Florida State went to Norman, Oklahoma with high hopes of being the first team to win in Oklahoma since 2005. It left with a beating and lessons it will need to put to use for the rest of the season. Many FSU fans refused to believe this is a rebuilding year for the program. That is no longer in doubt.
The 'Noles' young defense knew that it would have to stop Oklahoma's superstar runner DeMarco Murray if it was to have any chance. In the defensive preview we wrote:
There's no doubt in my mind that the focus must be on stopping DeMarco Murray to set up 2nd and 8+ & 3rd and 5+ situations (aka positively leveraged in favor of the defense). I do not think Oklahoma can consistently beat FSU in long downs. Yes, it will happen sometimes, but if FSU is to win it absolutely must stay in favorable down and distance on defense. This defense will get torched via the play-action pass if it faces multiple 2nd or 3rd and short-mid range downs. FSU would like to do so with its front-seven and the If Florida State can limit Oklahoma's running game on early downs without over-using its safeties, game on.
Florida State did do a good job against Murry on first and second down. Oklahoma ran for only 50 yards on 20 carries when the game was still close. But remember we also wrote:
The "not over-using its safeties" line is important because OU will easily pick apart FSU's defense on first or second down if FSU is clearly lining up top stop the run. But if FSU can put OU in unfavorable down and distance, it has a chance to force some turnovers. Jones seems to run hot and cold. A defense never wants to pin its hopes on the chance that the QB is having an off day, but in this game of pick your poison, I'd rather face Jones than Murray.
Oklahoma is excellent at the screen game and they love to throw the bubble to Broyles. He is perhaps the most dangerous receiver FSU will play this season and OU often lines him up in the slot, which further complicates things. This is one of OU's counters to the safety in the box to stop the run. It is imperative that Florida State tackle Broyles because if he breaks one tackle he is gone for six points.
Oklahoma's offense is way too talented and way too well coached to have an opposing defense the caliber and inexperience of Florida State's to take away everything. Florida State chose to take away the run, which was the obvious choice. And it chose to, for the most part, line up to limit the bomb. As we wrote in the preview, FSU was going to need to tackle extremely well. Not only was the tackling by the corners poor, it was awful. And no defensive player tackles worse than the 'Noles' playmaker Greg Reid. Reid still has a ways to go from a great return man to be a complete corner. Reid seemed more concerned with talking smack than playing sound, fundamental football. Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles embarrassed him. Oklahoma repeatedly threw short, which FSU invited, but FSU didn't keep short throws as short completions by tackling well.
It's pretty clear from the way the game was called that FSU's defensive coaches do not trust either safety. They did trust the corners, but with the way each played that has to be in question. After FSU's corners became extra anxious to come up and stop the receiver screens, they were torched by the double moves OU ran. Bad habits die fast and FSU's defense clearly is not ready to play at an elite or very good level.
Oklahoma ran 48 plays in the first half. Only 4 of the 48 plays were a 3rd and 5+. If FSU was going to bring heat, those were the downs to do it. FSU was not good enough to force OU into those situations. The Sooners racked up 378 yards on those 48 plays, and 34 points by half.
The defense played worse than the offense, but the offense was more disappointing because it has been quite dominant when Ponder has been healthy. That was not the case today.
Florida State opened the game with 70-yard touchdown drive. That would be the 'Noles' only meaningful touchdown.
Christian Ponder was uncharacteristically awful. He lacked touch on some of his throws and repeatedly stared down receivers. The offense obviously needed to score on every drive. In the past FSU has done that successfully under Ponder, but not today. Ponder finished 11-28 for 113 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. It was an off day against an elite program on the road. And it turned ugly.
As all elite defenses do, Oklahoma was determined to stop the run and it did. Elite defenses are rarely run on and OU's was no different. Florida State's offensive line didn't get much push, and Oklahoma's tremendous linebackers were free to fast flow to the football behind Oklahoma's defensive line.
Florida State's offense played poorly. They were uncharacteristically sloppy and imprecise. That falls on the coaches and on the senior Ponder.
A lot of credit needs to go to Oklahoma's coaching staff. Many FSU fans believed Oklahoma was vulnerable because its poor performance against Utah State. There is absolutely no doubt that Oklahoma spent all its time preparing for Florida State and ignored Utah State. Game preparation is huge and Utah State's offense is not better than Florida State's, nor is its defense, but if a team doesn't prepare, it can make a big difference. Oklahoma's defense did a great scouting job on both sides of the ball. On more than a few plays it looked like OU knew what was coming. Florida State must self-scout when it returns to Tallahassee to determine if anything tipped them off. On defense, the advantage of the Stoops brothers knowing each other's system clearly went to Bob Stoops. Bob knows Mark's system and more importantly knew how much of that system could be installed, repped, and retained in just a single off-season. That knowledge made it quite easy for Oklahoma to do whatever it wanted on offense. And there wasn't much FSU could do about that.
In late July I wrote an article praising Oklahoma as an elite team and legit national title contender despite its 8-5 2009 record. Many fans didn't agree with it, specifically the last paragraph:
The bottom line is that Oklahoma has out-recruited FSU during the relevant time period. They have developed players much better than FSU has over the last 4 years. They are not breaking in new coordinators or new systems on either side of the ball. Oklahoma is a more talented, better developed, more experienced team. Quite simply, they are a better football team than FSU. OU's offense will be much closer to FSU's offense than FSU's defense will be to OU's defense. And the game is in Norman. It's not that FSU has no chance, it's that the chance is slim because Oklahoma has all the makings of another elite team and FSU does not. OU might be the best team FSU plays all year. Depending on your choice of casino, Oklahoma is the 2nd or 3rd favorite to win the national championship. I don't know if OU will win the title and I don't particularly care. I do know that FSU will be expected to lose and lose big.
It looks like those who understood that OU is truly an elite team and that the 8-5 record was due to an insane amount of graduation and injury losses mixed with bad bounces were right. Florida State has not developed its players, particularly on the defensive side, over the last few years. The benefit of next off-season and another recruiting class will be quite large.
Oklahoma is an elite program, easily one of the six or seven best in the country. Florida State hasn't even won its own division in the ACC for half-a-decade. This FSU team has a long way to go, but its season goals of winning the Atlantic Division are still in reach. Additionally, no major injuries were immediately evident. FSU comes away from this game embarrassed, but it is still healthy and can move forward and learn from the beating. Next year Oklahoma comes to Tallahassee.