The Chalkboard: WFU 35, FSU 30

A senior like Jermaine Thomas should have known not to bounce runs near the goal line to the outside. ... Mike Harris got caught in No Man's Land instead of giving Greg Reid some help in the middle.

Seminoles on Offense: Safety Dance

Nothing is more frustrating for a coach than to watch a player do exactly what he has been repeatedly taught not to do.

In this week's offensive play, we get a look at one of those frustrating moments: the safety against Wake Forest.

Florida State lines up in a twins right, tight end left, I-formation on second and long inside its own 3-yard line. The call is an inside zone left, one of the safest run plays in the game -- the hallmark of the inside zone is that it should never result in a negative-yardage play. On this play, all the offensive linemen will step to the left and take the first defender that shows up in their zone, with the fullback taking the first defender he sees, likely the left end or linebacker crashing inside if he doesn't buy the boot fake.

To put it simply, the idea of the inside zone is for the offensive linemen to put the defensive front in a bind: If the defender pushes forward into the gap, the offensive lineman uses that leverage and momentum and rides him in that direction, causing the line to "flow" laterally, potentially opening seams. If the defender slides with the offensive player rather than stepping into the gap, it creates a seam for the running back.

The inside-zone play is ultimately designed to produce cutback lanes for the back, which can ideally hit a seam against the flow of the defense at full speed.

As you can see in the image above, the offensive linemen all step left, causing the defense to flow in that direction. The end man on the right is unblocked. Ideally, he will follow quarterback E.J. Manuel on the fake. If not, he becomes Lonnie Pryor's assignment at fullback. The tailback will follow Pryor's block and cut back if he sees a seam.

The one thing the backs were told all week both in film session and on the practice field was not to bounce to the outside on this play, as it won't be there. As long as the back commits to staying north and south and hitting the seam hard, this play should be a success.

The offensive line wins the battle at the point of attack, with the end crashing inside and getting picked up by Pryor. A small but reasonable seam has opened up. Either of the running lines diagrammed in the image above should work. If Jermaine Thomas turns it upfield at this point, it should be at least a 3-yard gain -- more if he breaks a tackle or makes a man miss.

Unfortunately, he's not in the best position possible, as he has overrun Pryor a bit, meaning he can't make as crisp a cut forward as he should.

At this point, Thomas has done the one thing he was told not to do: He has bounced outside. He should be following the arrow, closely following Pryor's block and getting ready to make a physical run for positive yardage.

Instead, Wake Forest's secondary converges quickly, proving the week's film sessions correct: The bounce isn't there.

Thomas then exacerbates the problem by trying to get away from the secondary support, running straight into Wake Forest linebacker Joey Ehrmann, who was being blocked to the outside by the slot receiver. The end result? A 3-yard loss and a safety.

The unfortunate thing is that the blocking on the play was fine. This play should have been a 3-yard gain at a minimum. Instead, it proved to be one of the most costly plays of the game for FSU.

Seminoles on Defense: Robber Barren

FSU's defense turned in yet another disappointing performance on third down.

On this play early in the fourth quarter, the D had a chance for a monster stop. With a penalty having backed Wake Forest up, the stage was set for a key third-and-goal from the 8-yard line.

The Demon Deacons came out in a shotgun split formation with three wide receivers. Florida State countered with a nickel package, crowding the line of scrimmage in an apparent all-out blitz. Upon the snap, however, the ‘Noles dropped both defensive ends into coverage and blitzed the free safety, attempting to fool Wake Forest's pass protection and produce pressure while still having six defenders to cover the four receivers.

The corners on the outside are man to man but taking outside leverage, indicating that the ‘Noles are in a "Robber" coverage. The goal of this coverage is to take away the fade and funnel the receivers inside to a free defender in the middle of the field called the Robber, which reads the QB's eyes and steps in front of any pass between the hash marks.

Ideally, the quarterback will read the blitz and the man coverage and throw inside, not expecting the Robber to be there. The dropping ends effectively prevent immediate quick slants or throws to the flats.

Mike Harris is the Robber in this case. His job will be to fake a blitz and then drop into the boxed area in the above image while reading the QB's eyes.

However, as the image below shows, Harris jumps outside as though he were in man coverage on the running back. Notice that the cornerbacks all clearly have outside leverage, trying to force the receivers inside.

The blitz package works and gets pressure on Wake Forest passer Tanner Price. Unfortunately, the middle of the field is wide open, allowing Price an easy throw to an open receiver. Brandon Jenkins has properly taken the back in coverage, while Harris, who is circled in the image below, is in space covering nobody -- he's just realizing his mistake.

This exotic mixed-coverage blitz resulted in Price making exactly the throw FSU wanted him to make. Incidentally, this disguised look fooled the TV commentators, who thought this was an all-out blitz with pure man coverage behind it.

Unfortunately for the Seminoles, a breakdown in coverage meant that the player responsible for that zone wasn't there, leading to an easy touchdown rather than a turnover. This is the reason why Greg Reid immediately looked around in confusion, wondering where his inside help had gone.

Missing the opportunity to make a big play was the story of the afternoon for the ‘Noles, who yet again came up short when it counted despite typically being put in the right position to make said big play.


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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