The Chalkboard: 'Noles 38, Eagles 7

E.J. Manuel is making the right decision most of the time, but he just needs to speed it up a bit ... Everett Dawkins really deserves a good portion of the credit for Telvin Smith's fumble recovery.

Seminoles on Offense: Just a Tad Late

Boston College's defense is known for its tight, disciplined zone-coverage schemes, typically limiting big plays and forcing a lot of turnovers, as teams lose their patience and start forcing the ball into coverage. Given that, FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel did a reasonable job staying patient and taking what the defense gave him in this game.

That said, Manuel was late on a number of throws and seemed to struggle at times with his anticipation, holding onto the football just a little too long in an effort to make the right decision.

In this play from the first half, Florida state lines up in a split-gun, two-wide, one-tight set, with BC in its standard 4-3 stack, showing a standard Cover-2 zone behind it. Florida State runs a combination route to the right, with the Z (flanker) running a deep post, the Y (tight end) running a flag route and a flat route from the back.

At the snap, the QB's first read is the safety (1). If that safety lets the post go, the QB peeks at the other safety (yellow circle) to see whether he covers the backside takeoff or the post route and then throws to the uncovered receiver. The play action and spot route from the running back should hold the linebackers to ensure they don't get deep enough to get under the post.

In this case, the safety runs with the post, so Manuel's second read is the corner (2). Since the outside receiver has vacated deep, the corner should cover the tight end on the flag route -- this is where communication in the secondary is key. If the corner stays deep, the quarterback checks down to the back in the flat. If the corner jumps the flat route, however, the tight end will be open behind him -- basically a "smash" concept route.

The image above shows the QB's "read triangle" on the front side of the play, as he reads from the post to the corner to the flat, checking safety and then corner.

A brief coaching point: Good QB coaches teach their quarterbacks to "read with their feet." On this play, a first-read throw should happen as soon as the QB hits the back of his drop and sets his feet. If not, the QB will hitch step into the pocket and throw to his second read. If the defense somehow takes both of the options from the second read away, the QB either tucks and runs or hitches again and tries to drop the ball to the running back on the spot route in front of him.

On this play, the Boston College corner unexpectedly jumps the flat route and goes against the tendency BC had shown on film, leaving tight end Nick O'Leary wide open for a big play.

The film shows Manuel going through his proper progression and making the right throw. But he is a beat late, throwing on his second hitch step rather than his first, likely due to his surprise that the corner broke tendency here. As a result, O'Leary had to wait on the ball and was caught from behind before he could score.

At this point, this is the area in which Manuel still has a lot of room for improvement, as he continues to be just a little late with his recognition and anticipation, which sometimes costs his receivers yardage and other times can bring coverage back into play or put more pressure on the offensive line to block longer.

The good thing for Seminole fans is that Manuel has continued to make the proper read and consistently make the right throw, which suggests that it's only a matter of experience before everything completely clicks.

Seminoles on Defense: Unsung Hero

The Seminole defense was outstanding again Thursday night, especially in the first half, when it suffocated the Eagles' offense from the very first drive.

This defensive success started up front with outstanding play from the FSU defensive tackles, who completely dominated the BC interior. On this play, BC runs an inside trap out of the shotgun spread, designed to take advantage of defensive tackle Everett Dawkins' quickness off the ball. On this play, the center steps left to block nose guard Anthony McCloud, while the right guard steps inside and allows Dawkins to get upfield penetration while trying to seal the middle linebacker, Telvin Smith. The left guard pulls across and seals Dawkins, "trapping" him deep in the backfield, while creating a running lane in the gap Dawkins vacates, as shown below:

To defend the trap, defensive tackles are coached to recognize that they've been turned loose and "press down" on a guard that steps inside them, protecting their linebackers by keeping the offensive lineman from getting to the second level.

As noted in this space previously, this is something FSU defensive tackles did not do very well two years ago.

Dawkins does this perfectly, as illustrated below:

Dawkins actually neutralizes two blockers on this play, pressing down on the right guard (square) and staying in his gap to take on the pulling guard (circle). By the time the back gets the ball, not only is there no seam in Dawkins' gap, but the interior line has become a big pile with nowhere to go.

Smith remains unblocked.

Not to be outdone, McCloud (inside the red circle below) has stood up the center, further collapsing the interior and ultimately putting his helmet on the football, forcing a fumble.

Dawkins (white circle) gets no credit for this play, but his disciplined, controlled play is what led to the turnover by forcing the running back into McCloud. And since he's kept Smith clean, Smith is able to jump on the fumble and set up an easy touchdown for the offense.

McCloud forced the fumble and Smith recovered it, but Dawkins made it happen.


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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