Florida State @ Miami: The Tomahawk Nation Seminole Defense Preview

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This rivalry has always been huge

1988 Miami vs FSU Football CBS Intro

FSU V. Miami intro Orange Bowl

This year's rivalry is understandably less anticipated on a national level.  Neither FSU or Miami come into this game ranked.  An impressive showing from the Seminoles could see them back in the top 25 for the second time this season.  This game is much more important than the W on the scoreboard, however.  This is a major recruiting game, with Miami and FSU battling over some key prospects.  Both teams will again bring in excellent classes, but FSU won't return to SoFla until 2010, and a win here could indelibly stamp the awesomeness of FSU onto the minds of some young Dade County Talent.

After the Jump... FSU's Defense v. Miami's Offense

FSU/Miami 2005

In 2005, FSU ended a great deal of suffering at the hands of Miami.  Was this game incredibly ugly?  Yes.  Did this game make both team's defenses look a lot better than they actually were?  Certainly.  DID WE SACK MIAMI 9 TIMES LIKE THE ABOVE VIDEO SHOWS?  Yes.  As someone who attended FSU from 2003-2007 will attest, however, the Doak was insane that night.  I'm not sure when the Doak has been louder in this decade.  That's a neat memory for those who were there, and st the same time, a sad commentary on just how far our program has fallen.

The reports on the Nole offense are primarily negative this year.  We've urged people to stay patient, as this area of the team is relying heavily on underclassmen.  The defense has received glowing reviews overall, and for the most part, they should.  We're probably guilty of being overly critical of these guys, but in the same vein, we've said they have the potential to be the best defense of the decade.  Without further delay, let's preview the Seminole Defense against the Hurricane Offense.

Here's the Seminole Defense against Wake Forest:

Florida State Defense Vs Wake Forest Offense Highlights (via FSUTalent)

The Florida State Front Defense Against the Miami Running Attack

Old school football analysts say that you must stop the run in order to win.  We know that's not true, as defensive aspect most closely correlated with victory is 3rd down pass efficiency defense (if you didn't know that, now you do).  With that said, FSU will still look to stop the run against a Miami team determined to move the ball on the ground. 

Patrick Nix is the new man behind the Miami offense, and I happen to think he's a decent coordinator.  One thing that we do know is that he does not want to throw the football very much.  Against UF, 37 of 59 plays were runs.  Hosting UNC, 33 of 66 plays were runs.   Whether or not Miami is able to run the ball successfully, you can count on the fact that they will run a lot. 

Against the two decent teams they played (UF & UNC), Miami had mixed results running the ball.  They are horrid against UF, whose fast defensive front 7 gave them fits.  Taking out sacks, Miami rushed 34 times for 81 yards, for a horrible average of 2.4 per carry.  If Miami wastes 65% of their plays running for 2.4 yards per carry this Saturday, everyone on this board should buy Patric Nix a present.  They did find better success against UNC, rushing 31 times for 152 yards, just under 5 yards per rush (without sacks).

Now, taking what we know about our defense, I think most loyal readers figure that Miami will be somewhere closer to the UF game than the UNC game.  UNC's rushing defense is pretty poor.  They allowed Va Tech's backs to run for 4.2 per carry in Chapel Hill (I took out the Tyrod Taylor stuff as it could skew it).

The key battle will be the Seminole front 7 against the Miami front line.  Miami has a huge front line, averaging 320Lbs across.  These guys aren't all muscle, however.  Both of the guards appear to be super-morbidly obese.  I really doubt if 344LB Guard Joel Figeroa can see his feet.  This line is exactly what you'd expect from a group with an average size of three FSU coeds put together; slow, plodding, and powerful.  Interestingly, they rotate offensive linemen.  That's pretty unique in college football.  I understand the need to keep guys fresh, but there is also something to be said for line continuity.  I think they rotate these offensive linemen because they aren't all that good.  They're also banged up.  Miami's Starting RT Youngblood will miss this game with a foot injury.  His replacement is also huge, but you definitely do not want to have a tired, slow backup pass protecting against the high-motor Markus White in a crucial situation at the end of the game. 

Miami likes to run out of the Shotgun and Three-Wr I-Formation.  If that sounds familiar to what Colorado did, you're correct.  Colorado had some success running out of this formation, and I am glad that the Noles got a live game look at this approach.  Miami will pound the rock with Graig (not a typo, that's really how his Mom spelled it) Cooper.  Cooper looks like a really explosive back on film, but he is definitely inconsistent and not a great inside runner.  I would rather face a kid like that, since we're likely to kill him in the backfield a few times, creating second and long.

Florida State will counter with a defense that has stoned the run quite well.  FSU's defensive line averages about 270LBS, bu they are exceptionally quick.  Expect the starting line to consist of

RE Everette Brown, NG Paul Griffin (back from suspension), DT Budd Thacker, and LE Neefy Moffett.  This group is extremely deep and healthy.  Expect significant contributions from DT's Kendick Stewart and DT Moses McCray, and DE's Markus White and Kevin Mcniel.  The Seminole LB's are extremely fast, and MLB Derek Nicholson is playing with good size and presence, using his hands well to shed blocks.  Our corners tackle really well and I'm not woried about them on the edges.  

Key to Remember:  Miami couldn't block UF's much maligned defensive line, and surprisingly struggled against on the interior.

The Goals for the Seminole Rushing Defense:

  • Keep Miami in 2nd and long: 33% of First Down Rushes for 1 or fewer yards.  (The STUFFED %)
  • Use penetration to get stops: 40% Win Rate on 3rd+ 4th n short rushing
  • Tackle Well: Less than 10 missed tackles (A Mickey Andrews Goal)
  • Don't have your good work go for naught: 2 or fewer draws of 3rd and 8 or Longer for first downs.
  • Play Inside-Out:  Cooper isn't much of an inside runner, and he does want to go outside.  Make him one dimensional, and then use that 'Nole speed to deny him the corner.
  • No rushing TD's in the red zone.  Make Miami throw the ball.
  • Take good angles to the football: No more than 2 runs over 15 yards and no runs over 35 yards. 

The Florida State Defense Against the Miami Passing Game

Obviously, these two areas of concern feed off each other.  If Miami's running game is destroying FSU, we're going to have to sacrifice the pass defense to kill the run. 

Here is a video of the Miami offense (mostly) against Texas A&M.  A&M is complete garbage and should be banned from the big 10. 

Miami Hurricanes highlights vs. Texas A&M (9/20/08) (via rusty98um11)

Miami's passing game isn't really a rhythm game.  In fact, it's not much of a passing game at all.  I am pretty impressed with Robert Marve and believe he will be in the NFL in 3-4 years. 

That said, they don't pass protect very well at all.  Marve is constantly getting harasses when he's forced to take a straight drop back, though they are slightly better off play action. Now they lose their starting RT and have to face the FSU Defensive Line.  I do not buy the idea that Youngblood isn't a loss because the Canes rotate their offensive lineman.  He was the starter for a reason, even if he hasn't lived up to his lofty expectations.  Florida State has been blitz happy to a fault this season, but this is probably the first time you will hear me say "BRING IT."  If Mickey wants to Bitz an opponent into submission, this is the game to do it!  UNC brought pressure in the second half and really choked off Marve.  Blitzing this team within reason should work for a few reasons.  First, their OLine, despite being exceptionally fat, doesn't have a lot of continuity, and could have trouble playing assignment football.  Second, Greg Cooper does not want to do blitz pickup.  Here is where missing RB James could hurt them a lot.  If Cooper can't pickup the blitz (hopefully from Watson), there could be some nasty turnovers.  Third, FSU shouldn't be scared to blitz in this game because...

Miami's receivers aren't very impressive.  Sam Shields is probably the best WR on the team, and he's been inconsistent at best, with only 1 catch for 5 yards against UNC, and no catches against UF.  WR  K. Farquharson had a nice game against UNC, but again, he's not scary by any means.  I hate to say this, but Wake's Boldin might be the best WR on the Canes if he were on their roster.  If we do blitz, I think we can handle this squad's wideouts.

I don't want to blitz too much, however, because of Miami's scheme.  These guys throw a TON of screens, and we all know that Miami has burned us on screens before.  My personal least favorite moment in this Miami series is Sinorice Moss's jailbreak screen TD in 2004.  If we blitz, we need to do it intelligently, and be aware if their screen game.

Miami does not throw the ball down field.  They have only 4 passes over 15 yards in their 2 games against decent competition.  They throw a TON of hitches, slants, and quick strike stops to the wideouts.  This is good for us here.  I haven't seen an FSU team tackle this well in a long long time.  If we do blitz, we need to get there quickly.  Marve doesn't hold the ball for a long time; probably because he knows he is going to be hit. 

Last ,but oh man nooooot least, Miami has a decent, but not great TE in Epps.  Marve will try to go to him in a pinch.  We really need to cover this kid.  For the first time in a while though, I'm not worried about this.  We will allow him to catch SOME balls, but Kenny Ingram and Verdell (whose groin is fine) should be up to the task.  Having an actual free safety in Jamie helps here too. 

So, get a good push with the DT's, blitz aggressively in spurts, don't bite too hard on play action, and tackle well.  That doesn't seem that tough. 

Key Stat: Miami has faced the # 9 (UF), # 86 (UNC), and # 95(T A&M) ranked Opponent Adjusted Pass Efficiency Defenses.  Florida State ranks 52nd.  

In the UF Game, Marve was 18-10, for 69 yards, and a rating of 87. 

Against the 2 defenses ranked outside the top 85:  34-49, 347, 5 TD's, 3 Int's. 

Simply put, Marve lit up two bad pass defenses.  The onus will be on him to step up.  The Canes passing attack was ridiculously bad against UF.  If Miami plays super conservative against FSU, they will probably lose.

The benchmarks for the FSU Pass Defense

  • No good day: Marve under a QB Rating of 110 overall.
  • Limit Big Plays:  no more than 4 pass plays of 15+ yards
  • Selective Pass Interference: do not give up the deep ball.  If they do throw it, interfere like crazy. 
  • Hit Marve: Play to the echo of the whistle.  Have a sack rate (sacks / (pass plays + sacks)) of 7.5% or more.
  • Be studs on 3rd down: make the tackle when they throw underneath and don't allow them to get the 3rd down.  Limit Marve to double digit QB rating on 3rd down.
  • Do not fall for play action on short yardage downs: DB's rarely make these plays but are usually the ones burned for trying to help out too much. 
  • Confuse Marve.  Mix the coverages enough to confuse the redshirt freshman.  I'm annoyed that we give away our blitz too early.  Let's wait to walk down, and at other times walk down and then back out.
  • Create 2 turnovers.

Final Goals For FSU's defense

  • No Plays of 45+ Yards.  I doubt Miami can repeatedly drive on this team.  Let's make them try. 
  • 10 "Stops" Mickey defines a stop as a turnover, punt, or a surrender on downs.  That's fine by me. 
  • Less than 50% Red Zone TD Scoring
  • Less than 80% Red Zone Scoring
  • No scores off sudden change (make Miami get a first down off a turnover.  Do not allow the home run after a turnover)
  • Hold Miami under 325 Yards.  Mickey's goal is 300, but honestly, that might not be realistic.

What will happen?

Miami will attempt to establish the running game early and often with Graig Cooper.  Florida State will have an above average, but not great day stopping the run.  The 'Noles will rotate defensive linemen often to keep fresh legs going against UM's beef.  Cooper will go for 88 yards on 25 carries, but will be hit or miss, getting stones in the backfield and breaking a few cutback runs as FSU's defensive ends play undisciplined.  FSU will not bring 9 men into the box, but will sometimes use Myron Rolle.  The Corners will continue to tackle well.  Derek Nicholson will lead the way with 9 tackles overall.

Miami will be moderately successful in the play-action game.  I expect Marve to find Epps all day.  FSU will shut down Miami's quick flips to the WR's in the flats.  The Nole's offensive line will get good pressure off the edge, but will be inconsistent in their push up front.  Instead of steadily collapsing the pocket, I expect the Nole DT's to either beat their man and apply instant pressure, or be stonewalled.  I do think that Everette Brown and co at the DE spots will be able to pressure Marve. 

Mickey Andrews will blitz too much and probably fail to disguise where the blitzers are coming from, betting on execution rather than confusion.  The blitz will get to Marve sometimes, but the simplicity of the blitz schemes will allow Marve to have easy reads at times.  He will get into a comfort zone at times, and hit a few guys wide open.  The de ja vu effect will be maddening.  Miami will also hit one screen that FSU fans think is going the distance, but the improved tackling will limit it to a simple big gain.  Cooper will blow at least one major blitz pickup assignment , causing Marve to be crushed, and hopefully causing a turnover.  Miami's idea of rotating offensive linemen will continue to look foolish. 

Miami will struggle to consistently move the football.  Marve won't make the big throw on a consistent basis, and will produce some costly turnovers in the face of some serious pressure.  Cane receivers won't get open down field because the veteran guys aren't super talented and the young guys are inexperienced.  Corners Tony Carter and Patrick Robinson will challenge the underachieving cane wideouts, and force them to make plays to make a catch, while not allowing them to make plays after catching it.  FSU will definitely try to choose denial over control when it comes to the cane wide receivers.  The 'Noles will match Kenny Ingram and Toddrick Verdell on TE D. Epps, and for the most part will control him.

Miami rushes 30 times for 120 yards, and throws 35 times for 200 Yards.  The Canes have two good drives, netting a td and a fg.  They also get a field goal off a turnover as the Nole defense holds.  Finally, they hit one big play for a TD, probably to the TE as you slam your beverage of choice down on the coffee table.  For the most part, however, FSU's defensive players do their job and hold the Canes to 20 points, while producing 2 turnovers.

Weird Prediction:  A defensive linemen with an interception. 

Defensive Player of the Game Prediction: MLB Derek Nicholson.


Why Derek Nicholson?  Nicholson will need to control the middle of the field so that the other members of the defense can concentrate on keeping Greg Cooper from gaining the corner.

Here is a coverage map.  If you don't get the game, we encourage you to join us for the live blog!


The Forecast:

Showers possible early in the day. Isolated thunderstorms developing in the afternoon. High 83F. Winds ENE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 30%.

Back Tomorrow with the Offensive Preview

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