After watching the game live, I wanted to avoid knee-jerk reactions and wait till I could get the chance to go through the game much more carefully before giving my analysis. After a film review, things are rarely as good or bad as they initially seem, and that was the case here as well.
This was a game that was very close to getting out of hand with Jameis Winston’s second quarter red zone interception the only thing between a 24–0 start and likely a blowout win from there. Instead, Oklahoma State fought back from a 17–0 deficit and made this a game after the Seminoles didn’t put them away when they had a chance.
Following are my observations after going through the film more closely:
Winston to Greene
When I first watched the game, I felt Winston forced too many throws to Rashad Greene, but a second look showed that Jimbo Fisher was telling the truth when he said he called plays specifically for Greene to be the primary target, a departure from Jimbo Fisher’s typical preference for play calls without a clear primary receiver.
For example, FSU ran the “levels” concept more times than I’ve seen them use it in some time. In this play, TE Nick O’Leary runs a 10-yard option route while Greene runs a 5-yard in route on the outside. The QB is coached to throw the in route every time it’s available, treating the route as free yardage while also getting the ball to a top playmaker in space. The Colts ran this play for years with Marvin Harrison and then Reggie Wayne in Greene’s spot.
Greene was regularly open on this play, and Winston hit him each time. The one time where Winston actually forced it on this play was Greene’s long touchdown in the fourth quarter. Greene was initially covered on the play while second option O’Leary popped open, but Winston stuck with Greene until he cleared the coverage and made an accurate throw that gave Greene the chance to make a big play.
Several of Greene’s other catches were on quick out patterns out of the slot likewise designed to put the ball in his hands for quick yardage. Greene, by the way, made himself some money on Saturday, as he showed improvement getting off physical coverage and continued his high rate of production even without Benjamin on the other side to take away coverage.
All that said, Winston did force both interceptions, missed O’Leary on a flag route, and took a bad sack after not making a throw with two receivers open (Green on an in route and Whitfield on a flag). He also could have checked down to his backs a bit quicker and was not quite as accurate throwing to the backs as he was in 2013, turning Mario Pender around on one throw to the flat and throwing Karlos Williams out of bounds on a key play in the fourth quarter. Winston's footwork issues are still not entirely behind him, either, as he also lost his footing on a deep throw to Greene that might have gone for another score had he been able to make an accurate throw.
I also think this game showed that Winston is still a bit less comfortable against teams that choose to cover rather than rush him. His numbers have been down slightly since Miami first took that approach, and he's going to have to show that he can be patient enough to be as consistently good against the coverage approach as he has been against the blitz. Until then, look for teams to rush four and drop seven in all sorts of different combinations in the attempt to bait Winston into forcing throws downfield.
That said, Oklahoma State was better in the secondary than expected, and they were smart enough to hold when they were beaten, which prevented a few long plays. Both Christian Green and Kermit Whitfield played well, though I expect Fisher to open things up a bit this week to get his other receivers more work.
The Running Game
Karlos Williams ran better than I initially thought. Oklahoma State keyed heavily on Karlos Williams and swarmed to him anytime he got the ball. Two of Pender’s three carries and Winston’s touchdown run were greatly aided by Okie State keying so heavily on Williams, which helped open extra space. There were a few runs Williams should have pressed the line of scrimmage a bit harder, and he missed one cutback that might have scored, but the problems in the running game were largely due to missed blocks up front. But more on that in the next article.
The offensive line was decent but not good. Too many breakdowns in communication and missed assignments (one at a time).
Why Not More Tight End?
O’Leary was targeted less than some would prefer mainly because OSU bracketed him in coverage. The Cowboys showed him a lot of respect, and the fact that they paid him so much attention is one of the reasons Greene was able to pop open so often on the same side of the field. It’s going to be a tough assignment for any team to stop both of them—you can’t double both when they’re lined up on the same side of the field.
Terrance Smith played terrific football—maybe the team’s best defensive performance after a second look. Ronald Darby was also excellent, and Ramsey’s length at Star was a major asset in slowing down Tyreek Hill. P.J. Williams was nowhere near healthy but battled and made a huge play down the stretch. I wouldn’t let Darby or Williams on the field until Clemson preparations begin in earnest.
The defensive tackles also performed better than I had initially thought, particularly Nile Lawrence-Stample, who had a few bad plays that stuck out, most notably getting put on skates by a couple double teams, but actually had a solid game otherwise. Most of the problems that did occur happened mostly when the DTs tried to peek into the backfield, which allowed gaps to open. That’s fixable. I’d still like to see the young DTs get extra time against The Citadel.
Some of the difficulties on the defensive front also coincided with when Oklahoma State used wider splits on the OL, which put more stress on the DL, especially when trying to two-gap. A couple of J.W. Walsh’s bigger runs came when the tackles got out of their rush lanes against those wider splits. The LBs also had more space to run through in those situations, however, which was one reason we saw some TFLs from the LBs in this game.
I disagreed with Fisher's decision not to go for two when he had a chance to go up 14 late in the fourth quarter.
All in all, this game was close to being a laugher, but a few too many miscues and not quite enough maturity from FSU kept it much closer than it needed to be. FSU should also tip its hat to an Oklahoma State team that refused to fold and a coaching staff that stuck with its plan even when down by 17 and showing few signs of life. This Florida State team still has a lot of growing up to do, but it has a chance to be every bit as good as we thought it might be.