After making steady improvement over the course of the year, Florida State finally faced a team very similar to the Wake Forest team that had embarrassed them early in the year. The young Seminoles failed the test yet again, getting dominated on both sides of the ball in a closer-than-it-appeared loss to a Boston College team that simply imposed its will on Florida State.
FSU's improvements through the year have largely stemmed from winning the battle in the trenches, especially on offense, where the Seminoles went into the BC game averaging well over 200 yards per game on the ground. This led many to believe that the offensive staff had "learned" from the Wake Forest game, staying more patient and sticking with the running game. The Boston College game demonstrated that the offensive problems in the Wake Forest game were not so much a matter of scheme or playcalling, nor are they entirely solved. Rather (as is usually the case in football), the reality is that whichever team wins the battle in the trenches will appear to have a better scheme than the opposition. For example, it is much easier to "stick with the run" when one is getting positive yards on running plays.
Boston College convincingly won the battle on both lines of scrimmage, which is why the ‘Nole offense suddenly seemed to revert nearly to its level of play against Wake Forest from earlier this year. In fact, this game was effectively decided by the defensive tackles and linebackers from each team; Boston College's two massive DTs and big, physical linebackers dominated FSU's front, while FSU's lack of talent and depth at defensive tackle (a problem all year) was exposed by a BC offense that simply ran the football down the throat of the FSU defense. One long-yardage play in the second half was telling—as FSU brought all three linebackers on a blitz, Boston College ran the football off their (huge) right guard, who collapsed both the FSU defensive tackle and linebacker in a single block, paving the way for a significant gain and a first down.
That play exposed a problem this space has been harping on all year—FSU's poor gap control on defense. (For those who do not quite understand the term "gap control," FSU's defense typically assigns each player one of the seven to nine "gaps" in the offensive front. With a typical I-Formation, eight different players—the front seven plus a safety—will have gap responsibility. It is then each player's responsibility to "fill" that gap and not allow a seam for the running game. If one player does not "fit" properly and leaves a seam, it can result in a big play, despite the others all doing their jobs.)
Once again, a linebacker hit the gap with the wrong shoulder, which allowed him to get pinned inside behind his own DT and led to a large crease in the defensive front. Yet again, our defensive tackle was not physical enough to hold his ground and keep his gap closed but instead was pushed exactly where the offense wanted him. This has been a major problem all year, and if it is not fixed by the Florida game, UF's speedy backfield will likely need treatment for cramps after running for so many long scores.
This problem with gap control has been obscured at times this season for two reasons. First, the defense has done a relatively good job of producing negative plays (Everette Brown's outstanding play being one major reason why) that have stopped drives by putting offenses behind the sticks. Secondly, this defense has done an excellent job tackling in the open-field, so many plays that might have gone for touchdowns given a missed tackle have simply been fifteen or twenty yard gains. Thanks to these factors, the defense has survived with good numbers despite giving up two or three big creases in the running game per half due to inconsistent (sometimes very poor) gap control.
Against teams with particularly fast backs (i.e. Florida), those creases are instant touchdowns, while a big, physical team like Boston College is content to take the first downs and keep the Seminole offense off the field. The defense's inability to maintain disciplined gap control is what allowed the Boston College offense to hold the ball for 39 minutes—including the first six and last nine minutes of the game. It is the defense's job to get themselves off the field and give the offense good field position, and they could not do this while being pushed all over the field by BC's offense.
The ‘Nole offense, of course, did not do the defense any favors by turning it over three times (including a pick-six and two turnovers that stopped drives deep in BC territory). Just as against Wake Forest earlier this year, a big, disciplined defense that plays a lot of zone and brings pressure from many angles proved to be a poor matchup for FSU's young offense. In both games, the opposing defense was able to stop FSU's running game and pressure the passer without committing an extra (8th) defender, allowing them to play safe coverages that forced more difficult throws in tighter windows. That is a recipe for turnovers, especially with a young QB, and especially if the defensive line is able to get into the quarterback's face (Ponder didn't even see the safety on his pick-six thanks to the pressure, while the pocket was collapsed on the last interception, forcing a poor throw).
The suspensions due to the brawl earlier in the week surely didn't help—those three receivers could certainly have contributed in the passing game, since the running game was a non-factor. The outstanding downfield blocking of Easterling and Surrency was also missed in this game—Owens probably scores on his reverse had Carr made a good block. Nonetheless, the suspensions were not the reason this game was lost, nor was it poor offensive scheme. Like the Wake Forest game, this game was lost because FSU got whipped in the trenches. The ‘Noles don't need to dominate the trenches every week, but they at least need a stalemate.
The defense, on the other hand, has looked bad for two years, and it is not improving. There are enough athletes on that side of the ball that they still do not give up a ton of yards and the average points given up per game looks decent, but the fact is that the defense breaks down far too often. Opposing offenses are never confused against Florida State—there is never any question about what is coming. As such, it's simply a matter of that offense blocking well enough to give the backs a crease and keep the quarterback standing to beat the Seminole defense. Top that off with a drop-off in depth and talent (especially at defensive tackle), and the FSU defense simply doesn't scare teams the way it should.
Mincey played an excellent game; he was the only DT who looked as though he had a pulse all game.
They max-protected much of the game, allowing Crane plenty of time to make solid throws against our predictable man-under scheme.
Dekoda Watson had a rough go of it for much of the day, starting by missing his gap responsibility on the first running play of the day. Derek Nicholson also was engulfed at the point of attack several times.
Can we please stop the ridiculous celebrations after everything, especially when we're losing? It's especially tough when we lose a player for the season thanks to … a celebration???
Ponder is holding onto the ball too long; it was particularly obvious on an incompletion intended for Carr on a stop route to the left in the second half. The intercepted fade to Carr was also thrown late. He's got to get confident enough to just let it loose earlier. That said, the pocket getting collapsed all game does not help the QB set his feet and make confident throws.
Hudson played his worst game all year. Those BC defensive tackles ate our interior three alive all game. Surprisingly, Spurlock played the best of our interior three offensive linemen.
We will actually match up much better against UF's quicker front than we did against Boston College's. Give our kids another year or two to get stronger and they should be well-suited for any defensive front, but they're just not strong enough yet for what they saw on Saturday. I still think our offense will give UF's defense some trouble in a couple weeks.
Maryland is going to try to run a very similar offensive plan at our defense; hopefully they're able to get the Terps off the field more effectively than they did Boston College on Saturday.