MMQB: Pondering a Great Season

Those who have been questioning the direction of the Florida State football program and the coaching acumen of Jimbo Fisher and Rick Trickett, as well as those who have questioned Christian Ponder's ability can step forward and accept your large servings of crow. Don't worry; it tastes like chicken—just a little gamier.

Those who have been questioning the direction of the Florida State football program and the coaching acumen of Jimbo Fisher and Rick Trickett, as well as those who have questioned Christian Ponder's ability can step forward and accept your large servings of crow. Don't worry; it tastes like chicken—just a little gamier.

In much the same way I cautioned Seminole fans not to step off the ledge last week, it's important not to get too high this week. BYU was overmatched physically in a way that no other team FSU plays this year will be, so expectations for the rest of the season should be tempered accordingly. I will say that I wish I had been in Vegas over the weekend with about 50k, because the money line on the BYU-FSU was like stealing; it was apparent as soon as one actually took a close look at the teams that the game shouldn't be close. And the ‘Noles finally took care of business on the road.

The many concerns of Seminole fans notwithstanding, I saw several things on defense that were encouraging as things move forward. First, in terms of scheme, the defensive coaches did very much what I would have done against BYU. Due to their quick-set scheme, quality quarterback, and good skill players, playing bend-but-don't-break was not the best strategy; instead, playing aggressively in the attempts to get the ball back to our offense as quickly as possible (in other words, either we're going to give up the big play or we're going to make one) was a much better option, especially since BYU QB Max Hall had shown a propensity to turn it over against pressure defenses.

Frankly, I think this game should mark a shift in how our defense approaches the rest of the season; because the offense is so strong, the objective should shift from giving up as few points as possible to providing the offense with as many opportunities to score as possible. Essentially, what this means is taking a few more calculated risks per game and encouraging the secondary to jump more routes. Effectively, what this means is that it's better for our defense to give up an 80 yard score and give the ball right back to the offense than for them to give up a 12-play, 80-yard drive. With this offense, we want as many possessions as possible, with the assumption that our offense will score more consistently and with fewer turnovers than the opposing offense will against our defense.

The operating assumption is that with a better offense that is more likely to score than the opponent's offense, the more possessions in the game, the higher the likelihood of a positive outcome: by increasing the number of "trials," it reduces the "variance" involved across the game. As Chris Brown from SmartFootball.com has explained:

The chance of getting only heads and no tails in five coin flips is much higher than it is in a hundred -- i.e. the impact of the law of large numbers or regression to the mean. If Oklahoma has significantly more talent, better schemes, and everything else than the underdog, then the more plays it run the more likely it is to exhibit its raw dominance over the underdog; the underdog is less likely to "steal" a few good plays and get the heck out of dodge. The principle is the same as the difference between an underdog winning a game in a single-elimination tournament and trying to win a seven-game series: the seven-game series is far less likely to produce upsets.

I think there's also reason to think that the ‘Noles should think about running an up-tempo, perhaps even no-huddle offense the rest of the year, again with the object of getting more opportunities to score (and also exhaust the opposing defense), while giving the defense more opportunities to create separation with takeaways. It's a very different defensive perspective than folks in Tallahassee are used to, but it is one that I think has the best chance of winning the remaining games this year.

In terms of personnel, this game also showed a few more things:

Dionte Allen should be the starter at the second outside corner until he proves otherwise. He's playing reliably out there.
Mister Alexander is FSU's best pass rusher. This might have been the most surprising thing I noticed during the game, but that kid needs to be on the field every third and long or other passing down the rest of the year. He could be an absolute monster with good defensive ends coaching. Again, I totally didn't expect this, but it was obvious on Saturday.
• The two best defensive tackles right now are Jacobi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins. Dawkins looked very good rushing the passer in the second half. Moses McCray is the next guy (and is probably better on first down than Dawkins right now). Once Mincey gets back, those four should be the primary rotation.
• We need to have McNeil on the field on first down. Yarborough will be a good player for the GaTech game, but he is not suited to play much against teams that throw a lot on first down.
• I would consider putting Greg Reid at Rover when we're in a 4-3 or 3-4 look on higher-percentage passing downs. The kid still needs to be inside, but I love his instincts. Otherwise, Moody (for first downs or against teams using a lot of TE routes), Harley, and Parks need to get time at that position.
Patrick Robinson got beaten a couple times, but he wasn't out of position. It happens to the best on occasion.
Jamie Robinson hasn't had a good season so far. He's bitten on way too many shorter routes, play action, or double moves (it's harder to notice when a safety does it unless you know what to look for) this year. In order to force more takeaways, Jamie needs to play better as a center fielder.
• We actually have a chance to have a decent front seven by the second half of the year—as McDaniel and Dawkins improve and Mincey returns, the DTs should be solid, and the DEs can get a lift by playing Alexander on passing downs and White, McNeil, and Toshmon Stevens on first downs.

It's hard to say enough about the offense, but the scary thing is that this offense can get a lot better. Jarmon Fortson has only scratched the surface of what he can do, and Pressley showed an impressive burst and some power on his opportunities. Lonnie Prior showed what the coaches have been saying all along: he's the ‘Noles hardest runner. Caz Piurowski again had a monster game (he's quietly becoming a good pro prospect because of his blocking prowess and ability in the passing game). It seems like any time FSU needs to get the edge, Caz simply obliterates his man. The importance of that kind of blocking on the edge can't be overstated in this kind of zone scheme.

But again, this is a very young team, and BYU was outmanned in a way that no other team this year will be. Just as the ‘Noles were inspired to go out and perform well on the national stage after losing a heartbreaker to Miami and laying an egg against Jacksonville State, they'll now have to learn how to deal with success. It is no given that they will come out so strong against USF, but if they can come out and step on the Bulls' throat early, it will go a long way towards showing that this team is here to stay. I will say this much: now is the first time in almost a decade that FSU fans can feel confident that they'll get a first down (and not a turnover) when it's third and long. What a difference having a consistent, accurate, and reliable quarterback makes. That's why Seminole fans can now Ponder the possibility of an outstanding season.


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