Seminoles on Defense: Jump That Route
As LSU can attest after its 9–6 overtime win against Alabama earlier this year, ugly wins are more beautiful than the prettiest losses. This is doubly true against a hated rival, and Florida State's dominant defensive performance in Gainesville was as pretty as the offensive production was ugly.
Florida State's defense dominated this game from the opening whistle, as it was evident that the secondary was especially well-schooled on UF's passing tendencies.
A great example of this came on Greg Reid's first-quarter interception.
After forcing a third-and-long situation, the ‘Noles matched up against UF's three-wide formation with a dime package (six defensive backs), showing just how confident they were in the defensive line's ability to stop Florida's running game without much extra help.
So far this year, FSU has primarily played two-safety zone (either Cover 2 or quarters) against this formation, with the outside corner to the wide side of the field playing soft and breaking on the ball after it is thrown. But in this case, FSU breaks tendency and puts the underneath coverage in man while two deep safeties each take half the field (Cover 2, man under).
UF runs an out-corner combination with a tight end drag, a play keying on that outside corner. Based on FSU's tendencies, it's likely that UF was expecting Reid to sink a bit and help on the corner route, leaving the out route open for the first down.
But this time, FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops told his secondary to jump the underneath routes, as UF is likely to throw for the sticks in this situation. The safety help would provide insurance against double moves.
Sure enough, Florida State breaking tendency -- but still staying with a safe coverage -- worked, as Brantley somehow does not recognize the coverage and throws right to Reid, who jumps the route exactly as he had been coached all week.
Note in the image below how the other two receivers were also covered. Safety Lamarcus Joyner (circled) has come over to provide deep help against the corner route, while the short drag was blanketed by cornerback Mike Harris.
This is a great example of outstanding preparation by the FSU defensive coaching staff, which had the defense completely prepared to jump on Florida's third-and-long tendencies, leading to a game-altering turnover.
Seminoles on Offense: Cut It Inside
This was an ugly game for the Seminole offense, which managed just 95 total yards, with the ‘Noles winning despite the dubious accomplishment of having more penalty yards than offensive yards from scrimmage. That said, it was a well-called game by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who realized early that Florida's offense -- especially after Brantley was knocked out -- was unable to move the football against his defense, while the Seminole offense was struggling to block the UF front.
Once FSU went up 14, Fisher rightly took the air out of the football, choosing to run and play defense and special teams rather than risk turnovers that might give Florida its only chance to score.
Fisher's postgame comments bear out this line of thinking.
"I didn't call that game as an offensive coordinator," he said, "because as an offensive coordinator you can get frustrated. But you have to call it the way the flow of the game is going as a head coach. We were controlling. If we didn't turn it over or do something stupid... [We were] trying to get it and trying to be smart at the same time, because the object at the end of the game is to still win."
The following image, taken on a a third-and-3 in the third quarter, shows exactly why Fisher took this approach. UF was getting consistent pressure up the middle while swarming the short throwing lanes, making the passing game overly risky for a team up by two scores against an opponent that also could not move the football.
One area in which the Seminole offense did show some improvement was in short yardage, as the ‘Noles were able to punch the football into the end zone twice early and enabled the defense to play with a lead the rest of the game. It was clear that the FSU staff had put extra time into doing whatever it can to improve the short-yardage production.
That said, we're again going to look at one of the Seminoles' short-yardage failures to illustrate both how the offensive staff has been creatively approaching the problem -- and how it still went wrong.
On a third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, FSU went to a "jumbo" package, bringing in young behemoth Tre' Jackson (green circle) at right guard along with Dan Hicks (red circle) and Bjoern Werner (white circle) in the backfield as lead blockers for Lonnie Pryor, reaching to the other side of the ball for physical players that can win at the point of attack. Fisher also went unbalanced to the left, putting right tackle Bobby Hart and right guard Garrett Faircloth outside left tackle Zebrie Sanders, with tight end Beau Reliford lined up outside Jackson on the right side.
The design of the play was to use all that beef on the left side to collapse the UF defensive front, with Pryor staying tight behind his lead blockers and pushing ahead for the first down.
As you can see in the image below, Werner (white circle) has a tremendous block, and the offensive line collapses the right side of the UF defensive line as planned. As it did earlier on the goal line, the young FSU offensive line won at the point of attack and pushed the UF front around.
If someone showed me only the image above from this play, I would be pretty sure FSU converted this third down. Unfortunately, Pryor has already begun to bounce outside rather than follow closely behind Hicks and staying tight, trusting his blockers. This allows Florida safety Matt Elam, who has contain responsibility, to shoot outside and stop the play short.
Had Pryor simply stayed tight and cut inside Hicks, this would have been an easy conversion and probably gone for close to 10 yards. Hicks' block was not perfect -- a better block, and Pryor might still be running -- but he did his job, getting his hands on Elam and opening a seam.
This play serves as an excellent example of how this FSU staff has been willing to think creatively and make changes to address problems, yet it is also a microcosm of the 2011 season for the 'Noles. Only one small detail continues to stand in between this team and major success.
The good news for Seminole fans is that this team, as bad as things look sometimes, is close. Given the young talent on this offense and the fact that nearly every major defensive contributor returns, things remain on schedule. Prior to the 2011 season, most pundits expected FSU to take a step forward but emphasized that 2012 would be the year to contend. I see no reason to think otherwise at this point, although there is certainly much room for improvement.
I expect the upcoming bowl preparation to be used as an opportunity to return to fundamentals, emphasize attention to detail on these little things that have been preventing success and focus in particular on the young players that will be the foundation next season.
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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