Florida State Film Review: A look into Florida State's First Down Pass Defense Against Miami

After seeing that Freshman Safety Nick Moody will start over Senior Korey Mangum, who has his arm in a sling (mysteriously), this post should really help to explain why.

People often preach about establishing the run on first down, but the simple fact of the matter is that yards are yards. If a defense is putting all of its resources into stopping the run on first down, why not throw the ball? That is exactly what Miami did. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris torched the FSU defense on first downs, going an incredible 14-18 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, good for an unheard of 247 quarterback rating (yes, a few points from perfect). Florida State allowed almost 16 yards per passing play and over 20 yards per completion!  Miami passed far more often than they ran on 1st down and yet FSU made very few adjustments.

And it wasn't just one or two long completions. Harris connected on passes of 40, 39, 31, 29, 27, 24, 20, 19, 18, 11, 8, 7, 6, and 5 yards. It continued throughout the game as FSU made no adjustments.

There are many reasons why a team might be able to have that kind of success on 1st down.  Let's have a look at a few of the plays.  

First up is a screen Miami ran.  To open the game, they came out in an I-Formation.  FSU countered with a 4-3 defense, in what looks to be some sort of cover-2 shell look.  But UM was sneaky.  They didn't use a fullback.  Instead, they used two tailbacks, one of whom was the cousin of Edgerrin James.  At the snap, Miami QB Jacory Harris drops back.  The deep-set tailback runs a flair to the right, while the receivers run deep routes to make FSU's corners follow them.  The tight end runs a short route to put himself in position to block.  But most importantly, a very talented running back is playing the fullback position and is hiding behind a very big offensive line.  As the snap, FSU DE Markus White and DT Kendrick Stewart rush upfield very quickly, as FSU defensive linemen are known to do.  But the rush is dumb because they don't keep their heads up.  They are rushing upfield without football smarts.  Credit Miami's OC for knowing this.  So Miami's offensive linemen block for two seconds, and then release.  Here's the photo.  A half second after this was taken, Miami's offensive linemen will let their men go, and Jacory Harris will flip the ball over the head of the defensive linemen and into the waiting arms of James (#5).  


So Miami has two offensive linemen to block a single linebacker (Bradham, #13), and they have angles.  Even though Bradham is an impressive player, he's doomed here.  The result?  1/15 at Um29 Harris, J. screen pass complete to James, J. for 20 yards to the UM49, 1ST DOWN UM (Mangum, K), clock 14:46.  To be honest, FSU didn't play this that poorly.  It's just a very nice call.  

But what of the other 18 passing plays on 1st down?  Let's find out.  Also, how did each member of the secondary play?

1st Down Pass Play #2:  Play Action to Hankerson, Incomplete

After that screen pass, UM had 1st and 10 from the 48.  Remember that FSU's run defense was really weak last year, and they were very concerned with stopping the run in this game.  So Miami's Mark Whipple was smart and broke his tendencies.  He went play-action.  Miami again aligned in a standard I-Formation. They motioned a receiver in close to the tight end, then faked a handoff to the tailback.  Look at this picture carefully (click to enlarge):


Pay attention to the blue line.  That is the line of scrimmage.  FSU has 7 players on the line of scrimmage or on Miami's side.  That means that they only have 4 players in coverage.  Miami has 7 blockers.  This is a maximum protection, as only 3 players are running routes.  You can see that Miami's right tackle has driven walk-on defensive end Craig Yarborough into the ground.  The other rushers are being handles very easily.  The key here is the linebackers.  What will they do?  Continue to rush the passer even though they are in a terrible position to continue, or drop back into coverage and hope to possibly alter a pass?  

The answer is that Dekoda Watson and Kendal Smith continue to rush the passer, while Nigel Bradham drops back into coverage.  He can't get to the RB (#30, top of picture), but he does sprint backwards quickly.  And he does it quickly enough that Harris' pass is just a bit high for his intended receiever, who is running wide open, probebly because he wanted to loft it over his head.  And why were they wide open?  

Because Harris snapped this ball at 14:26 and didn't throw it until 14:21  You simply cannot play man to man defense for 5 seconds.  A zone maybe, but not man-to-man without help.  FSU's linebacker coach Chuck Amato is a bad coach and he simply must school his guys better.  This is terrible play recognition and it falls on Amato.  it is his job to teach his guys to do a better job.  It is embarassing to root for a team whose linebackers play so stupidly.   8 yards to go to get to a QB who is already setup behind an 7-man protection?  Don't rush, drop back.  

So far, we've seen FSU play a pass pretty well and get burned, and FSU play a pass very poorly, and get lucky.  On the next play, FSU would not get a great result out of poor play.

If you follow FSU football, you know that Mickey Andrews loves to play cover-1 on 1st down.  That means P-Rob (bottom of screen, #21), is on a wideout.  Our deep safety (off-screen) plays deep, Korey Mangum (#22) takes the slot receiver, Dekoda Watson takes one of the tight ends, and Jenijie takes another.  Bradham takes the running back), and Kendal Smith looks to be mirroring the QB.  I wish I could offer better analysis, but Mangum plays this soooo poorly that there just isn't much time to see the play.  In any case, here's the look at the snap:  


Mangum has the slot receiver, Travis Benjamin.


Mangum is still not in the picture, which is disappointing.  Benjamin is extremely fast.  Where is Mangum?  


Ok, I had to rewind the tape ablout 10 times, but this is the first step Mangum took.  Literally, he stood there flat-footed until Benjamin's 6th step.  Seriously, I counted, Mangum's first step occurs on Benjamin's 6th step.  Benjamin has all the momentum, and he is faster than Mangum.  Mangum might think he can just turn Benjamin too the deep safety, but at this point, his technique is so bad that the safety will be of little help.  And that is exactly what happened:  


Yeah, that's Benjamin looking up for the ball, 4 yards past Manum even after slowing up.  Mangum showed possibly the worse technique ever displayed by a DB.  There is a chance that Mangum thought he was playing another coverage, but to be honest, I can't figure out what that would be.  And neither couls his teammates.  Bradham and the other defenders ripped into Mangum, he tried to explain himself, they told him he was wrong, and I captured this image as Mangum says "my bad", while slapping his head.


So yeah, TD Miami and it was way too easy.  But there is also a Mickey Andrews problem here.  FSU simply cannot let a rover man-up on a receiver.  That's a mismatch.  


1st Down Pass #4:  

1/10 at Um24 Harris, J. screen pass complete to James, J. for 8 yards to the UM32 (Smith, K), clock 00:48.  This is a screen just like the first of the game, only Bradham is not double teamed and handles Miami's tackle better.  But the DL plays it poorly, as does Kendal Smith (again), and Miami gets 8 yards.  


1st Down Pass Play # 5

1/10 at Um38 Harris, J. sacked for loss of 3 yards to the UM35 (Robinson, J), PENALTY UM holding (Pipho, M.) 10 yards to the UM28, NO PLAY, clock 14:16.  This was Play-action, with excellent coverage, a 3-man route. Jenijie, Bradham, and P-Robinson all with excellent coverage. FSU read-blitzed (waited to see if man went into route, and if not, blitzed).  The protection broke down and FSU got the sack, but they accepted the hold.

1st Down Pass Play #6  

1/10 at Um22 Harris, J. deep pass complete to Hankerson, L. for 40 yards to the FS38, 1ST DOWN UM (Moody, N), clock 09:00.

This was a bad play.  Miami is in the I-Formation, and FSU is too small to stop the run without using the extra man, so FSU plays 8 guys in the box, and plays their corners way off.  See:


Once again, this is first down, and FSU is in cover-1 (one deep safety, everyone else in man coverage).  Miami again goes to the play-action, and FSU bites hard, as most undisciplined defenses do.  Luckily, Miami is using an 8-man protection (only 2 guys running a route).  The problem here is that the corner is peeking into the backfield when he doesn't need to.  When a corner is on an island, he must play his receiver and completely disregard the run.  Freshman A.J. Alexander is defending the receiver on the play and he gets beat.  Alexander does do a nice job to recover, however, so give him credit for that.  The wideout makes a great catch too.  Also, #10 Nick Moody, Freshman Strong Safety gets over too late.  Moody should not be playing solo deep coverage.  He's a hitter/ run stopper and not a deep cover guy.  Jamie Robinson should do that:  


Also, Mickey Andrews needs to play his starters and stop substituting so much.  The problem of depth is one entirely of his own creation due to poor recruiting, and he can't continue to trust his backups like this is a defense of the 90's.  it is not.  This defense lacks talent and experience, and the defensive backs need to play almost every snap and not come out.  


1st Down Pass Play #7  

1/10 at Fs38 Harris, J. crossing pass complete to Hankerson, L. for 11 yards to the FS27, 1ST DOWN UM (Robinson, P), clock 08:32.  Again, Cover-1, play action, no blitz, coverage is decent but in cover-1, crossing routes will hit and Harris puts this on the money.


1st Down Pass Play #8

1/10 at Fs27 Harris, J. sideline pass incomplete to James, J., PENALTY UM illegal block (Byrd, L.) 15 yards to the FS42, NO PLAY, clock 08:08.  There's an important change here.  FSU does not cover the slot receiver with their safety, but instead use a cornerback (imagine that).  FSU blitzes one guy and Harris has to unload quickly.  Bradham has superb coverage on the speedy Greg Cooper.  Playing cover-1 without blitzing is really dumb.  You have to force quick pressure.  FSU didn't do that ofetn, but did here.


1st Down Pass Play #9

1/10 at Um25 Harris, J. crossing pass complete to Epps, D. for 19 yards to the UM44, 1ST DOWN UM (Robinson, J), clock 02:32.


I wish I could tell you who was covering the tight end who catches the ball, but the angle is terrible.  Instead, let's see another example of Harris with NO pressure after a weak Play-action fake and a half-roll:  


FSU's defensive line is garbage.  Seriously, I am embarrassed to root for this group.  There isnb't  a player within 8 yards of Harris.  He stands there and holds the ball forever befor e aguy finally comes open.  


1st Down Pass Play # 10

1/10 at Um44 Harris, J. deep in pass complete to Collier, T. for 18 yards to the FS38, 1ST DOWN UM (Reid, G), clock 02:10.

Watch closely here, all of you who think Greg Reid should start in the base defense because of things he did that don't translate to the base defense...


I circled Reid and the player he is covering.  Greg has inside leverage here, and his goal is to not let that man cross his care.  But Greg uses poor technique and gets beat 18 yards down the field, across his face.  BUT, we must also excuse Greg like we do the others because Harris once again had tons of time to throw the ball and you can't cover man-to-man for 5 seconds.  

1st Down Pass Play # 11

1/10 at Fs23 Harris, J. middle pass complete to Johnson, A. for 6 yards to the FS17 (Jenije, O), clock 01:11.

FSU actually runs the prowler 1-5-5 defense here, and blitzes 5 men, but not very well.  The pressure doesn't get to Harris, and Jenijie is playing so far off Johnson that even if the pressure did get there, Harris would have an easy throw.  Blitzing with man coverage is designed to force a quick throw, and the corner must play close to his man.  Poor job by Jenijie here:


He's 5 yards away from Johnson at the time of the catch.


1st Down Pass Play #12  

Um 1/10 at Um20 Harris, J. post pass complete to Johnson, A. for 31 yards to the FS49, 1ST DOWN UM, clock 11:51.

This play is all on Jamie Robinson.  Jenijie has outside leverage, sticks with Johnson for the most part, and Robinson is blowing the play by biting on the play-fake.  Jenijie really plays this perfectly, but Robinson is so far out of position.  I circled Robinson in Red and Jenijie in Yellow.


Robinson should be where the Seminole head is, and instead he is 12 yards out of position.  Notice that Jenijie (someone who is taking way too much heat) is running even with the reciever and expects Robinson to be there.  


1st Down Pass # 13  

1/10 at Fs29 Harris, J. flag pass complete to Epps, D. for 27 yards to the FS2, 1ST DOWN UM, out-of-bounds (Robinson, J;Mangum, K), clock 04:36.

No video of this one.  Just know that Mangum got burnt, but the QB had 5 full seconds to throw the ball and nobody came close to touching him.  Want to get mad at a DB?  Unload on Mangum, not Jenijie.  

1st Down Pass # 14

This is a play-action pass the Miami's guy falls down an FSU brings a lot of pressure, on FSU's goal line.

1st Down pass # 15

29-yard post to Benjamin, Jenijie has coverage, but Mangum is no help over the middle (where he should be), and the linebackers bite hard on play-action, giving Harris a huge window to throw into.  Blame Jenijie if you want the easy way out, but blame Mangum if you understand the play.  

1st Down Pass # 16

This was a screen pass that Nigel Bradham recognized and blew up immediately.  Great play.

1st Down Pass Play # 17

Miami splits their tailback/kick returner out wide.  FSU responds by focering him with their MIDDLE LINEBACKER, with zero safety help over the top.  That is a huge, huge, inexcuseable mismatch.  This is one of the dumbest things Mickey Andrews has ever done in a game.  


Seriously, Cooper beat him by 12 yards for the touchdown.  Mickey has to give these guys a check to a zone coverage if they see this look.  His failure to prepare these players is a joke.  


1st Down Pass Play # 18

1/10 at Um41 Harris, J. middle pass complete to James, J. for 7 yards to the UM48 (Carr, N), clock 03:50.  A simple Texas/Angle route from the runner.  Miami ran this earlier in hte game and missed the throw, but against FSU's coverage schemes, thgis play will be open all of the time.


1st Down Pass Play # 19

1/10 at Fs48 Harris, J. middle pass complete to Hankerson, L. for 5 yards to the FS43, out-of-bounds (Reid, G), clock 02:32.  This is a crossing route and I am not sure who was supposed to cover him.  No pressure on the QB again, but it was a very quick pass.  Greg Reid nice tackle after sucessfully covering his man.


So Why?

Why did FSU’s defense play so poorly?  First, FSU’s run defense was awful in 2008:

Coming into this game, the ‘Noles were very concerned with stopping Miami’s running game. Their alignment showed their concern, and Miami did a nice job to recognize FSU’s plan. When FSU geared up to stop the run, Miami threw the ball.

But the bigger problem than FSU selling out to stop the run was their complete lack of a pass rush. In the Tomahawk Nation Preview, we discussed how FSU’s recruiting problems in 2006 and 2007 might hurt the ‘Noles as the defensive coaches did a poor job of recruiting in those years and as a result, FSU would be forced to rely on freshmen and sophomores along the defensive line. Florida State was only able to pressure Harris when they brought big blitzes, which exposed their secondary. You saw evidence of that on 3rd down where FSU had two interceptions and their lone sack. But on first down, FSU did not blitz. Miami’s offensive line easily held their own against Florida State’s defensive line and Harris had all the time in the world to sit in the pocket, go through all of his reads and deliver an accurate ball– usually to a wide open receiver. While FSU’s secondary will receive a lot of the blame, that analysis is shortsighted. The ‘Nole defensive backs didn’t play well, but there isn’t a secondary in college football that can cover for six or seven seconds, and unfortunately for ‘Nole fans, that is exactly what they were forced to do. Give Miami a lot of credit for going into Tallahassee and grabbing the win, but Florida State’s defensive coaches set this current defense up for failure through their actions in 2006 and 2007, and exacerbated those problems by failing to make adjustments throughout the game.


What now?  A few conclusions:


  • Bench Korey Mangum.  He is truly terrible, not likely to get better, and as a Senior, will not be around next year.  Luckily for the Noles, Mangum's arm is in a sling and Nick Moody will be the starter tomorrow against Jacksonville State (preview coming tomorrow).  Moody is far from perfect and it will be interesting to see how the freshman plays.  FSU needs to use him in a specific way.
  • Don't bench Jenijie yet.  Everyone wants Greg Reid, and Reid made some great plays, but he made them free-lancing.  Thay works in a Nickel package with help over the top, but to be the #2 corner his primary responsibility is just to stick with his man, something Jenijie already did pretty well, and something Greg has not shown he can do yet.  Andrews is right when he says "Reid is trying to do too much.  There's a difference between playing inside with help and outside on the island."  Reid will be a phenomenal corner in time, but seeing that our next 3 opponents all play the spread, and 3+ corners will be needed, leaving Greg in the Nickel slot makes the most sense.  Allow him to free-lance without subjecting the team to disaster.  
  • None of our DB's will look good without a pass rush.
  • Patrick Robinson had great coverage on almost every one of Miami's pass plays.  His tackling, however, was poor.  
  • Jamie Robinson showed good range, but did blow two crucial assignments.
  • It's clear how much the defense heard about their troubles with the run.  They bit on play-action harder than I've ever seen them bite.  
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