Processing the Results: Florida State's Offense v. USF's Defense

NOTE:  While I know that everyone expects a huge Bowden rant, you won't get that today.  I've shared my concerns for over  a year now and had done so long before I was blessed with this public forum from which I can share my views.  I will give a quick synopsis, however.  Bowden has crippled this program for almost a decade.  His selfish actions have stifled every attempt FSU has made at progress.  The university has placated him at every bogus request.  Bowden doesn't care about FSU, but only about himself and his family.  He doesn't care about making FSU great.  I'm sort of numb to it now, but those inside the program who were once staunchly silent are finally fed up and are sharing what really goes on inside the program with people they'd formerly never even consider speaking.  Bowden's house of cards could finally come crashing down if some things don't change.  I have no idea why this loss was the one to push folks over the top.  I wish they would have seen the light much earlier and it makes me really question how much some of the big players care about Bowden more than the football program until it became a completely untenable position to hold.   They can, however, still cause the change this program has required for nine years.  I really wish he would let Jimbo Fisher do his job because right now Bowden is interfering with playcalling and day to day operations much more than I realized.  It's safe to say that everything Bowden does is counterproductive to the short and long-term health of the football program because it is taking away a decision making opportunity from someone who is actually informed enough to make a qualified decision.  Florida State cannot be above "good" because they have no leadership structure.  The best coaches on the staff are consistently overruled on important decisions by the absolute worst  coaches who band together against the coaches who will actually be at Florida State when Bowden leaves.  Florida State has the worst current head coach in the country, and they are paying him 2.5 Million dollars.  And then he had the gall to laugh off the loss in the most embarrassing post-game press conference I have ever seen.  Don't expect different results unless you have a reason behind the changed expectations.

I am calling this series "Processing the Results" because results are only repeatable if the process justifies them.  The defensive review will be up later tonight.  

Good Process Poor Process
Good Result Result Justified, good indicator of future performance. Team was lucky , future poor process unlikely to yield similar good results.
Bad Result Team was unlucky, future good process unlikely to yield similar bad results. Result Justified, good indicator of future performance.

So my goal in these will be to determine whether FSU's result justified their "process" (aka how they played).  Anyone can just say "14 points, great defense", or "7 points, bad offense."  They might be right, but I would like to make sure they are correct.

Let's start by pointing out something.  The run game was bad, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some think it was.  The box score says FSU had 27 runs for 19 yards.  That is just not true.  FSU had 22 runs for 63 yards.  the box score didn't lie, but you have to know what to look for, and the discrepancy comes from sacks.  Sacks are the result of a failed pass play.  They aren't a run play and shouldn't be included in run plays when judging the efficacy of a rushing attack. 

In the same vien, the passing game was not 25-37 for 269 yards, 7.3 per pass play.  That's an incomplete picture.  They really ran 42 pass plays for 224 yards, of 5.4 yards per play. 

Traditional Box Score Smart Box Score
Rushing Plays 27 22
Rushing Yards 19 (0.7) 63 (2.9)
Pass Pays 37 42
Passing Yards 269 (7.2) 226 (5.4)

From here on out, I won't acknowledge people who continue to reference the run game as gaining 0.7 yards per carry.  It's completely disingenuous after being presented with this information.  I am not going to ban those who do, but if they cite that heavily flawed measure, I will ignore their argument.

 

Quarterback Play

I thought Christian Ponder played very well, given the circumstances, outside of the screen game (see below).  His MCL injury was worse than anyone at FSU would publicly admit.  The press-releases done by FSU sports information have been easily cracked.  If the star QB isn't listed, he's injured and didn't practice.  It happened last year and also the year before. Ponder did not practice Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, as I suspected.  I have heard various reports on Ponder already this week.  Some said he looked good in practice today and his knee is getting better, but there's also a nasty rumor that he injured his other knee Saturday and is considering season ending surgery.  Keep in mind that I do not believe the second rumor, but is is absolutely something to keep an eye on.

Two of the plays Ponder made that impressed me most were actually not successful.  The first was the 42 yard bomb he threw to Fortson while jumping and falling out of bounds.  That's NFL arm strength, something he did not show last year.  Unfortunately, a phantom holding call on Datko wiped it out.  The other play was the long throw to Goodman that Rich dropped.  Really nice escapability and again, he made a difficult contorted throw, on the money, with a bum knee.  Goodman was initially interfered with but he absolutely must make that catch.  It was a blown opportunity.

I discussed the screen game below, and thought the quick and screen game was the area of the passing game in which he showed his injury the most.  He was excellent on his non-screen throws, however, and part of the screen stuff is clearly not on him. 

When the protection was there, he was great.  The screen game was not great, and FSU didn't block the quick game worth a damn, but man oh man was the dropback game good when the protection was there.  I thought  he threw some great balls into tight coverage.  It's an encouraging sign that Ponder doesn't have to be super mobile to be a very good QB. 

I can't put the fumble on him.  It was a complete blown backside protection.

USF clearly didn't respect his ability to run.  On the bootleg on the goal line, he had a walk-in touchdown.  Normal Ponder runs that ball in and puts FSU up 7-0.  Instead, he threw it to Reliford after hesitating and it was tipped away.  I also thought you could see some evidence of the injury in the play-action fakes, which weren't nearly as crisp as normal. 

I know that some believe the Offensive Line is only good with a mobile quarterback.  I think it can help but that it is not a necessity.  I did not like some of the choices to use the Pistol, which I believe only works with the QB as a backside run threat, and Ponder just did not pull it and run, so USF didn't respect it.  He was used only only two designed run plays- an option keeper and a qb draw.  They were both early and I think Fisher did them to make USF think about accounting for them.

 

Nice job staying patient against conservative zone coverage

Finding a way to attack cover-3.  I have to give FSU props for having a consistent play they can go to against cover-3.  It's the all-curl from the 2WR 2TE  (balanced) alignment.  Teams throw a lot of 8 in the box against that, which means FSU will probably see cover-3 much of the time, and they really do a nice job throwing the all-curl.  FSU ran this play 6 or 7 times and every time Ponder delivered the ball on the money, as soon as the wideout turned around, and with quality velocity. 

 

Screen and Quick Game Ineffective

FSU threw 13 screens and netted 52 yards.  That's really poor- 4 yards per screen pass (pass, not completion).  On non-screen passes, FSU gained 9.1 yards per pass (not completion, per pass).  Considering that FSU ran only 64 plays, those 13 screens represent almost 20% of the plays called.  I'm not saying not to run them, or to run them less, because FSU is typically a great screen team, but they did not run them well last game.

The timing was really off in the screen game.  The offensive line did a poor job directing the defense where to go, Ponder was not accurate on the screens (very uncharacteristic, one of the reasons we knew he was off).  In particular, he struggled throwing them to his right.  That's something to watch for in the coming weeks.  The backs and wideouts also did a poor job of giving it away too early.  

FSU also struggled in the quick game, surrendering two crushing sacks and allowing Ponder to be hit three other times.  I don't get this.  USF's DLine played great, but seriously, FSU has to block that better.  This has me baffled.  The Noles are typically a great quick pass team.

 

Running Backs

Ty Jones didn't run well.  Against BYU he had to bounce a lot of stuff because his read dictated he do so, but this week he seems to expect to bounce to the outside even when the play didn't call for it.  Jones missed holes, was only so-so in pass pro, and wasn't the runner we've seen him be.  I wonder if the other run schemes are messing him up (see below)?  Honestly, he has to score on the 2nd down and goal play.  It's right there for him.    The bottom line is that Jones is not a dancer and if he pulls a repeat of Saturday, he will be benched.  

Jermaine Thomas showed his old style on the 1st quarter run from shotgun with a little over 4 minutes to go.  FSU needs to run the zone plays, as I discuss below.  I expect him to get a lot more touches.  

I was not impressed with Chris Thompson.  He missed a hole on a big 3rd and 1 and doesn't understand the scheme yet, it appears.  Great kid though and a true talent.  The missed 3rd down didn't matter because of a penalty, but it definitely was discussed in film session. 

Tavares Pressley didn't have the ball from Ponder on the handoff.  Still, I believe he's not ready.  It should be Jermaine and Jones, in some order, 90% of the time.

 

End the Lonnie Pryor Fullback Expiriment

This isn't working.  The talent must be utilized better.  Don't have a fullback?  Run with Two tight ends.  The Dallas Cowboys are leading the league in rushing and they rarely use a fullback.  Lonnie runs hard.  He's a great Seminole, a great kid, and a lifelong fan.  But he is a terrible blocking fullback.  Putting him in the backfield with a running back allowed USF to have a numerical advantage against run plays without devoting an extra man (I know that doesn't make any sense, but just think about what I am saying for a minute, and you'll get it).  Might as well just play with 10 and not 11 guys.  He doesn't block anyone.  I understand that he isn't ready to play tailback because he's not yet cut out to be a zone runner, but the fullback stuff needs to stop.I don't know why FSU is playing Pryor at fullback.  The two-tight end alignment with no full-back is much better and I am disappointed that FSU didn't use that more.  It created some spacing issues for USF that the I-formation did not.  

Called a bunch of run plays, but checked out of a bunch due to the look.

 

Wide Receivers

Definitely not their best week.  3 fumbles.  Give USF some credit for hitting and hitting.  Also USF got away with a lot of downfield contact, but these guys need to just play tougher as a unit.  It was a better week with only one major drop, though it was very costly.

I expect Bert Reed to steal a lot of playing time from Rod Owens after this week.  Owens did not run good routes like he typically does.  Bert did.  Bert sat down in zone coverage, caught everything Ponder threw at him, and made plays.  Owens cost the team bit with a drop and of course the crippling fumble. Bert played his best game.

Taiwan Easterling did not have a good game either and his fumble simply can't happen.  I was disappointed in Easterling and Owens, typically FSU's best route runners, for their lack of focus. 

Jarmon Fortson and Richard Goodman had up and down days.  Fortson had two nice runs and a beautiful TD catch called back.  But we must remember that while fumbles aren't random, fumble recovery/loss is random.  It is random.  It is random.  Not a repeatable skill or result.  The only thing a player can control is if he fumbles, not what happens after he fumbles, so Fortson also falls into the group of fumblers.  He gets no pass from me for having it fall out of bounds, though he did have it in the correct arm. Fortson also had a major mental lapse in the 3rd quarter and Fisher tore him up on the sidelines.

Goodman dropped a crucial touchdown pass but other than that played decently.  I caught him running maybe 1 or 2 lazy routes, but for the most part he was very good.

 

 

Line Thoughts

I'm disappointed in them as a group.  5 sacks isn't acceptable, and there were two other plays where Ponder did a remarkable job to escape considering his condition.  This was the worst pass protection I have seen in a long time.  The run game was similarly disorganized.  They really seemed to lack communication.

USF did a great job defeating cut blocks.  These guys were really well coached, and are very talented.  I have my doubts about other parts of USF's team, but their defensive line is very good.  USF's coaches got the most out of their talent.  They played in control for the most part.  

USF didn't stunt and twist up front a ton, but when they did, FSU's offensive linemen looked clueless.  That's the first time I've seen FSU not be able to handle stunts and twists completely.  Sure, they were dominated on some other plays, but watching this tape is painful.  Of particular concern was the right side, where Sanderson and Spurlock didn't seem to get it at all.  

I want to give a lot of credit to #90 Pierre Paul who dominated Sanderson/Sanders and played the game of his life.  He's a better player than Selvie.  That's one of the better defensive lines in football and they really came to play.  It was their super bowl.  In the same vein, I wonder if FSU's offense is hurt because the defense they face in practice is so poor.  One person I talked with said some of USF's backups would start over FSU's defensive linemen, and all of the starters would start over the Noles guys.  If the starting team is that bad, the backups FSU's offensive line faces in practice probably isn't giving them anything approximating a realistic look. 

I also heard that Trickett told reporters he messed up and didn't have his guys properly prepared.  It was refreshing to hear a coach take responsibility for his actions.  He also apparently said that he would have them really ready for Boston College.

 

Individual Line Performances

Inconsistent holding calls.  Left Tackle Datko definitely held Selvie a few times, but I think the two he was flagged for were not worthy of a flag.  He didn't play his best game.  Selvie clearly has motivation issues and doesn't play hard every game, but he really brought it Saturday.  I wonder if it was smart to schedule a talented but erratic team with inconsistent motivational issues, which would definitely get up for a huge game against the Noles?  

Left Guard Hudson had a great day.  They did a decent job of keeping McClain (best DT) away from him.  He did blow the cut block on the first drive on 1st down after the Piurowski 1st down catch, and had a whiff on an outside run player later on, but he was our best offensive lineman (as usual).  The Chop Block between him and Datko was really ticky-tack, but if you watch, FSU actually had a really egregious chop on the same play between Sanderson and Spurlock.

Center Ryan McMahon continues to be just okay.  I'm not as high on him as most.  He just isn't a good player.  I don't like having to scheme around the center, but most teams regard their center as their weakest link.

Right Guard David Spurlock is strong and aggressive and sometimes out of control.  Flat whiffed on some 2nd level blocks and they abused him with run blitzes.    

Backup Right Tackle Rhonnie Sanderson played most of the game.  I liked some of what I saw against him but USF's defensive end (not the All-American) had a field day with him in pass protection.  He's a valuable asset as a backup to both the guard and tackle positions and could definitely be a really nice starter if someone went down to injury, but Zebrie Sanders is the better player.  Unless Sanders was injured, I am disappointed in Trickett playing Sanderson.  The miscommunication between Sophomore Spurlock and Freshman Sanderson definitely caused some trouble, in particular dealing with the twists and stunts.  Still, Sanders had two crucial missed blocks.  The one everyone will point to is on FSU's last play of the game.  He absolutely has to get his cut block on USF's #94, and he didn't do it.  There's simply no excuse.  He just lunged.  That's a designed quick pass and FSU is trading the possibility of a long play for what should be a guaranteed 2 1/2 seconds of pocket protection.  It didn't happen and Ponder never had a chance.    As I said above, USF did a great job having their guys ready for the cut blocks.  Maybe they practiced this all the time they were playing the cupcake teams?  

 

Why schedule this game?  

As I wrote yesterday, FSU should have never scheduled this game and Athletic Director Randy Spetman should lose his job for setting up this ridiculous schedule.  He is not qualified to be an athletic director at a football school, was a lap-dog hire by President T.K. Wetherell, and shouldn't have any long-term future here.  This scheduling of west-coast teams also needs to end.  If a west coast team wants to play FSU, fine, have them come here and do not reciprocate with a return trip.  They'll still go for it.  It's unrealistic to expect a football team to be up for every game of the season.  It just doesn't happen at any school.  Try to tell yourself different, but you are just wrong.  The solution is to play enough games for a respectable schedule (UF, Miami every year, and at least 5 other bowl teams does the trick).  The three other non-conference games must be guaranteed wins, because they reduce the chance for a team to have a loss in an expected letdown game.  Scheduling games where FSU has to get up to win that they don't have to play should never be done.  BYU should not have been done and USF definitely shouldn't have been done.  Do what other schools do, play one solid out of conference game (UF, done), and then schedule to put yourself in the most advantageous position to win the ACC.  It's foolishness.  Again, I'd like anyone to show me how Randy Spetman is qualified to be AD.  Dave Hart is light years better and is about to be handed the keys to Alabama.  I'm really not happy that T.K. went on a wild goose chase to remove Hart and exposed an academic scandal that happens everywhere but would never be reported because no school (outside of FSU) would be dumb enough to report themselves or uncover the extra help.  

USF did a great job bringing the run blitzes, particularly in short yardage.  I think they picked up on a tendency of Jimbo that I might have missed:  not much play-action on short yardage downs.  Granted, I like running in short yardage, and hate when teams get cute, but play-action needs to happen once in a while (not against USF necessarily, but in previous games to at least show it).  The bootleg would work very well there, though with Ponder's mobility, FSU probably didn't want to risk it.

 

Please stick with the zone blocking.

I don't know if this is all correct, but some things are bothering me here.  I don't fully understand the blocking scheme now.  Last year, FSU did a great job as a zone running scheme.  It's Rick Trickett's forte.  I wrote about this in the off-season.  It's what the personnel is built to do.  But right now I am not seeing it enough.  It's not that enough run plays aren't being called.  I'm told that they are in fact, but that Ponder checked out of them against certain looks, as he is supposed to do.  No, I think the problem is that FSU isn't running a high enough percentage of their run plays as zone runs.  FSU has great zone personnel and needs to do a better job staying comitted to it.  I am seeing way too much non-zone stuff right now for my taste.  Too many pulling guards (which USF exploited to perfection, by the way, sending run fit blitzes and some twists at really opportune times, shutting down FSU in short yardage almost completely).  I particularly don't like the the off-tackle stuff with the pulling guard.  It's not that it is a bad play.  It's that it takes away the opportunity to run a better play (either inside or outside zone).  And of course, if FSU is running that in a game, they are having to use practice time on it, which isn't what I think they should be doing.  It means the backs get less opportunities to run in the zone scheme.  I noted above that Ty Jones played a bad game, and I have to wonder if they are putting too much on his plate, or any of the backs.  Stick with the inside and outside zone plays.  Running the toss play once in a while (stuffed every time this year, as FSU doesn't run it very well) is okay, but the primary runs need to be inside and outside zone.  I wonder if Fisher is trying to get away from this and get back to more of what he did at LSU.  His schemes are solid, but sticking with the zone runs and ditching the other stuff is the right call here in my opinion due to personnel and proven success (last year, best rushing attack in the ACC).  Or could it be that Coach Bowden is calling for these out of sequence plays??  (wink).  Any time FSU runs a non inside-outside zone play, and run some other inside run play, is a lost opportunity to run the best play.

This was a particular problem down on the goal line sequence.  I was totally fine with the first play.  Ponder needs to just run the ball in.  He walks in on the bootleg with Hudson out there blocking.  Instead he was tentative and threw a pass that was batted away.  But the 2nd and 4th down plays really annoyed me.  Stop all the pulling guard nonsense and stick with what you do well.  Instead, FSU pulls guards on both plays and doesn't score.  Also, on the 2nd play, Lonnie Pryor shows why he isn't a fullback.  I absolutely hated the fullback dive call and think it could have been Bowden interfering with Fisher again.   

On FSU's 4th drive of the game (towards end of 2nd quarter), they ran the nice lead zone sweep from two-back shotgun, for 15 and 6 yards, both on 1st down.  

 I happen to think Fisher is an excellent coach, but I think he will make a much better head coach than an offensive coordinator.  Everyone I know who has spoken to or worked with Tight Ends Coach James Coley has been blown away by his football acumen.  He'll be the offensive coordinator under Jimbo when Fisher takes the head coaching position, and I think he'll be an upgrade over Fisher, who I think is very good.  I just wish he would streamline the run game a bit, though i have my suspicions that coach Bowden is meddling here and demanding some of the toss plays and pulling guard plays.  Information from those dissatisfied within the program is starting to flood out.  There's no longer a trickle.  People are angry that Coach Bowden is tarnishing their future and they are fed up.  I expect more and more dirt to come out on Bowden in the coming weeks.  

 

Unacceptable Risk Evaluation (much too conservative)

Finally, FSU needed to go for the 4th and 1 from the 43.  Punting, no matter the resulting defensive series, is the incorrect move and I know that some inside the program are extremely unhappy with the call.  That's a call made by the head man that directly hurts FSU's chances of winning.  Going for it on 4th and goal from the 2 is also the right call, because of the expected points gained from the resulting poor field position for the offense (didn't happen, defense allowed 99 yard drive).  On the 4th and 1 from the 43 FSU must trust the common sense approach and go.

 

Overall

Overall, I would give the offensive process about a C-, which is unacceptable, but the point total doesn't totally reflect how FSU's offense played.  FSU's offensive players are generally well coached.  They are put in position to make plays.  While I've seen Fisher call a much better game, I am told that Bowden had his fingerprints all over this one, and some people with tickets right behind the bench say the offensive staff was visibly upset several times aftet Bowden tried to meddle in the offense.  It's not acceptable for someone who is not involved in gameplanning or actual coaching to make the important decisions and then interject himself into playcalling.  Between Bowden and the fumbles, there was no shot for any sort of rhythm.  7 points is not acceptable.  I think Fisher is a very good OC.  He's not the flat out best, but FSU needs to live with very good for another year as Fisher has the qualities of a great head coach in my opinion and he brings in great assistants.

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