Florida State Film Review: Seminole Offense @ North Carolina Tar Heel Defense

Welcome to another edition of Florida State Film Review!  For the 2nd week in a row, I'm not breaking down the defense on a play-by-play basis because they are so poorly coached I cannot discern what they are attempting to do from play to play.  Maybe I'll look at the defense Tuesday, but it is my honest evaluation that this defense is one of the worst in the country, even when adjusting for competition level.  Instead, let's discuss one of the top offenses in the country.  Today we have 7 exciting film clips and some photos as well.  Continue reading and check it out!

And of course, if you enjoyed this, spread it around to your friends!  We recently hit One Million visitors, and pieces like this are a reason why.  Our staff puts a lot of work into these, and all 'Nole fans should see them.  So spread it around.

Let's review just how impressive FSU's victory was:

Florida State traveled to face off against one of the finest defenses and worst offenses in the country.  North Carolina's defense came into the game ranked 10th, their offense 99th.  FSU's offense entered the game ranked 8th, their defense 101st.  Florida State knew coming into the game that reaching 24 points would be a huge accomplishment against the ferocious North Carolina defense that features multiple future early NFL draft picks.  It would be up to FSU's defense to make UNC's horrible offense look, well, horrible.  Of course, FSU's defense allowed UNC to roll up 17 1st half points and to score another TD on their first 2nd half drive.  FSU was down 24-6 to one of college football's best defenses.

And while FSU was setting up plays for the 2nd half and feeling out what could work, FSU's horrific defense let UNC's pitiful offense run up and down the field.

Let's use a quick chart to put this in perspective.  Just how good was FSU's performance?  To find out, you must compare it to the other teams who played the Heels:

Team v. UNC's Defense -ranked 10th
at UCONN ECU at Gtech UVA Florida State
Rank of Offense 49 62 2 56 8
Plays 61 61 77 68 65
Yards Per Play Allowed 3.2 4 5.2 3.8 6.7
Rushes 31 28 65 37 23
Yards/ Rush Allowed 3.3 2.6 5 3.7 2.3
Passing Plays 30 33 12 31 41
Yards/ Pass Play Allowed 3.1 5.3 6.9 3.8 9.2
  • Yards-Per-Play is used because it is the best standard measure of defense.  Total yards is moronic (please don't try to argue this, just use the search feature at right).  It really isn't the fault of the defense if the offense allows the opponent to get 17 possessions or take the ball in UNC's red zone three times in a contest.  How many snaps did you have, what did you do with them (or allow your opponent to do with theirs).  Simple enough.
  • Sacks have been re-allocated to Passing plays (since they are the result of a failed passing play and not a run play)
  • Kneel-Downs are not included as they are not a competitive play.
  • Carolina's defense hasn't allowed anyone to gain more than 5.2 yards per play.  FSU put up 6.7 yards per play.  Doesn't seem like much?  Think again.  Florida State gained 30% more yards per play than anyone else had on the Tar Heel's defense.  And they did it in North Carolina, on a Thursday night.   
  • 1st team to crack 410 yards against UNC’s defense (438), and did it IN NORTH CAROLINA.  Georgia Tech had 406, but they did it in Atlanta, and did it on 85 plays.  FSU did it on 15 fewer plays.  That's about 20% fewer snaps for FSU, but a lot more yards and as shown above, a lot more yards per play.
  • 1st team to put 30 points on UNC’s defense and did it IN NORTH CAROLINA.

So yes, on a Thursday night, Florida State went into the house of one of the best defenses in the country, got down by 18 points by allowing one of the worst offenses in the nation to set season-highs.  Then with UNC knowing they would have to pass, they did just that.  And did it again and again and again.  Florida State obliterated the even the worst numbers that Carolina's stellar defense had allowed all season.  The 'Noles put up 30% more yards per play than anyone else had against the Tar Heels, and they did it in Chapel Hill, on a Thursday Night. The credit goes to Jimbo Fisher's halftime adjustments and Christian Ponder's once again excellent play. 

Seminoles vs Tar Heels boxscore (Note, this isn't adjusted for sacks of kneeldowns, etc)

What did we learn?

If you don't think FSU is one of the best 5 offenses in the country, you need to wake up.  Think a bit smarter and realize the opponent quality when you look at the production. FSU didn't get cupcakes this year.

  • No offense has scored more points against Miami than FSU. 
  • Florida State's 54 points against BYU is 20 more than the next closest effort by any other team against the Cougars. 
  • Fisher's offense dropped 44 on Georgia Tech; no other team has even cracked 35 on the Jackets, and the one who cracked 30 was Mississippi State who did it in garbage time (31 points).  
  • And you saw the figures from above.  FSU put up 30% more yards per play than anyone else did against UNC.  And of course they set new season highs for points allowed and yards allowed by UNC. 

I'll give a brief overview of the drive and include clips or pictures where relevant. 

Drive #1

McMahon continues to have high snaps.  1st play of game.  Also, poor pitch relationship between givens and thomas on 2nd down reverse (loss of 10).  3rd and 18 bubble is safe.  possible big play and no disaster

Drive #2

Motion Jermaine Thomas out wide is good, gives ponder coverage look, goes from I-form to basically 4 wide. UNC played the spread sets very very conservatively early, counting on their front-4.  They had no idea how to react to Thomas motioning wide from I-form.  Nice use of pistol formation, lots of things happening.  Bubble look to strong, slant weakside w/ Thomas also releasing weak.  Hard to align v. pistol.

Then FSU comes out in I-formation twins, carolina has 8 in the box, clearly cover-3 as fsu motions to the weakside.  This is cool:

Run-action holds the linebackers, and Zebrie Sanders and David Spurlock slip out to block for Bert reed.  This is an excellent use of personnel as FSU is a great screen team due to their athletic offensive linemen.  Sander's doesn't nail his block, but this is a very good play to have in the repertoire and is an appropriate counter to teams running lots of cover-3 with 8 in the box against standard personnel.  This is a play that fsu can hit for long yardage on 1st downs.  Also, look for the Noles to run it to Datko/Hudson's side later.

The bubble screen that reed fumbled/ didn't catch was the correct read by ponder.  Owens just missed his block.  That's not a call, but rather a check by ponder.  against teams playing very loose cover-3 with 8 in the box against twins, fsu will need to continue to throw these.  it's simply a regulator.

Bert Reed had a false start which is just not acceptable.  poor concentration by the wideouts in the 1st half.  (missed block by Owens, false start, etc).  And the drive stalls.  Pretty good drive against UNC's D.


Drive # 3

(Ponder sacked & fumbled).  Arm might have been going forward.  Spurlock lunged, and Zebrie got beat to the inside. More on them later.  Datko also allowed pressure there.  Not a good play, but remember, UNC was going to get a few of those.


Drive #4: 

Zone read, very well blocked by 4 of 5, but spurlock not a great cut and his man makes a phenomenal crawling play to trip up thomas.  Play had nice potential. Oh and Thomas didn't run real hard on it.  Loss of 1.  Here's the photo:


The man circled in yellow crawls at light-speed and makes the tackle.

Then FSU hits a 60+ yard play that is called back for an illegal block.  Middle screen picture: 


Just a step beyond the line.  play isn't a penalty if he is 18 inches back.  Negates gain of 65 yards.  The rule is clear, you cannot block downfield for a pass thrown beyond the line of scrimmage.


Drive # 5: 

Pistol Thomas for 4, inside zone.  5 good blocks, held the backside.  drew unc offisdes.  picked up 2nd and 2 with a 3 yard outside zone run to the right.  good blocks, some movement.  bert reed good effort on block but tough to block a big backer.  Nice protection on the 13 yard slant to Fortson who did a nice job to get the YAC.  Option look from off-set pistol, Ponder gets 3 but doesn't pitch the ball like he should (this might be fake option).  Fortson has a bad drop on a slant.  FSU has to have that.  He's open, he's a big body, and he must catch the damn football.  drew them offsides again, so from 3rd and 7 to 3rd and 2.  Ponder hesitated and didn't hit owens on the 3rd and 2 rollout, his scramble didn't get there.  punt.


Drive # 6

Pistol, Bubble.  Slightly late as Ponder couldn't grip the ball.  Excellent throw and catch on a tight window slant to Owens who gets 8 more yards and gets out of bounds.  Fake draw fake end around and toss it to givens for 2 or 3.  Good play to show it and kep them honest.  Then came a beautiful play:  JIMBO FISHER SMASH CLIP.  

This is known as the smash.  The outside receiver runs a curl and the slot receiver runs a corner route.  The QB reads the defender.  If the defender plays the curl, the QB throws the Corner.  If the defender plays off, the QB throws the Curl.  It's quite the cat and mouse game between QB and cornerback, and Ponder plays to win.  Beautiful ball and great job getting the foot down by Bert Reed.

So 1st and goal.  Reliford misses his block on the qb wrap.  in any case, Commack lined up incorrectly, so even if FSU had scored, he would have nullified it.  Lack of attention to detail.  Coaches were livid.  On 2nd and goal, they had the delay.  Why?  Apparently Bobby didn't realize last year's clock rules, thought clock stopped after a penalty.  It doesn't.  Assistant coaches can't call timeout, only the head coach, and he was nowhere to be seen.  The FSU played it safer and got the FG before half.


At the half, I did not think FSU's offense was getting owned.  They were facing a very good defense that had made a few great plays and fsu's offense was just a hair off.  the unperfect cut block, a high snap, a drop, a receiver running inside instead of out, etc.  There was no absurd physical domination going on.  For the most part, FSU had seen a lot of formations to stop the run and the deep ball, giving FSU the short stuff to the outside, which Ponder patiently took.  Also, Fisher was setting up some stuff for later.

Florida State began to pound the flats.  They got into the Pistol and ran the ball with their zone blocking schemes.  They made UNC make tackles in space.  They did everything to negate UNC's great size.  Amazingly, they repeatedly ran 5-man protections (no tight ends or backs blocking) and did very well with it.  The line beautifully handled UNC's defensive line in pass protection and gave Ponder the time he needed to through all of his reads.

Drive # 7

Start out with an inside zone to the weak side.  Spurlock doesn't get his cutoff.  Pryor runs hard for 1 or 2.  Swing to Lonnie sets up 3rd and 3.  Throw was low.  On 3rd and 3, Thomas can't come up with a well placed throw to the outside, though it was a tough catch.  Punt coming.


Drive # 8

Came out in 4-wide gun, protection was excellent, Carolina played soft coverage, easy 7 yards to Owens on a hitch.  On 2nd and 5, FSU runs their staple, the Smash, and Ponder overthrows it.  It was open, Easterling ran a good route.  Maybe the only blatantly bad throw Ponder made.  You can see Ponder tell Easterling "My Bad."  On 3rd and 5 UNC drops 8 into coverage and Ponder hits Owens on a  7 yard hitch.  Good patience, good route.  No pass pressure from UNC at all on the drive so far.  1-10 and FSU went high-tempo, Outside Zone run to Thomas from the Pistol.  NIce blocks from Hudson and McMahon.  UNC's front is very good and to get a 10 yard run there was very good.  Thomas seemed to run harder after midway through the 2nd.  Beautiful flare throw to Thomas for 9.  No pressure from UNC, and they are clearly worried about the deep outside now.  The middle of the field will be open later in the game.  Foreshadowing duh duh duh.  On 2nd and 1, Datko gets beat inside and Thompson can't pick up the first down from the gun.  Datko's excellent in pass protection but he sometimes struggles in run blocking.  On 3rd and short, FSU doesn't screw around and they quickly sneak for the first.  On the 1st, FSU is in the gun and there's a lot to see here.  Let's go to the tape:

UNC switched into a 3 man line with 4 linebacker types.  They zone blitz at the snap, sending 5 rushers and dropping 2 people into coverage, a linebacker and a lineman.  FSU's motion is like their 2-back sweep, but UNC is in full-blitz mode and they do not care.  Thomas gets an incredible block, but there's one too many to the right side with the overload.  FSU's line is trying to shield left but the blitz is coming from the right.  Ponder eludes the guy and throws to Fortson who has done a nice job of beating his man and coming back for the ball, but he drops it.  That's his 2nd crucial drop this game. Remember too that he has the sloppy screen route leading to the penalty.

So 2nd and 10.  Remember when I said the middle of the field would be open later because FSU had run the smash route so well?  Yeah, that's now:

Ponder identifies the cover-2, you can see the checks he makes at the line.  The 3 middle defenders drop into their zones, while the two safeties each play a deep half.  The linebacker does a nice job to funnel Reed to the sideline, expecting the Smash route (Reed running the corner).  But this is no corner route.  Reed runs the square in, and Ponder rifles it.  It's not a great throw, but considering the dropsies the wideouts have had, it was nice of Reed to catch this one.  The window between the linebackers is open and you can see it.  Also, the protection is great.  Nobody near Ponder.

On the resulting 1st down, FSU expects the safety to cheat to the inside more, because of the previous play.  And he's just not cheated enough.  The ball is thrown a bit high and the coverage is good.  Incomplete.  On 2nd down, FSU runs the givens end around action, fakes it to Thomas, looks at Givens, but it's a screen!  It gets 7 or 8 yards and I like the call.  Thought Hudson released a bit early and was overanxious.  You know he wants that cut on that corner again.  On 3rd and 3, FSU calls the QB draw.  The look is crucial: 


Notice how the linebackers are peeling to defend the bubble screen to either side.  Ponder gets an easy 10.

On 1st and goal, Easterling can't cleanly catch the bubble but does get 1 or 2 yards.  The 2nd and goal is 5 wide double slants.  Good routes and a good throw for the TD, 13-24. 


Drive # 9: 

98 yard TD to Owens.  This is a hitch-n-go set up by the hitch after hitch FSU threw earlier.  It was a 6 man protection, and UNC rushed with 5.  Excellent protection and a nice throw from the end zone. 

Drive # 10:

Ponder starts to abuse UNC.  They tried to cover Bert Reed with a backup linebacker, and that's just not possible.  Perfect pass pro.  Fortson gets called for a hold on a bubble to Easterling (I think Easty is on his way back, by the way).  Bad luck on a middle screen to Easterling as UNC twisted into it.  On a 3rd and 7, Ponder hits Owens for a 15 yard post.  No idea what coverage UNC was playing.  I suspect that backup linebacker blew the coverage.  Here you go:


On the next play, UNC is really desperate to make something happen.  They are hyper-aggressive.  FSU had done a good job running from the Pistol, and Fisher made a masterful call:  Pistol play-action Owens Deep Out:

Watch how hard everyone from UNC pursues what they think is a run play.  Ponder had his choice of 3 open receivers.  The next play is a 9 yard inside zone out of the Pistol.  McMahon does an okay job to hold his line.  The Thompson runs again for 9, same play, just flipped.  Pretty simple stuff. 

On the next play, however, McMahon gets blown away and it leads to a 6 yard loss. Drive killer?  Maybe.

So on 2nd and 13, Fisher dials up a GREAT play.  Throwback tight end screen.  FSU executes it perfectly, but Reliford forgets one thing- to use his blockers.  He cuts outside and is impatient.  Look at what could happen had he been patient:


Bert made a great catch to get FSU into better field goal range, and Hopkins hits it, 23-24.


Drive # 11: 

Down, 27-23, Ponder hits Fortson on a deep skinny off a beautiful double release, off play-action.  Then Ponder to Fortson on the auto-rollout w/ the off-sides for 10.  Then the go-ahead TD:

Initially, I thought Reliford was Ponder's 4th read.  In actuality, he seems to be his 2nd read.  Ponder's pump fake makes 3 people cover Fortson on the skinny post and nobody is on Reliford for the wide open wheel route.  This throw is more difficult than you probably realize.  Ponder throws it from the opposite hash.  Even though Reliford is essentially a basketball player, even he can catch this ball.  The protection was very good as well. Kudos, offensive line.


Drive: # 12 let's close out the game.

Pistol Play-action bootleg to Reed for 4.  UNC expected run.  Corner remembered being burned by Owens before so he peeled off deep.  Reed nice job to stay inbounds.  Bubble to Owens for 5.5  Ponder sneak 1st down. 

I-Formation, end around action to Chris Thompson for 1.  Didn't like getting into the I-formation here.  Not at all.  One of the lone criticisms I have.  Then FSU gets back in the run and runs a great play:

This is essentially play-action QB wrap.  FSU is pulling the right tackle, #77 Zebrie Sanders.  Ponder fakes the lead sweep, and is going to keep the ball.  Excellent job by sanders to blast #52, who was certainly in the backfield much sooner than he expected.  Excellent reaction.  The rest is Ponder getting 6-7 yards to build momentum before getting the 1st down, which killed more clock.

Back in the I-formation, don't like it.  Thompson for 3.  FSU not a good I-formation team.    2nd and 7, qb draw for 2.  3rd and 5, QB draw from 5 wide.  Eh.  Punt, UNC has little time and they can't throw.


Overall Review

Ponder is simply amazing.  I'll have an article on him tomorrow.  The only QB who is on his level right now is Jimmy Claussen.  Fisher called him the best QB in the country.  Jake Locker has better physical talents but a ten-cent head right now.  McCoy doesn't quite have the wheels or the arm and McCoy looks to the sidelines for his checks.  Ponder calls his own game and checks.  Tebow might be playing himself out of the draft.  Mallet has the huge arm but not the accuracy or intelligence.  And Bradford has a bum wing.  Sam is brittle.  Fisher gives him 3 plays and he checks the offense into the most favorable before the snap.  That's a huge advantage.  Few teams in college can do that.  Ponder showed good arm strength and seems to be all the way back from his knee injury.  His throws were on the money at a ridiculous clip.  He took very few risks.  Nary a ball was close to being intercepted. 

It was a miraculous comeback for Florida State and the star was Christian Ponder.  The Junior quarterback went 33-40 for 395 yards and 3 Touchdowns with zero interceptions.  He was pinpoint and could have easily thrown for 450 yards had he not been victimized by 3 drops and an offensive pass interference call. Ponder might be the best quarterback in the country.  You'd be hard-pressed to find one who is playing better.  Considering the opponent and situation, Ponder's performance was one for the ages.  He posted a QB rating of 190 (NFL equivalent of 133).  Ponder finished the game 16-16 for 236 yards. 

Jermaine Thomas should probably get the ball more.  He has good hands and does a nice job running, but he and all of the backs must run harder.  Still, Thomas never lost yards.  Chris Thompson for the most part ran hard in the 2nd half.  Both backs did a nice job in their blitz pickup.  I am not impressed those two or Pryor when it comes to run blocking.  I pretty much hate Pryor in the fullback spot.  Fisher knows more than me, by a ton, but he needs to quit using Pryor at fullback.  He's just not a good player at that spot. 

Receivers Rod Owens and Bert Reed has big games.  Owens with his 9 catch 199 yard night.  Owens was targeted 10 times.  He caught 9 balls.  8 of those were successes.  7 of the successes went for a 1st down or a touchdown.  His catches were meaningful.  Reed was targeted 10 times.  He caught 8 balls.  5 of the 8 were not what I consider a "success", but some were tough yards.  3 were very successful.  He also made some very tough catches.  74 yards total.  Reed also had a false start!  Easterling wasn't thrown to much, but he did draw coverage and did his job.  His TD catch was nice, and he didn't flinch much knowing he could get hit big.  Fortson showed his flashes of brilliance but balanced those with some untimely drops.  He caught 4 balls for 56 yards.  3 of the catches were very big.  But he was also called for a hold, dropped 2 balls, and his imprecise route on his middle screen was inexcusable.  Fortson can be a huge weapon and is the most talented offensive player outside Ponder, but he is maddeningly inconsistent.

As for the offensive line.  I thought they played well.  Again, consider what they were asked to do and against whom they were asked to perform.  UNC's front-7 is exceptional.  Anyone watching them play could see that.  On 42 passing plays, FSU allowed a sack on only 2.  That's a stellar 4.8% sack rate allowed.  FSU trailed for 55 of the 60 minutes in this game, and UNC knew they would pass and pass.  That makes the line's play all the more impressive.  Oh, and FSU often left no backs or tight ends in to protect.  Left Tackle Andrew Datko is always technically sound and plays a good game.  His pass protection was good.  I bet he graded out highly.  On the inside zone play to his side, Datko does a nice job of influencing his man and then removing him.  He's not impressive physically and needs to be more aggressive, but there isn't a better true sophomore I've seen.  Rodney Hudson is rock solid.  I love to watch him play.  He'll play a perfect game before all is over.  Center Ryan McMahon played a much better game than I expected.  His pass protection was good.  Spurlock is aggressive as always.  He mixes great blocks with whiffs.  I give him high marks for his work against 1st round lock Marvin Austin.  Zebrie continues to improve and you should remember he is a true sophomore.  I wish I could give Sanders some of Spurlock's aggressiveness.  Sanders must get better at cutting the backside on the run plays.

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