Florida State comes into the inaugural College Football Playoff game nearly double-digit underdogs, a stark contrast from the last three seasons when the Seminoles haven’t been an underdog once. Florida State’s players haven’t been particularly happy about it, either.
“I don’t feel like the underdog,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think this team feels like the underdog. We shouldn’t feel like the underdog. We’re the ones who have won 29 in a row. What are we scared of? Why are we the underdog? I don’t understand that.”
This team has been as focused and loose as I have seen them all season. They’ve had an edge than we observed in the regular season, when it often felt as though they were playing more not to lose than to win. The pressure of the streak built up. That’s all gone now, as they face an outstanding Oregon team in a national semifinal game.
Jameis Winston will be playing his first game in over a year without the weight of sexual assault allegations on his back. Winston has been excellent under that pressure, but when Winston was playing with a clear mind he was near unstoppable.
Florida State should have an advantage on the interior of both the offensive and defensive lines, especially on offense. The Oregon nose tackle Alex Balducci is a good player, but he’s going up against three of the best interior offensive linemen in the country, all of whom should go in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. If Cam Erving can single block Balducci, which is likely, that should allow Matias and Jackson to get to the second level.
It will be interesting to see how Oregon tries to protect Balducci. We expect to see them try to muddy FSU’s offensive guards’ releases by putting their defensive ends in the B gaps at times and allowing their linebackers to flow to the outside. If FSU can single block the Ducks’ front, it will a very long afternoon for the Oregon defense.
One thing to pay special attention to is how Oregon responds to Florida State’s spread personnel packages. The Ducks have stayed in their base 3-4 a good bit this season in order to force offenses to throw the football, but they’re likely to have difficulty covering FSU’s playmakers from that set, particularly the Seminole tailbacks in the flat, an aspect that could be a huge factor in this game.
If, however, Oregon goes to their smaller nickel package, FSU should be able to have success on the ground. Before Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s injury, we expected to see Oregon use more small sets to limit FSU’s passing game, but that is not as clear-cut a decision in this game. We expect to see FSU use 11 personnel (one TE, one RB) early and often to force Oregon’s defense to choose to go big or small.
Oregon has also had trouble covering the tight end all season, and we expect them to focus on taking Nick O’Leary away on option routes. Don’t be surprised if FSU “tags” O’Leary’s usual option routes to take a few shots downfield for big plays to the tight end.
Because of Oregon’s length at defensive end, it will be more difficult for FSU to run its bread-and-butter outside zone play, meaning this may be a very good matchup for the Seminoles to use bigger back Karlos Williams on inside zone and Power, taking advantage of the Seminoles’ size inside.
Oregon will do their best to take away the big play and force Winston and the FSU offense to execute down the field, but they have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback all season, and we expect Winston to have an excellent day, particularly to secondary receivers Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane, and Bobo Wilson. Winston is fiercely competitive—take note of the fact that FSU’s two scoring drives against Florida were right after Winston was punched on the sideline—and this game will have his full focus and attention.
FSU Defense vs. Oregon Offense
The Oregon offense is the nation’s second-rated offense in F/+. Their tempo is difficult to prepare for and almost impossible to stop, the scheme is extremely effective at getting receivers wide open on vertical routes, and when they get open, they are as fast as anyone in the country. Nobody has been able to keep them from getting occasional open receivers up the field, and FSU won’t either.
That being said, there is hope for Florida State on defense to get a few stops. Marcus Mariota is an excellent quarterback, but he has struggled more when getting pressured up the middle. Arizona proved that in their mid season win over the Ducks. If Florida State can hold the Ducks to field goals instead of touchdowns on a few drives the Seminoles will be in business.
Let’s get this out there right away: Florida State isn’t going to stop Oregon on offense. The best the defense can hope for is to slow the Ducks down. We think they will be able to do this as the game goes on, as Charles Kelly and the defensive staff have been outstanding all season adjusting to what opposing offenses throw at the FSU defense.
FSU should also be able to limit Oregon’s inside running game with its size on the defensive line, forcing Oregon to throw a bit more in longer yardage situations than they would prefer—and the Seminole secondary is the best the Ducks will have seen this season.
We do expect Oregon to use formation and motion to get a back or slot receiver Byron Marshall matched against one of FSU’s OLB/DEs in coverage on a wheel route at some point, so Seminole fans should go ahead and get their anger about this out of their system in advance.
FSU is likely to double-read Oregon’s read-option running game in the effort to slow down Mariota’s decision-making and keep him from being able to get to speed quickly when keeping the football. That’s a risk-reward strategy that will likely result in a few bigger runs as FSU’s front misreads the play, but it will also lead to a few tackles for loss and shorter runs keeping Oregon behind the sticks.
Wayne: I think Florida State will be able to get a few stops and turn a few red zone drives into field goals. I also think the Seminole offense will be able to run at will even when Oregon brings up defenders to stop it. I have the Noles winning 41-34.
Jason: I think the first quarter will be more uneventful than most expect as each team tries to feel the other out, but FSU’s ability to run the football on the inside may give the Noles an early lead. Oregon will make its share of plays against the FSU defense—particularly if Jalen Ramsey is still under the weather (expected YPP: 6.0). I think FSU’s offense is an especially bad matchup for a shorthanded Oregon defense (expected YPP: 8.0). Florida State pulls away late, winning 45-31 (win probability 75%).