I probably spend too much time thinking about how Florida State could better utilize their personnel. Last year the Seminoles struggled with an inexperienced offensive line and quarterback. They benefited from experienced and talented receivers. This year should be the exact opposite, as FSU will returns their entire offensive line and a Junior QB with a full year of starting experience in Christian Ponder. This year, Ponder should stand in the pocket and deliver. I worry, however, about our inexperienced wideouts. Corey Surrency is still a question mark, but even he is not that experienced. The 'Noles are working with a talented and athletic but green wide receiver group. Let's just say that route running is not their specialty at this point. (Practice reports have not been positive on the wideouts running precise routes or making the correct option read on a multiple route).
With that in mind, it's absolutely critical for Jimbo Fisher to find ways to get these guys open without demanding that they run precise timing routes. I'm not claiming that we won't run those, as they are an integral part of any offense, but I don't think the 'Noles will make their living running precise routes in 2009. Maybe Lawrence Dawsey will get his guys to prove me wrong. FSU can't count on that, however, and that's why we'll need to find other ways of getting our guys open.
One thing the Seminoles do have is an elite level running game, powered by a cohesive offensive line, talented runningbacks, and the dual-threat of Ponder. There should be no doubt that FSU will be a running team in 2009, looking to stay in favorable leverage downs. By doing that, we can run plays like the one we'll profile today.
Look at the play starting at the "0:24" mark
You're probably thinking "so what, it's a wide open ball to Surrency, but it's against Tennessee Chattanooga." Ponder fakes the bubble screen to Reed, who makes a great fake, then Lobs the ball to Surrency. We ran the bubble a lot last year in an effort to :clear the box" (force teams to defend it and not devote extra men to our running game).
I think this play offers much more than that. FSU only ran this play a a few times last year, and I believe they only threw it once (above). Why? Protection. This play needs time to develop. With 18 year-old kids at the tackle spots and only one consistent lineman in 2008, the 'Noles didn't have that. Early reports from 2009, however, indicate that Ponder might just get that time. In addition to allowing players the time to make plays after the initial play has broken down, good protection affords an offense the confidence to make plays down the field, particularly slow developing plays. The above play is just that.
But can we make a fake bubble screen even better? Without a doubt.
In fact, let's let the Arizona Cardinals help us out.
http://www.nfl.com/videos?videoId=09000d5d80e0856c (copy paste for those viewing at work-- tsk tsk)
Drew Lawrence of Sports Illustrated describes the play:
The Cardinals faced first-and-10 on the 39-yard line. The figure shows the Cardinals formation after Larry Fitzgerald motions from offensive left to right (the motion "wiggle" was omitted because the picture is busy enough). The Panthers start in a Cover-2 shell, but Richard Marshall (31) follows Fitzgerald (11) in motion, and one deep safety steps up to cover Stephen Spach (83), indicating man coverage.
This appears to be a tunnel screen to Steve Breaston (15), who jab-steps toward his defender before retreating and turning to wait a pass. Spach and Fitzgerald look like they are blocking for the screen, with Fitzgerald aiming for Breaston's defender and Spach angling toward Marshall. The Cardinals are following standard tunnel screen principles: Block the defending cornerback, create a "tunnel" of blocks inside, then give Breaston a chance to create in the open field. There's even a play-action fake to Tim Hightower to freeze the linebackers.
But this is no screen. Warner's pump-fake pulls two defenders out of position, but Marshall bites hardest. He's so intent on stopping Breaston that he lets Fitzgerald race past him. Marshall realizes his mistake too late: Fitzgerald is wide-open (so is Spach, for that matter), and Warner has an easy throw.Head-fakes and pump-fakes are an important part of a quarterback's job. It's sometimes called "eye discipline" -- the ability to disguise where you are throwing the ball by looking in a different direction. Warner's body language and pump fake pulled two defenders away from their assignments.
There are two major differences between the Cardinals play and the 'Noles play. First, the Cardinals incorporate a fake handoff in the play, while FSU did not. This is an important wrinkle, particularly if the 'Noles are running the ball well. With a run fake, the playside safety is drawn to defend the run. More than likely, he was thinking pass first, since this is a spread formation. After the run fake, the safety will quickly react to whatever happens next.
More than likely, the safety will think "shoot, I am going to be walled inside while Bert Reed runs up the sideline". As such, he's going to make a hard rush for Reed-- probably too flat of an angle. That might work if the ball was going to Reed. Unfortunately for the now off-balance college safety, Reed is not getting the ball. Instead, FSU will send Jarmon Fortson (or Corey Surrency) to fake block and head downfield. That's a simple release for the young but talented wideout, and something he can handle.
The other major difference is that the Cardinals run this as a "tunnel" screen, where the 'Noles run it as a bubble screen. The difference being that the Bubble typically plays from the hash-out, while the Tunnell straddles the hash and often breaks inside before going back outside. I don't think we need to run it as a tunnel.
The main objective here is to use what we do well (running and bubble screens), to help us do other things well that we might not otherwise be able to do. In fact, the Seminoles are excellent at carrying out fakes as a team-- part of Jimbo Fisher's "do your job" workmanlike offensive philosophy.
We will have more of these throughout the offseason-- probably one per week. This one's pretty basic, and they will get more complicated throughout the offseason.
Additional reading (if you are so inclined):
The Bubble/ Tunnel/ fake set, by Robert E. Lee. (11 pages on the bubble screen!! A must read)
2nd play in this video (think this is where 'Zona got the idea from? The Panthers might want to cover this play).