Florida State Seminoles Look to Avoid Beating Themselves Against BYU

This weekend, FSU travels to face #7 BYU.  The Cougars are red-hot, fresh off a 14-13 upset victory over the then #3 Oklahoma Sooners, a game in which BYU was a three touchdown underdog.  They also recently worked Tulane 54-3 in the Superdome.  You'll remember that last season, Oklahoma had arguably the best offense in college football.  And BYU had a terrible defense (caution, that's like 4000 words, print it out.).  It was much worse than the worst Division-1 defense FSU faced last season.  So how did BYU hold the mighty Sooners to a mere 13 points?  Most would say that they knocked out Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.  That definitely helped, but as I fired up the ol' DVR, I started to notice some other things.  Mainly, I think OU's offense did much more to beat itself than BYU did to stop it.  the primary cause of this was Oklahoma's inexperienced offensive line (only 23 returning starts, 19 of them by the left tackle), which had to replace four starters and had to replace one of the replacements due to injury.  Last year's OU line was the best in the country, but this year, well, let's break it down drive by drive.  

BYU at Oklahoma Drive # 1 (via pbysh)

  • 1-10 OU25 PENALTY OU false start (Simmons, Brian) 5 yards to the OU20.  Right off the bat, OU puts themselves in the hole.  Our friend Bill Connelley has done tremendous work on the subject of leverage(forcing your opponent into passing situations, and avoiding the same while on offense).  This was the first play of the game, but it was great foreshadowing.  OU's Offense failed to play with positive leverage. 
  • 1-15 OU20 Brown, Chris rush for 3 yards to the OU23 (DENNEY, Brett).  Already, OU is in a disadvantageous down and distance.  The other thing to note here is the play of the defender over the slot cornerback at 0:38.  If BYYU tries that against FSU, the 'Noles will throw the bubble screen every time for 8+ yards and maybe more.  It's the Constraint Theory of Offense.
  • 2-12 O2U3 Bradford, Sam pass complete to Tennell, Adron for 7 yards to the OU30 (LOGAN, Brian).  Without that false start penalty, OU is in 2nd and 7.  Instead, this half-roll is completed not for a first down but to setup 3rd and 5.  OU is just barely back on schedule.  Side-note:  FSU ran these roll-outs a lot last year when the OLine couldn't pass protect.  While the line is much improved this year, we might see some roll-outs Saturday.
  • 3-5 OU30 PENALTY OU false start (Brandon, Cory) 5 yards to the OU25.  So OU has the look they want, and has a good shot to pick up a 3rd and 5, but they again shoot themselves in the foot.  
  • 3-10 OU25 PENALTY OU false start (Brandon, Cory) 5 yards to the OU20.  Seriously, 3 false start penalties in OU's first 5 snaps.  So OU goes from 3rd and 5 to 3rd and 15.  Side note:  FSU's tackles are a lot more agile than OU's and shouldn't be really worried about the edge rushers like the over-anxious Cory Brandon seemed to be.
  • 3-15 OU20 Bradford, Sam pass incomplete to Tennell, Adron.  BYU plays very good zone defense, and you can't get into 3rd and forever situations against the Cougars.  They are very vulnerable when you get them concerned with the run and then hit them with play-action.  Their lack of speed is immaterial in situations like 3rd and 15.  Because the ball has to travel so far, and they are so good at working as a singular unit, even elite offenses won't burn them in 3rd and 15+ situations.  Every defense plays better on 3rd and long, but i think the difference in play between BYU's  regular distance down defense, and long-passing-down defenses are enormous.  

The highest scoring offense in the country from a year ago couldn't gain a first down in their opening series.  Not because BYU beat them off the ball.  Not because BYU blanketed their wideouts (though there was good coverage on 3rd and 15, as is expected).  No, the reason is that OU beat themselves and couldn't establish a rhythm.  For an offense so predicated on running lots of plays at a frantic, no-huddle pace, OU's rhythm killing penalties were suicide.  

But OU continued to setup the BYU defense nicely with other self-inflicted gaffes.  Inside, we explore more and see that BYU didn't really stop OU, the Sooner's beat themselves.

BYU's 2nd Drive

BYU at Oklahoma Drive #2 (via pbysh)

  • 1-10 OU29 Murray, DeMarco rush for 9 yards to the OU38 (JOHNSON, Scott), PENALTY OU personal foul (Jones, Jarvis) 15 yards to the OU23.  This would be a theme for the night.  Look at the size of that hole!  OU's line just blew BYU off the ball and looked determined to just ram the ball down BYU's throat.  First down, get 9 yards.  But OU's idiot Left Guard doesn't realize that he can't get away with a late hit in the middle of the field since he is the biggest player on the field.  So instead of 2nd and 1, it will be 2nd and 16.  Also, remember that OU thrives on being very up-tempo, and penalties stop the clock and make everyone sit around and wait.  OU again had a nice thing going, then stupidly ruined their own gig and put themselves behind the 8-ball.  Also, the play they ran here is a zone run play not dissimilar to what FSU runs, and FSU should be able to run on BYU- hopefully w/o the personal fouls.
  • 2-16 OU23 Murray, DeMarco rush for 1 yard to the OU24 (DENNEY, Brett).  BYU stops this, though there might have been a crease.  Again though, no tempo for OU.  They are behind schedule on the down and distance markers, and are rushing to try and compensate.  
  • 3-15 OU24 Bradford, Sam pass incomplete to Tennell, Adron.  Remember, BYU's defense is really good on 3rd and long, but they probably aren't great on regular yardage downs because they struggle to defend the whole field.  Much better when they only have to worry about stuff 15+ yards downfield.  

So far, we've seen 4 OU penalties derail two OU drives and force OU to go 0-2 on 3rd and 15+.  But OU gets a break and BYU fumbles the ensuing punt, setting up OU nicely.


Oklahoma Drive #3

BYU at Oklahoma Drive 3 (via pbysh)

  • 1-10 BYU35 Brown, Chris rush for 5 yards to the BY30 (BAUMAN, Matt).  Oklahoma runs and finds success.  This was a theme early in the game.  BYU looks to have trouble stopping the run.  Later in the game OU got away from the run, which was dumb.
  • 2-5 BYU30 Brown, Chris rush for 10 yards to the BY20, 1ST DOWN OU (BAUMAN, Matt).  BYU runs inside zone to the right, the same play FSU runs, and gets 10 yards as OU is blowing BYU off the ball.  1st down.  
  • 1-10 BYU20 Calhoun, Jermie rush for 3 yards to the BY17.  BYU's safety fills really quickly here, which could hurt them later in the play-action game.  
  • 2-7 BYU17 PENALTY OU holding (Clapp, Matt) 10 yards to the BY27.  OU runs outside zone to the left, but their linemen are sloppy and get called for holding.  Penalty # 5 on OU!  They really didn't need to hold there, they were blowing BYU off the ball.  OU is now behind schedule again.  
  • 2-17 BYU27 Broyles, Ryan rush for 5 yards to the BY22 (RICH, Andrew).  Wildcat.  remember this, BYU has been seriously burned by this stuff in recent years, most notably last season by TCU.  FSU hasn't shown that yet, but they could.  In any case, OU does a better job to try and get back some of their holding yards.
  • 3-12 BYU22 Bradford, Sam pass complete to Caleb, Brandon for 14 yards to the BY8, N, Scott). 1ST DOWN OU (JOHNSON, Scott).  BYU runs a zone blitz, OU picks it up, throws underneath, and the wideout makes a good move.  Still, this isn't a 1st down if the DB doesn't slip down.  BYU once again played really well in a 3rd and long situation, which BYU didn't really create, but rather OU backed itself into.
  • 1-G BYU08 Bradford, Sam pass complete to Broyles, Ryan for 8 yards to the BY0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 04:56.  Play-action, BYU doesn't handle that very well.  Also, when the QB gets on the edge, their zone seems to have problems at times (Utah last season).  

So far, we've seen OU stop themselves twice, and score once.  But have we really seen BYU stopping OU?  They aren't racking up tackles for loss, batting passes down, or registering sacks.  You be the judge.


Oklahoma Drive # 4

OU just intercepted Max Hall and starts this drive on BYU's 30.

BYU at Oklahoma Drive # 4 (via pbysh)

  • 1-10 BYU30 Murray, DeMarco rush for 7 yards to the BY23 (HOOKS, Terrance).  Again, BYU really struggled against this Wildcat stuff (and in a related note, running QB's.) just as they did last year.  The Cougars get gashed for a 7 yard gain on 1st down again.
  • 2-3 BYU23 Murray, DeMarco rush for 7 yards to the BY16, 1ST DOWN OU (CLAWSON, Coleby).  7 yards on the familiar stretch play.  Again, BYU definitely isn't stopping OU.
  • 1-10 BYU16 Murray, DeMarco rush for 9 yards to the BY7, fumble forced by RICH, Andrew, fumble by Murray, DeMarco recovered by BY DOMAN, Shawn at BY5.  And there you have it.  3 straight runs of 7+ and a very promising drive ends in a fumble.  We know fumble recoveries are random.  Give BYU credit for forcing the fumble, but if my defense forces a fumble 9 yards downfield on the 3rd consecutive running play of 7 or more yards, I'm still really concerned about my run defense.  

Important Comment:  

"If you force BYU to bring a safety down close to the box for run support, that means they have single coverage on the outside and they can't match up."  

Tuck that little gem away.

On OU's 5th drive, they had a personal foul, which was declined.  On their 6th drive, they tried to pound the run and BYU stopped them.  Why they didn't go to the play-action pass, I have no idea.  I think OU's playcalling in this game was disjointed (probably because they couldn't get into a rhythm with all the stoppages), and not very timely.


Oklahoma Drive # 7

OU is rolling.  Mixing in the play-action as BYU is selling out to stop the run.  Check it out.  

  • 1-10 OU20 Bradford, Sam pass complete to Broyles, Ryan for 17 yards to the OU37, 1ST DOWN OU (RICH, Andrew).  Not shown.
  • 1-10 O37 Bradford, Sam pass complete to Tennell, Adron for 13 yards to the 50 yardline, 1ST DOWN OU (BRADLEY, Brando), PENALTY BY personal foul (CLAWSON, Coleby) 15 yards to the BY35, 1ST DOWN OU.  Not shown.

Up 7-0 and driving, OU again shoots themselves in the foot:  

BYU at Oklahoma Drive #7 (via pbysh)-  1-10 B35 Bradford, Sam pass complete to Broyles, Ryan for loss of 1 yard to the BYU36, fumble forced by RICH, Andrew, fumble by Broyles, Ryan recovered by BY DENNEY, Brett at BY37.

OU's carelessness with the football again hurts them.  The receiver was pretty clearly tackled, and #47 is late getting out to his block, but again BYU is benefiting from a crucial fumble recovery, which we know from years and years of performance, are random.  

OU's 8th drive would see them overcome a holding penalty and snag a field goal and get Sam Bradford injured on a well designed blitz by BYU.  From that point on, Oklahoma would use redshirt freshman Landry Jones at QB.


Oklahoma's 9th Drive 

BYU at Oklahoma Drive #9 (via pbysh)

  • 1-10 OU41 Brown, Chris rush for 1 yard to the OU42 (TIALAVEA, Russe), PENALTY OU illegal block (Broyles, Ryan) 15 yards to the OU27.  Again, OU being sloppy with the offensive penalties.  If OU couldn't overcome their own self-imposed down and distance deficits with the Heisman Trophy Winner, do you think they can do it with a Redshirt Freshman?
  • 1-24 OU27 1st and 24, Brown, Chris rush for 3 yards to the OU30 (HOOKS, Terrance;DENNEY, Brett).  BYU's defense doesn't respect the redshirt freshman and instead starts keying on the running game that had gashed them up until this point.  
  • 2-21 OU30 Jones, Landry pass complete to Caleb, Brandon for 13 yards to the OU43 (BRADLEY, Brando).  Jones makes a really nice throw here, and it would be perfect were it 2nd and 10 or 8, but again, OU's stupid and lazy penalties have put themselves behind the 8-ball.
  • 3-8 OU43 Jones, Landry pass incomplete to Tennell, Adron (LOGAN, Brian).  BYU brings the same blitz that knocked Bradford out of the game, and because they have another 3rd and 5+ situation, OU has to try to beat it deep.  

This game was the absolute dream scenario for OU.  Have a super high-powered offense try to do too much with too green an offensive line (their center just switched over from tight end, and missed several protection calls in this game, something at which FSU's center Ryan McMahon is very good.).  On to drive # 10:

Oklahoma's 10th Drive

BYU at Oklahoma Drive #10 (via pbysh)

  • 1-10 OU48 Murray, DeMarco rush for 13 yards to the BY39 (JOHNSON, Scott), PENALTY OU holding (Brandon, Cory) 10 yards to the OU38, NO PLAY.  Lazy feet by Oklahoma's new right tackle, as he uses poor technique and gets beat inside.  The inconsistency from OU's offensive line is pretty shocking, particularly compared to what we saw from OU last season.  In any case, OU is in another bad down and distance.  
  • 1-20 OU38 Jones, Landry pass complete to Broyles, Ryan for 3 yards to the OU41 (HOOKS, Terrance).  BYU is perfectly happy to let OU throw for 3 yards on 1st and 20.  This screen is terribly run and it's obvious that with the new offensive line and brand new QB, OU's offense is all out of sorts.  If only they could stay on schedule, with 2nd and 6 or 3rd and 3.  
  • 2-17 OU41 Jones, Landry pass complete to Miller, Dejuan for 8 yards to the OU49 (LOGAN, Brian).  BYU's defense is very good in 2nd and 8+.  This play is a win for them.  
  • 3-9 OU49 Jones, Landry sacked for loss of 1 yard to the OU48 (HOOKS, Terrance).  3rd and 7 or more?  Advantage BYU.  Have a guy you just moved from tight end starting at center, trying to call new protections to a group of green offensive linemen?  Expect sacks.  

That's about it for the play-by-play.  The point of this was to show that while BYU's defense is probably improved from last year, OU really grounded its own offense more than BYU stopped the Sooners.

  • The Sooners had 4 1st downs of 1st and 20.
  • 1 out of every 7 1st downs for OU was of more than 10 yards.
  • OU comitted 9 offensive penalties for almost 100 penalty yards.
  • OU faced 18 2nd downs.  Almost half were 2nd and 10 or more.  A third of OU's 2nd downs were 2nd and 11+, including 2nd and 12, 12, 16, 17, 17, and 21.  
  • OU had only 2 2nd and 3 or less downs.
  • 75% of Oklahoma's 3rd downs were 3rd and 5+.  
  • 2/3rd's of the Sooner's 3rd downs were 3rd and 8 or more, and remarkably, more than 1/3rd of their 3rd downs were 3rd and 12 or more!

BYU does some things well on defense, and some things not so well, but every defense does better when the offense is in long downs.  OU was 2-11 on 3rd down coversions because they were constantly trying to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves.

Can BYU count on FSU gifting them the game to the Cougar defense?  Probably not.

  • Where OU's offensive line had only 23 career starts, FSU's offensive line has 85+ career starts.
  • OU was breaking in 4 new offensive line starters, one at a new position, and only one starter had over 10 career starts.  FSU's entire offensive line is back intact, and all of the starters have started 10+ games at the same position at which they are currently playing.
  • While OU had a converted tight end playing center calling the protections, FSU's center is in his 3rd year starting.  While Ryan McMahon is seen as merely good as opposed to excellent by some FSU fans, he is excellent making sure the offensive line is correct in their protections.  BYU isn't likely to get free rushers coming at quarterback Christian Ponder like they did against Oklahoma.  The Cougars were very smart, however, to take advantage of a tight end playing center by using a variety of looks and blitz packages.  You have to hand it to them, BYU has some very creative stuff on defense.  
  • Florida State's offensive line is  very good (considered one of the best in the country).  They surrendered only 1 sack against Miami on 42 pass plays, an excellent 2% sack allowed rate.  If BYU wants to get pressure on Christian Ponder, they better be prepared to bring a lot of rushers, and if they do that, they better hope FSU is in a 2nd or 3rd and long situation.  Otherwise, it's FSU's playmakers one-on-one in the open field with BYU's defenders.  
  • Not only that, but the Noles offense is not heavily penalized.  They committed only 3 penalties for 35 yards in the season opener against Miami (one of which was highly questionable).  I'll discuss this later in the week, but if BYU wants to get FSU into 2nd and 8+ or 3rd and 5+ situations, they are going to have to take chances.  FSU simply doesn't surrender many tackles for loss, and BYU did a very poor job of getting tackles for loss against Oklahoma.  See for yourself:
  • 1-10 O47 #17 -2 [ ]
    1-10 B20 #23 3 [ ]
    1-10 B35 #29 5 [ ]
    1-10 O22 #29 5 [ ]
    1-10 O01 #29 5 [ ]
    1-10 O41 #29 6 [ ]
    1-10 O41 #29 1 [ ]
    1-24 O27 #29 3 [ ]
    1-15 O20 #29 3 [ ]
    1-3 B03 #29 -3 [ ]
    1-10 O29 #7 9 [ ]
    1-10 B16 #7 9 [ ]
    1-10 B14 #7 6 [ ]
    1-10 B27 #7 13 [ ]
    1-10 B30 #7 7 [ ]
    1-10 B33 #7 1 [ ]
    Oklahoma had 16 1st down runs, and BYU stopped only 2 of them for loss. Additionally, 75% of them went for 3 or more yards, and HALF of OU's 1st down runs went for 5+ yards. Why OU abandoned the run, even though BYU was obviously keying on it after Bradford went down, is beyond me.
  • FSU had the best rushing offense in the ACC last year, and one of the better ones in the country when you adjust for opponent defensive quality.  I don't think that has gone away.  Teams didn't believe Ponder could throw on them, so they loaded up against the run and gave FSU the pass. But he's now shown that he can, posting consecutive career highs in passing yards.  Additionally, as ESPN's announcer's astutely noted, BYU can't hang with fast receivers in man coverage.  They depend on playing soft zone, which works great when they have a lead or when the other team can't run the ball, but if the opponent can run... BYU will have to make some changes, one of which will assuredly involve a gamble BYU is likely to lose on the outside.
  • BYU has some interesting choices to make in this game, and I'll address those as the week rolls on, but one thing is clear:  BYU can't count on FSU to give them the game like OU did.  
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