The Chalkboard: OU 23, FSU 13

TE Beau Reliford (Steve Chase)

One of E.J. Manuel's interceptions was surely Beau Reliford's fault. Timmy Jernigan allows the defense to get extra creative. Former Florida State receiver Jason Staples goes to The Chalkboard again.

Seminoles on Offense: Option Route

This is unfortunately becoming the space where we analyze the Florida State INT of the week, but those have been the most important -- and schematically interesting -- plays so far. This time, we're looking at E.J. Manuel's second-quarter interception, which was returned inside the Seminole 5-yard line.

FSU is in a three-wide shotgun set with a tight end and twins to the right and the back to the left. OU lines up in a "UFO" defense, with only one down defensive lineman and the entire front seven within a yard and a half of the line of scrimmage. The play call breaks down as diagrammed below:

You'll note that the tight end has what's called an "option route." With this kind of route, whether the receiver turns in, out or continues into the seam is dependent on the coverage, with the QB and receiver needing to be on the same page. Most modern offenses include a decent number of option routes, especially from the slot or tight end in one-back sets. They're fairly simple in theory but must be repped quite a bit in practice. Wes Welker of the New England Patriots has made a career out of being a great option-route runner.

As it turns out, OU rushes four players in a fairly exotic man/zone blitz, bringing all four linebackers, dropping the defensive ends into coverage, using the nose tackle to "spy" on Manuel and playing man-free coverage in the secondary (man on the receivers with a free safety playing center field). The goal of this defense is to fool Manuel into going to his "hot" route against the blitz, either throwing right to the dropping defensive lineman or ending up with a gain short of the first-down marker.

But Manuel isn't fooled and immediately finds his keys -- this should be encouraging for FSU fans. The proper play in this situation is to "peek" at Rodney Smith's take-off route on the right and then find the option route in the middle of the field, since the dropping defensive end should be no match for Beau Reliford. The replay shows Manuel doing just that and determining to take the "safe" play by hitting Reliford for a 15-yard gain and a first down.

In the above picture, I have circled the player responsible for covering Reliford. Note that Manuel has immediately identified him and already chosen the right target. Also note that had Manuel thrown the "hot" route to the top of the screen, he would have thrown directly to the dropping defensive lineman. The quick out to the bottom looks appealing, but given how long the ball would be in the air, it's unlikely that this would have resulted in anything but a 5-yard gain and a punt.

Given the coverage drop of the defensive end, Reliford needs to stay inside to ensure that Manuel doesn't have to throw over a coverage player. Now all that's left is for Reliford to meet eyes with Manuel, indicating that he's about to settle in the passing window.

Right here we see the two players make eye contact. Manuel needs to pull the trigger now, locating the ball in the white box and making sure he throws it far enough in front of the safety for Reliford to be able to make a safe catch before getting hit -- this is known as "leading him away from the coverage." Manuel does what he's supposed to do and puts his throw right around the red circle in the above picture.

Reliford, however, inexplicably turns to the outside. Notice that in doing so he puts the underneath coverage player between Manuel and himself, which should never happen on an option route. This turned an accurate, perfectly on-time throw into an easy interception for the free safety. The INT may go in the QB's stat sheet, but this one's on the tight end, folks.

Seminoles on Defense: Zero Technique

It would be hard to envision the ‘Noles defense playing much better than it did after the first drive on Saturday night, and I doubt we'll see Oklahoma held to that little offensive production again this year -- unless it runs into LSU in the national title game. A lot of this simply boils down to execution, as the schemes in this contest were essentially the same as those from last year.

That said, the FSU defensive staff did add a few extra wrinkles in this one, with the most noticeable being an occasional move into an "odd" front, meaning an odd number of down linemen. Although the Seminoles showed odd fronts a few times last year, this time there was an even bigger adjustment that reflects a growing confidence in the defensive tackles. On several occasions, Florida State was "two-gapping" up front when it anticipated a perimeter run or bubble screen.

In the above photo, you'll see wunderkind Timmy Jernigan lined up at nose tackle on second and 2. Notice that he's playing head up on the center, or "zero technique," rather than shading to one side or another of the center (one technique). Rather than assigning one player to each gap, as usual, FSU has made Jernigan responsible for both "A" gaps, which frees an extra perimeter defender.

Sure enough, OU stayed true to tendency and threw wide on this play. Notice how all three linebackers are "clean" here and able to flow to the football.

Greg Reid attacks the backfield but isn't able to finish the tackle. Christian Jones cleans up the play for no gain. The 'Noles would go on to stop the Sooners on the next play, forcing a punt.

This is an example of a small adjustment paying off and an illustration of how having outstanding defensive tackles can free up a defense. There were a few cases when this scheme didn't work quite as well. But as the defense grows, it'll be a nice addition to the arsenal.


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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