Florida State Preview: Seminoles' Defense @ BYU Cougars' Offense

BYU uses wide splits.

Let's start with a look at BYU's offense.  The Cougars run a balanced spread attack.  What does that mean?  Their linemen look to have 28 inch splits (rough guess).  For reference, FSU's offensive linemen use 18" splits.  See the photo at left.

Notice how big the splits are.  This makes it exceptionally hard for opposing defensive ends to get to the quarterback.  Teams have to use stunts and blitzes to get to the QB.

Here is a detailed article BYU Offense and Protection Scheme.  It is from Texas Tech, and BYU's current offensive coordinator Anae authored a decent portion.  Of particular note is the way they handle twists and stunts by the defensive line.  Here's another on their offense.  




A haiku:

Hulking Precision

Lacking in Explosion

Touchdown Anyway


BYU loses its all-time winningest QB in Max Hall.  He was a very good college quarterback.  It has not been able to effectively replace him at this point.  Junior Riley Nelson will start.  He's a short lefty with some wheels and not much of an arm.  Though Nelson will start, true-freshman Jake Heaps will likely see more time.  Heaps was the #1 pro-style QB recruit in the country and has a strong arm with a great release.  He's not a running threat but has shown some ability to buy time with his legs before throwing downfield.  

Running Backs

Off its 2009 team BYU lost star running back Harvey Unga to a violation of the university's honor code.  It also lost a good fullback in Manase Tonga.  Those losses have taken a bit of the power from BYU's "power spread."  This year BYU's backs are more speedy and smaller, which is more in line with the traditional air-raid attack.  The two-headed attack consists of #10 JJ Di Luigi 5-9 190 Jr. and #33 Bryan Kariya 6-0 218 Jr.   These are good backs but they are not special.  They dance a bit more than Unga did but also represent greater opportunity for big plays.  Both are excellent at catching the ball and BYU will often use both of them in its favorite 3WR-2RB shotgun sets.  Fullback 35 Zed Mendenhall 5-11 239 So. has not stood out on the limited tape I have watched of BYU this season, but BYU will use him on the goal line.  BYU likes to release Kariya between the tackle and the guard to go up the seam.  That's incredibly frustrating and FSU has to watch for that.

Inside, find analysis of BYU's other positions, its scheme, and FSU's plan to stop it!  The rest of your morning belongs to Tomahawk Nation.

Receivers/ Tight Ends

For last year I wrote:  

BYU is still breaking in two new starting receivers, having to replace  Austin Collie, who was far and away the Cougar's best weapon.  He left early for the NFL and was BYU's go-to guy.  Collie had an NCAA Best 106 catches for 1453 yards and 15 TD's!  The Cougars had the 2nd best 3rd down conversion rate in the nation last year, and Collie caught a bunch of those.  Also departed Michael Reed, who went 49-589-2.  He was the Cougar's #2 receiver (though not their 2nd best receiving option, as you'll see below.  So BYU had to replace an NFL wideout (which is pretty rare for BYU), and their #2 wideout. 

Their number one weapon is Tight End Dennis Pitta, 6'5" 250lbs. The Senior is a legit NFL Tight End Prospect, consistently listed in the top-5 draft eligible tight end prospects, nationally.  Pitta has both the athleticism and the production to back up his status.  Last year he had 83 catches for 1083 yards and 6 touchdowns.  This year he has improved his game, and caught 7 balls for 90 yards against Oklahoma.  He is Hall's prime target, and all 'Nole fans know how much trouble the 'Noles have had covering the tight end (though they are often burned by afterthought tight ends, not necessarily high profile tight ends).  Some great tight ends have killed the 'Noles, however, like UVA's Heath Miller and many from Miami.  Pitta belongs in that group.  

Here's a hilarious fake press-release on FSU's struggles with the tight end position, written by Ricobert11:

August xx, 200x

Coach (fill-in-the-blank) reminded reporters today of his intention to see the TE more involved in FSU offensive playcalling. "[So-and-so player] really impresses us with his athleticism. Believe you me, we will find a way to get that boy the ball."

FSU has looked to get more offensive output from their TEs in light of recent years lack of productivity. "I really just want to help the team out," said returning starter Tight Enderson. "We're really gonna surprise some folks this year. Teams will have to account for all skill players, not just our wide outs."

While FSU has had trouble finding the open TE, other teams have not. Miami TE Dozen Matta-Who scorched FSU's secondary for 9 catches and 173 yards in last year's rivalry game. The year prior, TE Enni-wun In-pads made a show case out of the game with a 15 catch / 227 yard / 4 TD performance, soliciting the first-ever mid-college season NFL free agent contract from the Oakland Raiders. In-pads would later, famously, go on to be the first player to ever sue against his own NFL Draft eligibility status, and win.

FSU has no excuse not to cover this tight end.  He is BYU's biggest weapon by a long shot and should be identified on every play. FSU should really treat him as a wide receiver.  He's been 1st Team All-Mountain West for 2 years running and should be 1st team All-America. An excellent route runner with glue hands, he will be a challenge for this Nole defense.  Luckily, the 'Noles have Dekoda Watson, who has the ability to limit Pitta.  If they use Watson to rush the passer, however, they will need to bracket Pitta with other players.  

The Cougars also have tight end Andrew George (6'5" 250'), who went for 23 catches, 219 yds, and 6 TDs.  In any case, George would start for most teams and is an excellent 2nd tight end option.  Against the Sooners, he snagged 3 balls for 26 yards, including a TD off play-action.  Watch for him on the goal line.  

Trying to fill the void left by Collie is be McKay Jacobson.  The 5' 11" 192lb Soph has good speed.  As a freshman in 2006 (remember, these kids go on missions.  He is 21 as a sophomore), he caught 28 balls for 547 yards and 3 TD's.  Against Oklahoma he grabbed 4 balls for 69 yards.  BYU has thrown him several middlle and jailbreak screens as well, so be on the lookout for that.  I believe that FSU CB Patrick Robinson should be able to handle him one-on-one with very little trouble.  

At the "X" receiver position, BYU has O'Neill Chambers.  He's 6'2" 208, and one of their bigger targets at wideout.  He has excellent hands.  Some say he has big play potential, but I haven't seen that yet.  The 3rd wide receiver spot right now, the "H", is between Junior Luke Ashworth, Matt Marshall, and Stephen Covey.  There's a possibility that Stephen Kozlowski gets in there as well.  Really though, BYU prefers to throw to their bevy of backs, tight ends, or the top two wideouts.  

All of BYU's wideouts run excellent routes.  Their offense features a lot of quick passing and it is built on precision.  A lot of their routes are timing routes.  BYU's wideouts are where they are supposed to be.  They are on the same page with Max Hall.  Hall throws the ball before they are open.  Oh, and all of them can catch.  It's absolutely paramount that FSU's corners play solid man coverage against the Cougars.  BYU will eat up zone because they have a very good quarterback and mature (24 yearolds) receivers who understand where the holes are in a zone.  Also, FSU plays horrible zone defense.  They might not be the fastest, but they are good.  I do think this group is missing a big-play threat in Collie.  

This year BYU loses both of its excellent tight ends.  2010 is truly a role reversal from 2009 in that last season BYU didn't have the proven guys on the outside while this year it lacks the tight ends or 3rd wideout to threaten the middle of the field.  BYU fans have been quite uninspired by the new freshmen tight ends, #82 Mike Muehlmann 6-4 240 and #18 Richard Wilson 6-2 233.  The need to rely on the receivers so heavily and not the tight ends presents a problem for BYU.  With two unproven QBs, the Cougars would love to be able to play 21 personnel, run the ball, work the play-action game, and have a security blanket at the tight end spot.  These are, however, good wideouts and they are capable of hurting FSU.  

Offensive Line

Going into last year, the Cougars lost 4 multi-year starters.  Three of them were All-Conference as Seniors!  The 4th made 28 career starts!  In all, BYU lost 153 starts, an incredible number (probably the biggest loss in the nation). 

This year the line is considerably more experienced and healthy.

Losing 4 starters means that one guy returns, and he happens to be the Coug's best lineman.  Matt Reynolds is to BYU what Andrew Datko was to FSU- a Freshman All-America and 3-year starter.  BYU threw the ball 500 times last year and Reynolds (who is 21, with his mission and a redshirt), allowed only 1 sack.  #70 is 6'6", 320, and a serious NFL prospect.  Reynolds battled a major flu bug the last two weeks and needed 4 IVs to compete against Air Force.

At right tackle is #75 Braden Brown 6-6 300 So. He got in some good experience last year.

At right guard is #73 Jason Speredon 6-5 308 Sr..  He's a senior who has played in 21 games but apparently started none.  Suffered from an ACL issue as a redshirt freshman.  Also possible at right guard is Senior Nick Alletto, who is considered a good pass protector at 6'6" 325.  The Senior busted up his knee before last season.  He's decent in pass pro.  

At left guard is #76 Braden Hansen 6-6 310 So.  He played some last season and is decent but sometimes fires off the ball slowly. 

At Center the Cougars #60 Terence Brown 6-4 330 Jr.  Brown was 360 lbs at times last season and has lost some weight.  He's not a stud but he isn't terrible.

This is a good pass blocking offensive line, but it is not very athletic and is vulnerable to exotic blitzes if FSU can get BYU into 3rd-long situations.  Here's an example from last season:


Oklahoma had 8 men within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage.  This is similar to FSU's prowler.  It was tough for BYU to figure out who would rush and who would drop.  This play ended in a sack, even though BYU had 7 pass protectors and OU only rushed 5 men.

BYU did a good job leaning on Washington in the second half and using its size to run.  In the past the Cougars have been a great screen team, particularly with the middle screens you see the air-raid teams run.  They've been good but not great with them this year.

Last year BYU was the 12th best offense in the country with the 2nd-best passing attack and the 37th-best rushing attack.

BYU So Far This Year


BYU could have easily lost the Washington game had it not been for the safety on the punt snap and the stumble by the Washington returner at his own two yard line.  5.6 yards per play is not impressive at home against a below average Washington team.  


BYU was absolutely dominated by Air Force.  Now, Air Force does have a complex defensive scheme that's difficult to figure out for a young QB and the Falcons run their defense quite well.  Not to mention the Air Force triple-option attack.  Out-gaining an opponent by 33% per play is tremendous and the Cougars were a mess.  

This team is much closer to being 0-2 than it is to being 2-0.

Attacking BYU

Last year I wrote:

BYU presents an interesting case.  They spread their formation, true, but they use Pro-Style personnel!  Their best skill players are two full-back sized running backs, and two tight ends.  I expect to see some three-wide sets against FSU, but not much in the way of four wide receivers.  BYU will also run from the I-Formation, sometimes with Two tight ends.  They are multiple to the max.  

This year BYU has more true-spread personnel. But it still does run some I-formation.  Different year, different challenge.  This year BYU is running some option, which is a major pain to prepare for coming off the emotional OU blowout.  Let's look at three examples:


There you see Nelson keep the ball.  BYU doesn't run that with Heaps.


Here we see BYU run some lead option.  The QB pitches the ball really well and BYU walks into the end zone.


Here is a QB power play.  BYU pulls the guard and uses the running back as an extra blocker.

They also ran a Shovel-pass last year. Though they have not shown it yet, it is clearly in the playbook.  Here's a screencap:


The guy in red is the pitch man.  Tulane covered it so Hall kept it, but I don't expect to see this from BYU against FSU.  They probably just ran it so FSU would have to waste practice time defending it.

This is one area in which FSU's new zone defense will help a bunch.  The zone, as opposed to man, allows 11 players to keep their eyes on the football.  This will require discipline on behalf of FSU.  

The most important key to this game, however, will  be to win the battle in the middle.  FSU must make BYU one-dimensional.  Teams who turn BYU into a throw-only team typically dominate them, as it kills their play-action game.  FSU's defensive tackles must hold up on the inside, allowing the linebackers to fast flow to the football.  BYU has not been a good team on 3rd-long, seeing seven 3rd downs of 7+ yards and managing only 8 total yards on those 7 downs.

Last season FSU made BYU win at the low percentage game.  Because the Cougar offense was loaded with experienced playmakers at tight end, it made sense.  FSU knew that it could not allow BYU to go down the field in small chunks because the players BYU had were polished and would likely be able to do just that.  I wrote:

At this point, it's probably a good idea to stop on over and read Chris Brown's article on coverages. FSU should be able to cover BYU's wideouts deep on a reasonably consistent basis without a whole lot of safety help.  BYU runs a timing offense and throws into windows and spaces.  The goal is to force the Cougars into beating FSU through the use of low percentage plays.  A 5-yard slant against loose zone coverage is a high percentage play.  BYU is so good at throwing that stuff that if FSU gives them that, they stand almost no chance of stopping the Cougars.  But Max Hall really isn't much or a deep-ball thrower.  Sure, every QB can loft the ball downfield, but I am talking about the more challenging throws.  I'm talking about out-routes, skinny posts, etc.  If BYU is going to throw all over Florida State, the 'Noles better be sure that they force the Cougars to do it via low percentage passes.  

In order to disrupt the air-raid offense, you have to mess with their timing.  I spoke with Chris Brown and he said that FSU needs to tackle on the short stuff, confuse and pressure hall without being reckless, and key and recognize formations and route combinations.  It's a tall task, particularly because FSU's defensive coaches haven't been  very good at communicating tendencies to their players.  But it is doable, and it is doable because FSU can handle BYU's wideouts in man coverage.

As I previously stayed, BYU absolutely rips zone coverage.  FSU plays below average zone coverage, at best.  The Noles will play majority man coverage then, but with a twist.  They'll play primarily man with zone defenders sprinkled in.  Because FSU isn't really all that worried about BYU's receivers on the outside, they will look to flood the short and intermediate passing lanes.  And they can do this by playing Cover-1 press, Cover-1 robber, and something I like to call cover-0 robber.  

And FSU fans saw that FSU's plan didn't work very well:


What did work, however, was luck as FSU recovered a few fumbles (forcing fumbles aren't random but the recovery is).  BYU racked up 8.9 yards per play in non-garbage time (meaning FSU's defense was still trying).  

A different year calls for a different plan, however, and that is what FSU will need.

Two QBs, Two Gameplans

Against Nelson

I'll address Nelson first, since he has been named the starter.  BYU will look to shorten the game with the option stuff when the lefty is in the game.  FSU's linebackers must endeavor to get off blocks and make sound tackles.  FSU's new defensive scheme will also call for the corners and safeties to get involved.  As always, the key to defeating the option is winning up front.  FSU needs to sell out to stop the run and the short stuff against Nelson.  He's not much of a quarterback and in the spirit of taking away what the opponent does best, FSU should force Nelson to beat it deep outside the hashmarks (Nelson's arm is rather weak).  Nelson has better composure than does Heaps.  FSU's enforcer at safety, Nick Moody, is not expected to start coming off his groin injury, but should see action.  He could be a valuable weapon against the option and could legitimately knock Nelson out, just as he did to the OU running back last week.  If Moody could prove in practice that he can be consistent and has a grasp of the defense that would go a long way toward becoming the starter.  If FSU can shut down the run game while Nelson is in, BYU is dead in the water because he is a well below average thrower.  Quick:  Stop the run, tackle the short stuff, and defend the middle of the field.  If Nelson beats FSU throwing deep and outside the numbers, tip your cap and realize the Noles are in for a long day.  

Against Heaps

Jake Heaps is almost the opposite of Nelson.  He's not real savvy and lacks experience.  He's not a threat to run and BYU does not run the option with him at all.  Technically, he could run that shovel play but I wouldn't expect it.  

When Heaps is in the game BYU will look to run the ball out of its more traditional I-formation look, likely with RB Kariya (218 lbs).  The Cougars want to run play-action off of it and with Heaps they will look to go deep. FSU will likely employ some cover-3 against Heaps and make him consistently display patience, poise and accuracy. This game plan will look much like FSU's against Oklahoma, in that FSU will give the receivers a considerable cushion in order to avoid the big play.  It will make Heaps deliver an accurate ball and then must come up and tackle the receivers.  Heaps sometimes lacks touch and FSU must make him go through his progressions with accuracy. If the Noles shut down the run game (and FSU should be able to limit it quite a bit), that will lessen the effectiveness of BYU's play-action game.  There is a good chance that Heaps will throw FSU an interception over the middle either because of a miscommunication with his tight ends, because he rifles the ball without touch leading to a pick, or because he misfires.  As opposed to the plan with Nelson, FSU needs to force Heaps to kill FSU via the paper cut.  

Against Both


  • FSU should force BYU to go to its freshmen tight ends any time those two are in the game.  BYU fans have not been impressed with those two yet.  BYU's receivers are talented and experienced.  Winning football involves taking away the other team's strength and making the opponent win with its lesser parts.  BYU must prove that it will throw to those two.
  • While BYU is not a big misdirection team, it did show a throw-back screen off play-action much like the one FSU ran against Samford two weeks ago and against UNC last season. 
  • Linebackers must take good angles when pursuing the run plays on the edges.  
  • The defensive tackles and ends must be quick off the ball and stay balanced when stunting.  
  • BYU's linemen are occasionally sloppy when pulling and there will likely be opportunities for tackles for loss if FSU gets quick penetration.

Stoops v. BYU and Dykes.  

As I pointed out yesterday, FSU's defensive coordinator Mark Stoops had success against BYU before.  It's also worth noting that his offensive coordinator at Arizona runs a very similar offense to the one BYU runs!  Stoops will certainly be knowledgeable on this offense.  How much FSU's young defense can absorb and apply, however, is perhaps another story.  

Final Analysis

This is a BYU offense searching for an identity.  Neither quarterback is particularly good at this point.  The backs are solid but not special, though they do present difficulties in the passing game.  The receivers are the best thing going for the offense, along with a quality pass-blocking oline.  The tight ends are nowhere to be found. 

On the flip side, FSU's defense is extremely raw and isn't yet good by any stretch of the imagination.  The good news is that BYU doesn't use the no-huddle like Oklahoma did.  FSU should be able to solve a portion of its problems by knowing the correct play and lining up in a timely fashion.  FSU will still be pretty basic in its gameplan on first and second down as execution is necessary before complexity.  On 3rd and long, however, when the leverage favors FSU, the Noles might get a bit more complex.  That depends on putting this offense in 3rd-&-long situations.  I think FSU will limit BYU's run game to 110 yards on 28 run plays and keep the passing game in check to the tune of 296 or so on 42 passing plays (including sacks).  Thats 406 yards on 70 plays, which equals out to 5.8 per play.  A distribution like this would likely allow FSU to force more long situations, which are where turnovers are produced.   BYU scores 27 in Tallahassee.

Check back after lunch to see the second half of the preview!

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