The Preview: Florida State Seminoles at Boston College Eagles

Gametime is 3:30, on ABC or ESPN.  How do you know which network to watch?  I have you covered:

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The TomahawkNation forecast indicates an 80% chance of a lot of rain, with temps in the upper 60's to the lower 70's.  Wet.

Be here for the Tomahawk Nation livegamethread!

The preview awaits you.  It is here to consume the rest of your day.

This summer, I wrote a preview of BC's defense.  Unless you've been reading us for a while, you probably don't understand just how good BC's defense was last season.  So read it.

Here's the part I want to highlight, my prediction.

BC plays a read and react defense under defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani (now the head coach), which means they rarely blitz.  Spaziani is highly thought of as a defensive coordinator and is very detail oriented.  He has always done a nice job of adapting his scheme to his personnel.    And this year he has quite the task on his hands with the loss of his 3 best players (by far).  BC returns only 5 starters on defense, and none of those 5 are projected NFL selections.  To say that the talent has dropped off would be a huge understatement.  It's highly doubtful that BC's defense will come close to what it did last season.  Let's see what they bring back...

 

Defensive Line & Linebackers (The "Front 7")

Gone are the big boys we discussed above.  BC doesn't have the ability to replace them.  The best of this group is tackle Damik Scafe (6-3, 293, Jr.).  He played a bit last year and will probably play in the NFL eventually, though he's an obvious dropoff from last year.  The other tackle is tackle Kaleb Ramsey (6-3, 256, Soph.)  Young and obviously not very strong, he's a major liability and most teams will be able to run on him.  

While BC has major questions at tackle, they are considerable better off at defensive end.  Austin Giles (6-3, 283, Sr.) will battle Alex Albright 6'2" 250 could also get the nod.  At the other end, Jim Ramella (6-4, 243, Sr.) is a very solid player.  These guys are good, but not great, and won't come close to having the impact that the two interior guys had last year.  In fact, they could regress as teams focus on them and not the interior guys.  

At linebacker, the Eagles are a mess.  They lost Herzlich and he obviously isn't replacable.  They also lost Robert Francois (6'2" 255), and  Middle Linebacker Mike McLaughlin (6'0" 252) will try to return from tearing his Achilles back in March, but even if he does come back, he'll be quite rusty.  Trying to replace Herzlich is sophomore  Dominick LeGrande 6'2" 200 (yes, 200).  He's not ready, but has to play anyways because of Herzlich's absence.  LeGrande played safety last year.  Sophomore  Will Thompson (6'1" 235) will replace McLaughlin if he can't go.  He has impressed people but is not as good as the guy he will be asked to replace.  At the other position will be one of two redshirt freshmen in 6'3" 217lb Nick Clancy or 6'3" 222lb Alexander Disanzo.  

These guys are much smaller, much less experienced, much less talented, and much younger.  There's a huge dropoff for BC's defensive line and linebackers.

So BC's front-7 did weigh 1902lbs.  This year, they will weigh in at 1711bs.  That's a huge dropoff of 191lbs!  No team in the country that I could find had this significant a dropoff, and nobody else was even close.  That's to say nothing of the talent they lost (regardless of size), which they can't replace this season.  

So 1711lbs combined in their front 7.  Why does this matter?  FSU's run game destroys small front 7's.

So, I was close, but I need to make a few changes.  Giles is starting at DT, not Ramsey.  McLaughlin is back and starting, though I was not impressed with him against Wake.  He pressed too much.  FSU also needs to make sure to exploit him in coverage, because he is not agile to put it mildly.  LeGrande is their best linebacker, but he missed the Wake game with a concussion and is expected to return.

In any case, 1743lbs is their new weight, which is still 159lbs lighter than they were last year.  Frequent readers will remember that I thought FSU could run on BYU because of their diminutive front-7 (under 1750lbs), and run the Noles did.  USF's front-7 was decently sized at 1818lbs , but very very talented, and paired with a poor performance from FSU's line, the run game wasn't there.  I won't say that BC's front-7 is as bad as BYU's, but they are nowhere close to USF's, or Miami's for that matter. 

But so far this year, they have done a nice job stopping the run.  Most of that work was done with the extra safety, however, and that comes with some consequences.  BC's defense is really well coached.  Spaziani is a great defensive coach.  BC's guys know they have to take chances, but that comes at a cost.  BC plays a lot of zone defense, with 8 in the box, and that leaves them exposed to big plays when their guys jump routes.  As I discuss a bit below, Wake did exploit them some.  Clemson, however, could not because their wide receivers are wildly undisciplined, dropped balls, and most importantly, because their offensive line is pretty bad and BC didn't really need 8 in the box to stop them.  Wake's run game has been terrible for almost half a decade, and they still loaded the box and allowed 1st down passing.

Here's some notes from the  Wake game:

Dr. Saturday Wrote:

B.C. controlled the vast majority of this game, moving ahead 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.

The Deacons could have been there, though, if not for a few of the usual blown opportunities, specifically a fumble in Eagle territory and a missed field goal in the first half. With its back against the wall, Wake drove for two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie, using a grand total of three minutes to go 67 and 80 yards, respectively, to put the game into overtime on a Riley Skinner throw into the end zone with 11 seconds left; from there, following a B.C. field goal on its turn with the ball, the Deacons proceeded to move to the Eagle three-yard line with a chance to score for the win. Cue crushing fumble on first-and-goal, an Eagle recovery and a hard ending to one of the best comeback efforts of the day.

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The desperately-needed B.C. win takes a lot of sting out of the Eagles' late defensive collapse, which couldn't get a stop at the end of regulation (and nearly failed in overtime, too) and gave up five passes longer than 20 yards, most in the second half.

But how much of those last two drives were because of BC's Prevent Defense as BC fans contend?  What about the turnovers?  Was Wake's run game all one play? 

 

Deacons Make Good 1st Down Choices

Wake had less than ideal success with 1st down running, having success only only 4 of 14 1st down runs (defined as 50% of necessary yardage).  4 of them went for a "stuff" (less than 10% of necessary remaining yardage).  The other 5 were somewhere between 11 and 49% of necessary yardage. 

But part of that had to do with BC's decision to take away the run by using an extra defender down in the box (typically a very aggressive safety).  So Wake countered by throwing on 1st down (this is similar to what Miami did to the Noles).  Wake threw on 17 1st downs.  Only three of those passes were incomplete.  Of the 14 that were complete, 11 were successful, and of those 11, 8 went for 1st downs.  That's 9.4 yards per pass, 11.4 per completion.  But on the issue of the prevent defense, there is some merit to that.  6 of the 11 successful 1st down pass plays were on the last two drives, and BC was definitely playing off coverage.  They also didn't play it that well, as some of the completions were rather short.

It is worth noting that two of the turnovers for Wake wasn't really turnovers at all.  One was simply a fumble on 4th and 25.  Another was an interception on 4th and 6 from midfield, intercepted at the goal line.  Both plays were better or similar to the what would have happened if the pass just fell incomplete or the runner was simply tackled.

Situation Plays Yards Yards/Play Points/ Play
1st 10 Drives 45 328 7.3 0.222
Last 2 Drives ("Prevent") 16 147 9.2 0.875
Overtime 5 17 3.4 0 (Obvious)

Okay, so there was something to the prevent argument.   

 

Long Distance Down Struggles Signal Lack of Pass Rush

Wake faced 21 2nd or 3rd down and long situations.  They passed on 13 of those.  These are known as high leverage situations for the defense.  They were successful on 5 of those.  5 of 13 is very good for an offense in long downs, particularly when you consider what some of those plays were.  On 3rd and long, Wake hit passes of 58, 26, and 38 yards.  They got no pass rush, and some of the linebackers and safeties really looked awkward in coverage.  When BC blitzed, they did not get to Skinner (no sacks and very little pressure).

Name Rush Yards Avg
QB Rushing 7 3 0.4
WR Rushing 6 -7 -1.2
RB Running (w/o 76 yard run)
17 70 4.1
RB 76 Yard Rush 1 76 76

The point of this chart, is to show that Wake Forest ran almost 10% of their plays as runs to the wideouts, with poor results.  The run game, for most of the day, wasn't special, and definitely inflated by the one long run (which of course, does count, so we can't dismiss it.  When a defense loads the box, it increases the chance they stop the run, but also increases the chance of allowing a big run, because of the angles. 

So back to their secondary.  Here's what I wrote before.

Secondary

Remember all those interceptions?  Kiss them goodbye.  BC's secondary was allowed to play pass first, second, and last.  Now?  They'll have to use one of the secondary members (a safety) in run support.  The burden on the secondary should be significantly increased.  Were those defensive backs really that good?  Or were they the beneficiaries of a great front-7 that put opposing offenses in tough situations?  I think it's the latter.  None of the BC secondary guys are likely all-conference candidates or NFL players (none are projected to go in the 2010 or 2011 draft).  Let's have a look:

At Safety, BC should be okay with Free Safety Wes Davis and Strong Safety Marcellus Bowman.  Davis is a 6'2" 215 Junior who produced 60 tackles, 3 tfl, 2 INT, 6 pass breakups last year.  He's a decent player in coverage and in run suppot, but as with most of these guys, I expect him to get exposed because he now has to play run and pass (can't play 25 yards off the ball).  Davis will be hung out to dry all by himself because Bowman, a 6'2" 217lb Senior will be called upon to help stop the run.  Again, the loss of the great front-7 guys (both expected and unexpected) is going to put tremendous pressure on this secondary.  

At corner, BC has similar problems.  They return the experienced Roderick Rollins, a 6-0, 188-pound senior.  Rollins has had the benefit of a lot of help from his safeties in his career and that help won't be there this year.  He's decently physical, but can he turn and run after the initial bump coverage?  We shall see.  At the other corner spot is rising sophomore Donnie Fletcher (6'1" 188lbs).  Fletcher is another big corner.  They also have the experienced Deleon Gause 5'11" 174lb, a Junior who has good physical skills, but is inconsistent.  

BC's secondary plays extremely physical, which is great when they have the help of safeties who aren't pre-occupied with stopping the run.  But without safety help, if the corners can't run and run, they will be burned for long TD's.  Wes Davis will have to prove that he can cover the deep middle instead of a deep half (now that Bowman will play down in the box).t

I am pretty impressed with Rollins, he's a quality corner.  **Update** Rollins is apparently doubtful with some sort of leg injury.  Fletcher, however, has been burnt on some double moves.  Despite their decent showing so far, I stand by my summer evaluation.  This secondary was a product of a really good front-7, which is just no longer there.  It's very important for FSU to stay in manageable down and distance.  If they can, it will be like the BYU game, putting BC in tough situations and forcing their hand.  If the Noles cannot, it will be much tougher for them.  Spaziani is the master of the 3-5-3 defense (not 3-3-5, but 3-5-3).  Here's an excerpt, but check out Dr. B's great article on the subject (lots of video as well).  That should kill an hour of work for you, at least.

The basic package appears as a variation on the 33 Stackset with an extra OLB/Nickelback playing, with the SS being the 5th guy in the underneath zone. BC's base is still a 4-3. WILL and SS take the flats underneath, with the two interior LBs playing hook/curl zone and the SAM taking a slot/TE (curl) zone up the seam (note that it could also appear as a shifted 4-3, with the Sam playing in a 3pt stance). The two CBs and the FS are playing the usual 3-deep zone coverage. In the figure above, W, S, and B are LB's (Will/Sam/Bandit), and the SS's are called "Dogs" on the callside, "Rover" on the weakside. One of them will most likely be a OLB or backup Safety/Nickel. Its just terminology.

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Read the explanation (Long)  


As that article indicates, hitting the 4-verticals play will be key.  Wake did it to them.  We saw FSU use this against Jax State (Caz Piurowski), and once against BYU.

BC's defense was the ACC's best and easily top 5 nationally.  They beat FSU up last year.  FSU had the youngest offensive line in the country and were destroyed by an ultra-talented and experienced set of defensive linemen and linebackers.  I have full confidence that Frank Spaziani will come up with good game plan after good game plan, but his ability to get creative will be severely hampered because his defense will face far fewer obvious passing situations.  He's also never been a blitz guy, and he'll definitely need to blitz FSU to get pressure, because FSU's offensive line can handle BC's 3 or 4 man rush.  When BC blitzes, can their secondary handle the single coverage responsibilities against FSU's wideouts?  Though they will run a lot of cover-3, I do expect to see some man at times, particularly when blitzing.    I expect FSU to run the ball on BC, even without a 100% Christian Ponder,  force BC to make adjustments that they really don't want to do, and then FSU will exploit them down the field.   This game could look very different from a big plays standpoint.  BYU was content to sit back, but BC will not.  If FSU starts to run on them, or picks them apart underneath, Spaziani will blitz.  Their blitz wasn't good against Wake Forest, but I suspect it will be better Saturday, if needed.

For Florida State, a lot of this game comes down to not beating themselves.  They have to get DT Scafe blocked.  Other than that, I would not be worried about BC's defensive players more so than I would about FSU beating themselves.  FSU needs to throw when BC has predictable run personnel in the game, be it via play-action or a regular dropback.  McGlaughlin is 30lbs bigger than any other linebacker BC has, and FSU needs to make BC pay for having him on the field, specifically because he isn't particularly mobile at this point.  And if they remove him, run the ball.  Jermaine Thomas is back this week as the starting running back, which should be good.  I could See Easterling having a big day from the slot.

Of course, the major X-Factor is the rain, and there will be lots and lots of cold rain.  I am not sure what that means for a team like FSU, and this game is played on turf.  So far this year I predicted a very high scoring Miami game, a high scoring Win at BYU, and had a very uneasy feeling about the USF game, predicting FSU to win by less than a touchdown when everyone else saw a blowout.  I don't have the same grasp on this game.  I'll say FSU runs for 180 yards on 36 carries, and throws for 240 yards on 30 pass plays (28 throws, 2 sacks).  It'll be good for 28 points in some nasty conditions.

I watched the Clemson and Wake Forest games in their entirety.  I don't feel much can be learned from the Clemson game in terms of defending BC.  Clemson has one of the top 3 defenses in the country.  I can think of at least 35 teams I would trade defenses with.  Clemson was able to do things to the Eagle's offense that FSU simply cannot do, because literally, Clemson has a definitively better player at 9 of the 11 defensive positions.  Also, Clemson is much better coached.  But we can still break down BC's Offense, which again, will probably look like what we saw against Wake and not Clemson.

In the off-season, I wrote this on BC's Offense.  There have been some changes, so I'll quickly run through them.

The Eagles lost up and coming star coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who was fired after flirting with the NFL. That's a smart move for Boston College, because Jags is a very hot commodity and would have left soon anyways. He got a lot out of his players and his team outperformed the expectations of everyone. The Eagles also lost highly respected Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach, Steve Logan. Both are not with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Replacing Jagodzinski is longtime defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani. More on him later. Replacing Logan is Gary Tranquil, who was born in 1940. At one time, he was a decent offensive coach, but he's been out of the college game for 4 years. Where Logan was excellent and really took advantage of his player's talents and opposing defenses, Tranquil is not highly thought of. He runs a pro-style offense, does not spread teams out, and does not utilize his quarterback in the run game at all. His schemes are simple and from a purely schematic standpoint, Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews should own him. They are also abandoning their zone blocking scheme. Tranquil's offense is literally what Mickey Andrew's defense is designed to stop.

Unfortunately, there have been some changes here.  I still don't think Tranquil is any good, but after their anemic showing against Clemson, they scrapped a lot of the new stuff and went back to the zone scheme that was successful for them last season.  BC is running a lot of two-tight end sets, which scares me.  I will say I was right in that they are trying to be more of a power run team.  In an ideal world, they man-block a power run game.  The next best thing for FSU would be power running w/ no QB threat from a zone scheme.  The worst possible scenario would be spread run with a mobile QB.  So it's not all bad, but it's definitely not ideal.

Boston College has a great offensive line.  We talk a lot about how good FSU's O-Line can be, but I am here to tell you that BC's line is every bit as good.  This is one of the best offensive lines in the country.  They return all 5 starters.  This is an excellent group.  People make a big deal about his "big" these guys are, but they really aren't huge.  

LT Anthony Castonzo (6-7, 287, Jr.)
RT Rich Lapham (6-8, 322, Jr.)
LG Thomas Claiborne (6-3, 323, Jr.)
RG Emmett Cleary (6-7, 270, R-Fr.)
C Matt Tennant (6-4, 294, Sr.)

Castonzo is a likely NFL 1st day pick (2nd rounder, maybe 1st, probably 2011 draft).  He is an excellent pass blocker and is pretty quick.  FSU's defensive end will have a tough time doing much against him.  Lapham is obviously huge at right tackle.  He is a very good run blocker but has bad feet and is a liability in pass protection.  Not an NFL player.  At Left Guard, Claiborne is an ex-defensive tackle who was excellent last year.  He was 3rd team ALL-ACC and should be even better this year.  Claiborne is an NFL player provided he keeps his weight in check.  At Left Guard, Cleary is the newcomer to the group.  He could be good eventually and was a tackle coming out of high school, but he's quite raw and will need to work on his back and knee bend to be any good.  At Center, Tennant should be first team ACC.  He's better than FSU's Ryan McMahon, though obviously less known.  Don't get mad, FSU fans, I'm just giving it to you straight.  BC has at least three NFL linemen who are probably 1st day (top 4 round) selections on their line.  They return 4 starters and the line has 4 upperclassmen.  This is an excellent offensive line and will make BC's skill position players look much better than they are.  This isn't the most heralded unit in the country, but unless you judge offensive lines on things other than performance, talent, or experience, they should be considered one of the better groups. FSU will have one heckuva time against this unit.  

Not much change here.  Important to note that they were terrible against an all-time great Clemson defensive line, which was partially due to the Tiger's dominance, and partially due to the confusion.  How disciplined to the scheme will BC stay?  Will Tranquil try to throw some of his new stuff in there and risk confusing his own group?  BC has a huge advantage here.  They should be conservative and pound the rock until FSU clearly says "we're devoting extra people against the run, throw on us."  FSU's DLine is now as bad as I thought they would be- they are worse.

At Quarterback, BC has Dave Shinskie, who is a 25 year-old Pocket passer and he also played minor league baseball.  He hasn't played football in 6 years.  More on him here.  He's a good passer, because he was a decent prospect coming out of high school.  He's not a run threat, however, and that's really what the 'Noles care about.  They also have a kid named Tuggle, son of former NFL All-Pro Jessie Tuggle.  He's an athletic freak but a really erratic passer.

If I were BC, I'd use Tuggle in the shotgun all day and run zone read down FSU's throat 55 times for about 350 yards.  I think we'll see some Wildcat with him, but not as the base package, and that's a good thing.

The Eagles look good at running back.  Montel Harris is their big back at 5' 10" 200.  He had one heckuva game last year against the 'Noles as a freshman.  He's not a home run threat, and this author thinks he's more of a product of BC's offensive line, but he does what is asked of him and grinds out tough yards.  Last year he gained 900 yards on 179 carries (5 YPC), and caught 20 balls for 160 yards.  The other back is Josh Haden, a scatback who gained 479 yards on 120 carries (4 YPC).  He's 5'8" 182lbs, but should catch a few more balls this year.  Blocking for these two is Senior James McClusky.  He's 6'2" 250lbs and a mauler.  He did hurt his Achilles in spring, however, and the Eagles desperately need him to be healthy this year as they utilize a 2-back attack.  I fully expect Harris to get 200 carries this year, and also expect his average to drop a bit as other teams key on him more. 

McCluskey is doubtful with an Achilles injury.  So BC is running more two tight end sets, as I mentioned.  Haden is still inconsistent, but he is very skilled and could break a long run.  So about those wideouts and tight ends...

 

The Eagles do return WR Rich Gunnell, who was basically Robinson's equal in production, though far less explosive.  Florida State's Patrick Robinson can easily handle him one on one without help (Robinson is CBS' #1 Draft Eligible Corner), and he'll be asked to as the 'Noles focus on stopping the run.    They also have Justin Jarvis, who is 6'5" and was decently productive this year.  Can Jarvis handle the increased role?  That remains to be seen, but the Eagles are counting on him.  The remaining guys are relatively unheralded wild cards.  Junior Ifeanyi Momah is 6'6" 230 and caught 11 for 149 and 3TD's last season.  He's their Greg Carr, except bulkier and about as fast as your average tight end.  RsFr Clyde Lee had a decent spring I am told and could play some in the slot (though I suspect BC will not use many 3-wide sets).  Finally, can Senior Clarence Megwa (6'1" 190) come back from a thought to be career-ending leg injury?  If he can, BC will need him, because he started for them last year.  Update:  Megwa's leg is apparently healed, he's dealing with a hand injury and they expect him to be ready for the FSU game. 

At tight end, 6'3" 250lb Soph Lars Anderson has a chance to be a very good pass catcher.  Last year he snagged 9 balls for 85 yards.  They also have Jordan McMichael, who was a very nice recruit in 2006 (I think), but has done nothing to date to impress anyone.  

I don't think any of the draft eligible guys will get drafted.  They really don't seem all that special.  They aren't bad, but rather are just good college players.  

Some notes.  First, Gunnell has struggled, which almost certainly means he will have a big day against FSU, but Robinson should lock him down easily.  Momah is definitely out.  BC is using a tight end by the name of Chris Pantale, and he's been good for them.  The McMichael kid is very good.  Again, two tight end sets.

For FSU, most of the defensive line will play, but that is not to say they are healthy.  Freshman JaJuan Harley, back from injury problems, will start at Rover over much maligned Senior Korey Mangum.  Think of it as a mercy killing.  Harley is the best athlete on the team and maybe in the ACC, but expect maddening inconsistency, busts, and also some highlight plays from the true freshman making his first ever start.

I expect BC to stay in two-tight end sets, with 1 back and two wideouts.  They should be able to run the ball on the Noles, particularly with counters and traps, in addition to their zone run game, which is already good.  I'm not re-inventing the wheel here.  This is the same stuff you've seen since Chuck Amato replaced Kevin Steele as FSU's linebacker coach.  Oh, they have a little speed-option they run as well.  BC runs a ton of play-action passes, and I expect them to do well with those to their two impressive tight ends because FSU's players just aren't taught well on the defensive side.  The defensive acuity just hasn't been instilled in these guys.  It's not their fault.  I'll take BC to have 200 yards rushing and 180 throwing, and 24 points.

Noles 28, BC 24.

Note:  the heavy, heavy rain here is keeping my score prediction down.  If it were higher, I'd predict a higher number.

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