Seminoles on Offense: One Bad Block
Sometimes a team gets outgained and generally outplayed and still wins the football game. Likewise, sometimes a good play call looks bad because of poor execution.
In our offensive play of the week, we look at an example of a call that I initially second-guessed but was actually a missed assignment away from a score. Florida State lined up in a three-tight I-formation and called a speed option left. Defensive end Bjoern Werner actually lined up as the third tight end, in an H-back position on the right (circled below).
As the diagram above shows, it's a fairly simple play. Each offensive lineman steps right, pinning his defensive lineman to the inside. The end man on the line of scrimmage just outside the tight end is left unblocked and will be "optioned," while the play-side tight end, Ja'Baris Little, is responsible for getting enough of a piece of the middle linebacker to slow him down (circled below).
At this point, the only potential problem is that left guard Jacob Fahrenkrug has lost leverage and is getting pushed into the backfield, causing quarterback E.J. Manuel to have to step slightly further back. This ultimately doesn't cause much of an issue, mainly because Fahrenkrug continues to fight and ends up finishing the block. The outside linebacker being optioned has attacked and will over-run the play -- exactly what FSU wants him to do against the option.
But here we see why the play failed. Little has completely whiffed on Miami middle linebacker Sean Spence, who has diagnosed the play quickly and beaten the FSU tight end inside, taking a straight line to Manuel.
On my first viewing, I had assumed that maybe coach Jimbo Fisher had gone to the well one too many times, with Miami anticipating the option since it had been FSU's best play in short yardage the last few weeks.
However, if Little had even gotten a piece of Spence on this play, Manuel would have walked into the end zone with an easy touchdown. This wasn't a bad play call after all. If anything, the personnel could be questioned, as Little has had some blocking difficulties in short yardage this year. I assume that the staff believes true freshman Nick O'Leary is still not quite ready for short-yardage action, but it's hard to imagine he won't get more of a look in these scenarios after this.
That said, I still would have preferred a spread formation and maybe a zone-read or QB power-type call in this situation, especially given the trouble FSU's backup tight ends have had blocking in short yardage this year.
Seminoles on Defense: One Bad, One Good
Miami's offense came into this rivalry game ranked No. 1 in the country by Football Outsiders' FEI and S&P-plus ratings, which adjust for pace of play and strength of opposing defenses. This was a very good offense, among the best in the nation, led by a very good offensive line. This was definitely the best -- and maybe the biggest -- offensive line FSU's defensive front will play this year. The Seminoles passed the test, helping limit star Miami tailback Lamar Miller to 4.2 yards per carry -- 1.7 below his season average -- and a long of 11 yards while also putting pressure on quarterback Jacory Harris in key situations. A Werner pressure forced Harris' one interception.
Miami double-teamed and combo-blocked more at the point of attack than any other offense Florida State has played this year, meaning the defensive line needed to stand its ground and prevent these extra blockers from getting to the linebackers at the second level. Below, we'll look at an example of what happens when this doesn't happen, then at an example of when it does.
Miami runs a basic outside zone here, with the tight end doubling down on Werner along with huge offensive tackle -- and former No. 1 recruit -- Seantrel Henderson.
You can see that Werner has quickly lost leverage here and gets driven off the ball. As an aside, Henderson was the first offensive tackle I've seen all season that had a clear strength advantage on Werner.
With Werner pushed inside, the tight end is able to release the combo block and get to linebacker Nigel Bradham, opening a wide lane for Miller to hit outside. Henderson finishes the job on Werner, who is still fighting.
After a 7-yard gain, the Hurricanes line up and run a similar play. This time, Werner maintains his outside leverage and clearly ups his intensity after getting pushed around the prior play.
Werner not only holds his ground on this one, but he also gets significant penetration and redirects the run. It leads to a tackle for a loss by Timmy Jernigan.
This sequence shows quite a bit about this year's defensive front, and Werner in particular. You can see a lot about players in how they respond to getting whipped, and Werner came right back to win the next matchup.
This is why FSU is one of just three teams that has given up 850 yards rushing or less through 10 games. The other two? Alabama (519) and LSU (838), neither of whom has played as difficult a defensive schedule as FSU so far this year. Coming into this past weekend, the FEI's defensive strength of schedule ratings were as follows: FSU eighth, LSU 72nd and Alabama 87th.
FSU's strength of schedule will only go up after facing the No. 1 offense, Miami.
Unfortunate as it may be that Florida State has three losses this season, this D is the best it has put on the field since at least '05, when Ernie Sims, Kamerion Wimbley, and Brodrick Bunkley anchored the Seminoles. There's still room for improvement, especially on third down, but the fact that nearly the entire defense returns next year should be a very good sign of things to come.
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.
The Chalkboard: 'Noles 23, 'Canes 19
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