and one tight end. E.J. Manuel throws left, only to be intercepted by cornerback Charles James, who takes it inside the 5-yard line and sets up Charleston Southern's only touchdown.

Last week, we determined that Manuel recognized the coverage and simply made a bad decision, taking a risk with the football trying to make a big play. That was not the case with this week's interception.

The play call was "all curls" for the wide receivers and a short out route from the tight end. The back has pass protection responsibilities first. If no blitz shows, the back has a delayed release and becomes an outlet receiver to the left.

CSU is in the "nickel" (five defensive backs) and blitzes the right linebacker, bringing five rushers and playing man-free coverage, which involves man-to-man coverage on all the underneath receivers with a single safety playing center field and responsible for deep help. The Buccaneers show this at the snap with very little disguise, since their corners are playing inside leverage (slightly inside the receivers) and the weak-side safety is standing on the 45-yard line with his balance clearly showing he's coming forward to cover the tight end.

Against this coverage, the QB actually has his pick of where he wants to throw the football, although the best two options are typically going to be the outside receiver to the bottom of the screen (Rodney Smith) or the tight end, since the safety has to come a long way to defend that out route. I typically prefer the tight end option in this situation, as it is a bit safer of a throw and would likely get the first down here. That said, the outside curl is probably the first option the way FSU teaches this play, and it has a strong chance of success provided the receiver runs a good route and the passer keeps the ball to the outside shoulder. If the corner gambles and the QB throws to the outside, this could even turn into a big play, as the receiver turns outside with only the safety to beat for a touchdown.

Manuel chooses the curl. Although the color commentator for the game suggested the INT was the result of Manuel staring down his intended target, this is actually irrelevant in this case because, in man coverage, the defensive backs are looking at the receivers, not at the QB. The bigger problem is the location of the throw. Manuel throws this ball at least two yards inside where he's supposed to against this coverage, essentially throwing right into the cornerback's leverage.

As you can see in the above photo, this ball is thrown well inside of the proper target, which should be about a foot or two to the outside of Smith's right shoulder.

Smith could have had a bit more separation on the route, but the interception basically boils down to a poor throw. On the one hand, that's a good thing for FSU fans because it means Manuel didn't make a mental mistake. However, Manuel has struggled a bit with his accuracy in the first two games and will need to be more pinpoint as the ‘Noles hit the meat of their schedule.

Florida State has been spoiled by a tremendously accurate QB in Christian Ponder the last couple of years, and Manuel has a long way to go to get as sharp as his predecessor. Fortunately, the playbook will open up against Oklahoma, with the ‘Noles springing a lot of option football and unleashing Manuel's running ability against the Sooners.

Seminoles on Defense: CSU's Big Pass Play

Charleston Southern finished with 84 total yards, but 30 of them came on one play. This call was a classic "throwback" play of the sort that FSU will face against Wake Forest, which loves this sort of misdirection.

CSU was in a trips-right shotgun formation with a tight end to the left and motioned the inside slot receiver toward the line. The quarterback rolled right on the snap, with all the momentum of the play drawing FSU's defense to the right side of the field. The only exception was the slot receiver, who faked a block on the end of the line of scrimmage and then sneaked through to the other side, with the QB then turning and throwing across the field and against the grain.

Florida State's young defenders on the field did not account for the throwback, with every underneath coverage player rotating with the football and leading to a wide-open receiver. Cornerback Avis Commack chased the left tight end across the field on the drag route, while linebacker Nigel Terrell flowed with the rollout, not seeing the slot man coming across the grain in the wash around the line of scrimmage.

As you can see above, to disguise the play, the throwback receiver initially appeared to stay in to block.

You can bet that FSU will be spending a little bit of time this week and the week of the Wake Forest game ensuring that the linebackers are alert and ready for this kind of misdirection. This big play against a very young Seminoles lineup will end up being an excellent learning experience going into the rest of the year.

Jason Staples was a walk-on wide receiver at Florida State in the early 2000s and is now a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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