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

I'll start this with a few caveats.  FSU's defensive coaching staff is a mess.  Legendary defensive Mickey Andrews wanted to retire after 2007 (after his son Ronnie died unexpectedly), but was begged back by the old guard.  He wanted to retire after 2008, but was begged back by Jimbo Fisher so that Bobby Bowden wouldn't make the disastrous move of promoting Chuck Amato to defensive coordinator.  I won't speak ill of Mickey often, because he's been a great Nole, never selfish, and even in this his worst season ever (to date), he is doing FSU a greater service than most know by blocking Chuck Amato from taking the defensive coordinator position.  It's thought that Bowden would have been allowed to name Amato as DC if Mickey had retired after last season, but not if he stayed on for this season and then retired.  The ability to hire the defensive staff seems to rest on Jimbo.  it would be silly to allow Bowden, a man who will be here for only one more season, to bring in the defensive staff he wants for only 12 games, and then make Fisher put the team through another coaching change (their third defensive coordinator in three years).  For the administration to do anything but allow Fisher to select the defensive staff after Mickey retires this off-season (and he is retiring), would be to send a message that they simply do not care about the football program.  If that happened, I would expect a string of bad seasons and a half-decade long rebuilding job following 2010.  But I am told that will not happen.  Fisher will be allowed to select the defensive staff and leave Bowden with no friends on staff.  So Mickey doesn't want to be here.  Amato is doing everything short of outright sabotage to hurt Fisher and tarnish his image.  Amato is the evil on this team, while Bowden is the one enabling him and worse yet, trusting him.  He also isn't coaching within the confines of Mickey's defense, and is telling kids things which run counter to what Andrews wants.  Defensive Ends coach Jody Allen is one of the worst football coaches anywhere, and his continued employment is a joke.  He's also rumored to have lost or chipped two teeth recently after an offensive coach, finally fed up with his inappropriate practice antics, hauled off and punched him in practice.  Oh, and under Bowden's watch in 2006 and 2007, the defensive recruiting was completely horrible and without any rhyme or reason, so there are serious depth issues with the defense.  Take zero defensive depth plus horrible coaching from coaches who are either has beens or never was', some of whom are more consumed with goading other members of the coaching staff than coaching their own position group and some who just don't want to be there, and you have a recipe for the worst Florida State defense in over a quarter century.  

I am calling this series "Processing the Results" because results are only repeatable if the process justifies them.  

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.

In this case, this was bad process, good result.  Simply put, USF should have scored a lot more points, and it wasn't FSU that kept them from doing so.  I'll explain why.  I am quite concerned about this result, because it gives a false sense of self confidence.  USF should have scored 35 points.  In the preview I wrote:  

Because they are pretty raw, USF tries to throw little short routes to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers in space. They throw deep jump balls (again, big tall fast athletes). They throw crossing routes. Their approach is to try and limit the number of routes they run which require precision.

As much as I fawned over Daniels' above, there are some obvious difficulties for him. Besides having no game experience, Wilson almost assuredly doesn't have a good relationship with his wideouts. He didn't get as many snaps as Grothe in practice because he was the 2nd team guy. His timing with them can't be great. FSU must force USF to complete precise routes, particularly in the intermediate level. Those require touch, timing, and familiarity between QB & WR.

How will FSU do this? They need to play some zone defense. I would suggest cover-3. I like the cover-3 look because it takes away the deep ball, you can account for at least one flat, and still have 6 defenders in the box against the run. Hopefully by running a lot of cover-3, FSU will force USF to run passable routes and make their correct sight adjustments. USF will need to sit down in the voids in the zone and from watching them, they really don't do that well.  FSU must force Daniels to be accurate and drive, not allow the big play.  I am not sure defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will do this, however, because he is very stubborn and has been badly outschemed for the better part of this decade. Next year, FSU will have a decent defensive staff. For now though, we wait and hope.

And FSU allowed 14 points, but their play was much worse.  USF missed two crucial field goals.  They had guys running wide open all through the secondary, and Daniels just didn't see them, or overthrew them, or USF dropped the balls (like the wide open 45 yarder).  After watching the tape, I was amazed at just how poorly Daniels read the defense.  This does not bode well for future games.  I can't honestly say that FSU's defense played any better in this game than they did against Miami or BYU.  Sure, the points allowed was better, but USF's offense is not very good.

 

Time for a Youth Movement in the Secondary

As for the secondary players, let's start with Korey Mangum.  We sure see # 22 running after wideouts who are on their way for 70+ yard TD's, but this is again process v. results v. prudent moves for the future of the program.  Mangum didn't blow the coverages on those two long touchdowns, and he didn't blow the coverage on the long dropped pass either.  So don't blame him for those plays.  But there were other plays in which he busted coverages and Daniels just didn't hit the open receiver.  I've seen enough of Mangum.  He's not a good player.  He might be better right now than some of the young players FSU has, but Florida State needs to go with a full youth movement on defense, much like UF did in 2007, before winning it all last season.  The rule needs to be "Seniors who aren't significantly better than the underclassmen behind them need to sit the bench.  That means Mangum sits the bench, and freshmen JaJuan Harley and Nick Moody play the strong safety/ rover position.  Patrick Robinson will continue to play corner, and he is the best corner I have seen this year in college football.  So should Ochuko Jenijie, because he is a lot better than most of you think, and will be a starter next year.  Still, young guys like Dionte Allen (who blew the coverage on the long bomb along the sideline) should rorate with Jenijie. Ditto guys like Terrance Parks, who should rotate some with Jamie Robinson.

As for Greg Reid, I really think this is getting out of control.  Greg is good when he can free-lance, but right now he is not ready to play on the base defense.  Mickey Andrews was right in his press conference.  Reid doesn't play his responsibility and tries to do too much.  Until he proves that he can play man-coverage without trying to pay attention to the running game, he can't play on the base defense.  That is not a coaching issue, or an experience issue, it's just simply a Greg Reid personal discipline issue.  He can continue to be good in the underneath Nickel coverage, but even there, Reid gambles a lot and committed at least two pass interference penalties.

Yet I worry about a conflict of interest.  Mickey Andrews is a prideful man, and with this being his last season, I can see, for personal reasons, why he would not want to go with a youth movement.  But the real problem there, is of course, Bobby Bowden, who is again making decisions which are solely to benefit himself but counter to the interests of the program.

 

Run Defense is the Root of the Problem as Front-7 Size Rears its Ugly Head

I think a lot of the problems on defense, outside of the coaching and the lack of depth, is the complete inability to stop the run.  The problem is still there, even if the results in the first two games didn't show it.   We just didn't see it as often in the first two D1 games.  Against Miami, FSU loaded up against the run and Miami, anticipating this, threw the ball on first down all over the defense.  BYU wasn't much of a run team.  But Jax State did a great job with the 11-man run game considering their personnel, and USF had a field day with it. I preached about this all summer, but if you weren't here, or need a refresher, here is part one and part two.  Simply put, FSU's defensive scheme is outdated, depending only on speed, completely lacking in size, too dependent on their defensive backs to assist with the run game, which against a modern defense isn't realistic, and is now exploited by those modern offenses, even in their simplest forms.  FSU's defensive backs aren't as bad as you think they are.  The pressure on them is enormous, and their focus is divided on the run game, when they should be focusing on the pass because of the man coverage FSU asks them to play demands their undivided attention.  So what do you do, allow the defense to be run on?  It's just an impossible situation. 

Let's take a look at the traditional box score against what really happened:

Traditional Box Score Smart Box Score
Rushing Plays 42 37
Rush Yards 153 (3.6) 187 (5.05)
Pass Plays 21 23
Pass Results 215 (10.2) 189 (8.2)

The change here is that the two sacks are counted as the failed result of a passing play in the Smart Box Score, as it should be.  I also removed the QB Kneeldowns to end the game.  Those are not contested plays. 

187 rushing yards on 37 plays for USF is scary.  It's over 5 yards per carry.  USF's Offensive Line is Garbage.  These guys did not impress me, but they dominated FSU's defensive line and linebackers outside of Nigel Bradham (I'll discuss him later). FSU's defensive line got worked by a bad offensive line, and that does not bode well for the future.  FSU's defense was exposed by the 11-man rushing attack last season, by some very average offensive coaches, and it is continuing this season.  I'll venture to say that FSU will face better offensive lines against Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Florida.  The others will be about the same. 

And the problem started on 1st down, where USF rushed 19 times,  The result: -4,  -2 (bad snap), 0, 1, 1, 2 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 44  On first down, when everyone knew USF wanted to run, they ran with success. 

And in 2nd and long, FSU routinely let USF set up 3rd and shot, or just convert the play into a 1st down.  2nd down & Long Runs

Distance Result
7 4
10 29
7 7
7 2
7 8
14 0
12 1
13 14
7 5

So on nine 2nd and long runs, USF gained a first down 4 times, and set up 3rd and short twice.  FSU's rush defense failed 6 of 9 times to stop the run on 2nd and long.

As a whole, FSU's front-7 is very poorly coached and the lack of depth is really beginning to show.  Again, we shouted about this for the entire off-season, much to the annoyance of many doubters.  They fail to play inside out, with solid leverage.  They overrun plays.  Chuck Amato's freedom system is really hurting this linebacker corps.  Amato brought the freedom system back with him after Kevin Steele left, and it basically entails just preaching intensity and making plays over technique, play recognition, and discipline.  It was a complete abortion of an idea.  FSU's linebackers already made tons of plays, but anyone with half a clue knows that big plays are mostly based on situational factors, not just trying to make them.  Amato grew up coaching when FSU had a huge talent advantage over almost every opponent, and when it wasn't popular to expose over-aggressive defensive players via misdirection and the like.  He has no idea how to teach linebackers right now, not that he even wants to, but he doesn't teach the players play recognition.  The big plays aren't happening for the defense because the guys are out of position.  It's complete guesswork on their part.  Kevin Steele was a details freak.  FSU's linebackers took much better pursuit angles under him.  They shed blocks, while now, Amato has them just trying to run around blocks, which doesn't work against the modern offense.  They have to play with good inside-out leverage, and it is clear that taking on blocks and playing with that leverage is not being taught in practice.

FSU's defense did the exact opposite of what I called for:

To attack the passing game FSU needs to play coverage, and not rush Daniels aggressively. The ends must not lose contain or attempt dumb spin moves. Just a light, straight rush, like Bama did to Tyrod Taylor.  It's not about getting around the blocker and to Daniels, it is about collapsing the pocket and then reacting once he scrambles.  Make this kid sit in the pocket and read a defense, finding his wideouts in traffic. He can't have that good of a relationship with them yet.

And that did not happen.  FSU routinely lost contain and did not play with intelligence. 

As for individual performances, I'll run through them quickly.  Markus White is average at best, has no rush moves, and is really a guy who is hurt by Jody Allen's lack of coaching (he never played defensive end or even defense, yet was promoted by Bobby to the position because of familiarity).  He also tries to jump around blocks instead of taking them on, stoning them, and shedding them.  Kevin McNeil is extremely lazy, and it's sad because he had a chance to play in the league.  If FSU had any sort of depth in the defensive front seven (short about 8 players), McNiel would have to work harder or risk losing his starting spot.  His late hit penalty was inexcusable, and it was a direct result of him being lazy in the first few seconds of the play.  You can tell that McDaniel is more injured than the reports indicated, and FSU is having to use Everette Dawkins at DT.  Give Dawkins credit, he played really hard and even made a few plays.  I expect him to be a good player eventually, hopefully at defensive end.  He should be at end, in a perfect world, but with FSU's lack of depth at defensive tackle last week, they needed him to play.  Jamar Jackson isn't any good and I don't expect much out of him.  Toshmon seems to have some potential, but he is way too small right now.

I am really disappointed in some of the linebacker play.  It's really Nigel Bradham and then everyone else.  Bradham plays out of his mind.  He takes on blocks and it must just be an innate ability, because it's clearly not being taught to the other backers.  His series towards the end of the game,   He is the only decent player in the front seven.  Dekoda Watson is playing really, really soft.  Kendal Smith is terrible and should probably sit the bench in favor of Nigel Carr.  Maurice Harriss doesn't impress me much.

The bottom line is that FSU couldn't stop USF's running game, when the Noles had 3 linebackers in the game and USF had 4 wide receivers in.

And if you want more proof as to FSU's run defense being the real problem, I have that for you.  Now, remember that USF went way conservative. FSU'd DB's are just too concerned with the run, but they have to be because the run defense is so bad.

In 2nd and 3rd and long situations, FSU's pass defense was excellent, because they didn't have to worry about the run as much.  The DB's really are not that bad.  It's the front-7.

2nd and Long Pass Defense

Distance Result
23 Sack
10 Incomplete
7 Incomplete
9 Incomplete
10 Incomplete
10 INTerception
7 Incomplete
9 Incomplete

 

3rd and Long Pass Defense

Distance Result
7 Sack
10 Incomplete
5 Incomplete
6 INTerception
15 Sack
7 8 yards

 

That's dominance.  This defense is made to play the pass.  They just can't stop the run at all.

 

Strategy Concerns, etc.

I don't want to give away stuff that would hurt the team, though I suspect every other team already knows what i would say.  FSU really struggles against any kind of trips alignment.  I've seen it for about three years now.  The adjustments are much too slow.  The coverage checks are obvious and predictable.  Georgia Tech is going to kill them on that just as they did last year.

Oh, and the interceptions weren't forced, they were just really dumb throws.

USF basically gave up towards the end of the game, running the same 3-4 plays over and over again.  It was depressing.  They didn't even try anything risky in the 2nd half.

In closing, the play of the Seminoles defense doesn't suggest this result is not likely to be repeated.  FSU's coaches don't have the ability to remedy this now, and they definitely can't make up for two years of poor recruiting in 2006 and 2007. 

Can the Noles defense make any adjustments for the Boston College game?  I'll tackle that tomorrow.

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