Seminoles on Defense: Counterintuitive Blitz
This week was all about the defense, as Florida State put together its most complete performance of the year on that side of the ball and completely shut down an average NC State offense.
Although so many have second-guessed Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien's decision to move to redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon, letting Russell Wilson transfer to Wisconsin, I'm not sure NC State's offense would be a whole lot better even with Wilson pulling the trigger. The Wolfpack lost their top three wide receivers from last year and have had a tough time with injuries on the offensive line, a combination that would prove tough for any quarterback
Former ‘Nole Christian Ponder could surely attest to that.
The FSU defense took full advantage of these weaknesses, putting heavy pressure on Glennon all day and daring the NC State receivers to win matchups downfield. The end result was impressive: zero plays over 20 yards, three turnovers and under three yards per play when it mattered.
Linebacker Vince Williams' interception serves as a good example of the defense's aggressive approach in this game, as coordinator Mark Stoops dialed up an exotic blitz package that included five rushers, man coverage on the receivers and two extra underneath coverage defenders.
As you can clearly see from the above screen shot, Williams and Christian Jones are coming on the blitz, resulting in an extra rusher to the right side, while the other linebacker, Nigel Bradham, retreats to serve as the "robber" in the middle of the field. Defensive end Bjoern Werner drops into a short coverage area -- a very similar look to what we covered after the Wake Forest game, only this time out of a 4-3 package rather than the nickel.
Above we see the blitz underway. Note Werner in the upper left. His athleticism really shines here, as he looks as nimble as a linebacker mirroring the NC State receiver. FSU's blitz confuses the right side of the Wolfpack offensive line, as both the guard and center end up accounting for nose guard Anthony McCloud, who is looping to the outside.
The below picture shows how properly disguising the blitz led to the deflection and interception, as the center (red circle) has passed defensive tackle Everett Dawkins off to the right guard in order to account for the blitz on the right side. But because the right guard is still engaged with McCloud, Dawkins has come free and is able to get his hand on the throw and deflect it to Williams, who has gotten penetration on the right side. Look how Werner is still getting his hands on the receiver (white circle) -- maybe the most impressive aspect of this play.
This play is an example of why it's sometimes smart to drop your best pass rusher into coverage. It may be counterintuitive, but because the right side of the Wolfpack line still accounted for him, it turned another player loose to make a big play.
Seminoles on Offense: Short-Yardage Problems
Offensively, this was a somewhat disappointing showing for Florida State, as the run game continued to struggle on key downs. Coach Jimbo Fisher always emphasizes the importance of being able to run the football successfully on third-and-short and in the red zone, and the Seminoles struggled running it in short yardage against a very average NC State front.
At this point, it's pretty obvious FSU has become a left-side-dominant running team by necessity, as the right side of the line needs to make some strides over the next few weeks in order for this team to salvage its remaining goals for the year.
This third-and-short from the third quarter is an example of what kind of breakdowns we saw from FSU's offensive line in this game.
The ‘Noles go with 22 personnel -- that's two tight ends and two running backs -- in the I-formation and run inside zone to the left behind left guard Jacob Fahrenkrug, who continues to improve and is a legit run blocker at this point, and senior left tackle Zebrie Sanders.
For those who may wonder why Nick O'Leary is not in the game here, he is still not quite as reliable a blocker in this situation as the two older tight ends, Beau Reliford and Ja'Baris Little, although he's getting there quickly.
On an inside zone left, the whole O-line steps to the left, with no lineman allowing a defender to "cross his face," a principle that, if executed, allows zone-blocking teams to avoid negative-yardage plays better than any alternative blocking scheme.
On this play, the left side basically does its job, with center Bryan Stork also holding up at the point of attack. The youngsters on the right (in the circles), however, have each allowed his defender to get inside, which ends this play before it can start, with back-side defensive tackle Markus Kuhn -- in fairness, the best defensive lineman for the Wolfpack -- meeting Devonta Freeman in the backfield.
Little whiffs on the play side here, with his man also in on the tackle. If the right side had held up, it's possible Freeman could have bounced outside (along the white line) for a first down anyway. That said, O'Leary likely just got one play closer to being on the field in these blocking situations, as the play-side tight end simply has to be better than this and cannot let the defender simply run right across his face.
FSU may have won by 34 on Saturday, but there's still a lot of work to do, especially up front. At the end of the day, you've got to be able to get first downs running the football in short-yardage situations or it's ultimately going to bite you.
This is an area I'm very much looking forward to seeing against Boston College, which will present a slightly better defensive front than NC State. When you watch the action Thursday, look to see if the right side of the offensive line is able to consistently keep their men from crossing their faces, as that will surely mean success in these short-yardage situations.
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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