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

Christian Ponder looks to skin the Cougars for the second year in a row. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

You've made it through the preview of the 'Noles' defense and the BYU Cougar's offense.  Now sit back and enjoy the flip side.

BYU's Scheme

BYU runs a complex 3-4 defense.  It consists of almost no man coverage, though its matchup zones will sometimes appear like man coverage.  BYU's guys are smart and disciplined and they do not beat themselves.  When BYU gets torched it is because the opponent is decidedly better and executed as such.  BYU doesn't like to blitz much, but it will both run blitz and zone blitz if necessary.

2009 Review

FSU Offensive Coordinator/ Head Coach in Waiting Jimbo Fisher said that he was was not worried about the run game or the offensive line.  Florida State's legendary Offensive Line Coach Rick Trickett guaranteed that his unit would get things worked out.  He unilaterally denied all interview requests for his linemen, stating that they were going to "stop talking and start blocking."  

Florida State's offensive line could not have performed better.  Its play was the antithesis of Oklahoma's offensive line.  Not only did the Nole's offensive front not lose the game for Florida State, they absolutely won it.  While OU committed 10 offensive penalties, the Noles had only 1 enforced against their starters (FSU pulled their first team offense once the score got to 54-21.  At the time they were pulled, FSU starters were gaining 7.2 yards per snap of the football).  BYU was shell shocked.  "We didn't think they would be so physical," said BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall.  It started from the opening play.    FSU would not punt until the end of the 3rd quarter, with the game already well in hand.  The Noles marched for touchdown drives of 60, 70, 80, 82, and 86 yards the first three quarters.  FSU dominated BYU.  Everyone wants to assume that FSU's speed made the difference, but the Nole's offensive line was much, much stronger than BYU's defensive front.  BYU's linebackers could not get off the blocks of FSU's offensive line.  Florida State's likely All-America guard Rodney Hudson took home ACC offensive lineman of the week honors. 

The Noles run game was excellent. The offensive line did not allow a tackle for loss (though one did come on a reverse where an FSU wideout made an ill-advised juke by the sideline).  It started on 1st down.  The Noles had 21 1st down runs.  The results were as follows:  12, 12, 9, 9 (touchdown), 6, 5, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1 (touchdown).  Florida State did not have any runs stopped for no gain or loss.  Zero.  They also dominated short yardage.  On 2nd and 3 or less, FSU ran every time and picked up the first down, every time:  Down-Distance (Gained)  2-2 (6), 2-1 (4), 2-2 (4), 2-1 (4).  Third down was the same story, 3-1 (6),  3-1 (4), 3-1 (2).  The announcers were stunned, calling the offensive line "velcro" because BYU's defensive linemen and linebackers could not shed the blocks.  Want another crazy nugget?  BYU's leading tacklers were their cornerbacks, who had 10 and 11 respectively.  BYU's cornerbacks had more tackles than the defensive line and linebackers combined, mostly because Florida State's line denied them any penetration and consistently put them on their backs.

"We showed great efficiency on a down to down basis.  Constantly stayed ahead of the sticks.  Were always in manageable downs,  we executed with great consistency, we were very physical up front, were very multiple, distributed the ball a bunch (8 different Seminoles carried the ball), we won 1st down consistently," said Florida State Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach in Waiting Jimbo Fisher, who coached the Noles to the ACC's top offense last season and won the ACC Offensive Coordinator of the Year award.  Florida State held the ball for 40 minutes, compared to just 20 for BYU.

It wasn't just the run game.  Christian Ponder was an incredible 21-26 passing for 195 yards, 2 TD's and no interceptions.  His quarterback rating was a preposterous 170.  But the credit also needs to go to the offensive line. Ponder was not sacked.  He was hurried only twice, and was hit only three times.  Florida State had an incredible 30 1st downs.  They started out a perfect 10-for-10 on third downs, and the starters were 11-of-13 overall.  Ponder had time to go through all of his reads.  When BYU blitzed, FSU picked it up and FSU isolated the single coverage.  When BYU played a conservative zone, Ponder sat back and read all five players in the pattern.  

Perhaps the best way to judge their performance is to ask BYU's coach, Bronco Mendenhall:  

"I thought they played hard, I thought they played physical and I thought they sustained it from beginning to end. I was very impressed with their preparation.  A frustrating loss for our football program. Our inability to make critical stops on third down, due to the way Florida State was playing.  They won the physical matchup in terms of being able to run the football, and run it effectively from the beginning of the night through the end of the night. I thought those factors were the biggest difference in the game -- prohibiting our offfense from having enough snaps and being on the field frequently enough to give us the balance we were hopeful for.  Florida State played more physical tonight. I think they played with more hunger, meaning more desire. Many plays were stopped at the point of attack, but I think hey continued to play longer and harder than we played.

I was impressed through the week with their line's athleticism. I was impressed today that they were more physical than I anticipated. They were very athletic in the first two football games in terms of getting downfield on their screen passes, and cutting. Their size is more like defensive linemen, as you watch them. So they are very athletic.  I didn't think they would be able to move us off the line of scrimmage. And not only did they do that, they did it consistently, beginning to end. And that was the biggest surprise to me of the game. And I have to give them credit."

[On the difference between FSU and BYU's front, and why Bronco expected to have success against FSU]:  "Because I believe Oklahoma's offensive line was a very good front, and I think that we were capable of more. Yet, they, from beginning to end, ran the football and it wasn't a lot of elaborate schemes. It was basically zone blocking which was their men against our men."

[On Halftime Adjustments]: "Really, when it comes down to the adjustments made -- and this will sound maybe less than what you hoped to hear, it really comes down to gap integrity, and each player doing exactly what they are supposed to do. And when you run zone schemes, someone is losing at the point of attack, or someone is getting cut off, and losing their gap. And that is where seams develop."

"Basically, man for man, Florida State's run offense was better than our run defense this evening. And when you start taking chances and bringing pressure -- and we brought more today than probably in any of the previous two games, maybe all of last year, in trying to help them make plays, but even then Florida State handled that well.  Everything we had planned and prepared, we used. And none of which was very effective. Our zone pressures weren't working in terms of getting to the quarterback. We had some man pressures that also weren't effective.  And base zone and even dropping eight [wasn't effective]. So execution ultimately was their execution was better than ours."

While All-America Candidate Left Guard Rodney Hudson took home ACC Offensive Lineman of the week honors, other starters played at an extremely high level as well.  Left Tackle Andrew Datko followed up his Freshman All-America campaign with a great outing, dominating the Mountain West Conferences's All-Time Sack Leader Jan Jorgensen.  Center Ryan McMahon improved his performance immensely from the Miami game and importantly, kept the line abreast of the various blitzes BYU was running from their uncommon 3-4 alignment.  Right Guard David Spurlock and Right Tackle Zebrie Sanders both played extremely physical and did a great job maintaining their blocks, allowing the runner to find the hole.

Inside, find out about BYU's new personnel and how FSU will attack.  Plus, the prediction.

BYU's 2010 Personnel

Line

It all starts up front.  Remember that last year BYU lost its starting nose guard to injury very early in the game and the backup was not ready to hold up against FSU.  BYU plays a 3-man line and this line is more stout than last year's group.

At left end is #55 Eathyn Manumaleuna 6-2 295 So. After starting every game as a freshman in 2007, defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna returns to the Cougars and the starting lineup after serving two years in the Oklahoma Oklahoma City Mission for the LDS Church. Best known for preserving a 17-16 win over UCLA in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl by blocking a last-second Bruin field goal, Manumaleuna totaled 25 tackles and one sack during his first season. Coincidentally, Manumalenua thwarted a potential fourthdown conversion late against Washington by batting down quarterback Jake Locker's pass at the line of scrimmage.  Manumaleuna is a tremendous piece for BYU's defense as he can set the edge and will present issues for the 'Noles who do not normally see 295 lb defensive ends.  His backup is # 41 Matt Putnam 6-6 271 Jr. 

At nose tackle is #98 Romney Fuga 6-1 307 Jr.  Fuga is a good nose guard who commands a double team.  Ryan McMahon and Hudson must be on their game Saturday.  His backup is  #94 Jordan Richardson 6-3 271 So, but I think Manumaleuna would slide over and the Cougars would find a different end should Fuga go down.

At right end is #37 Vic So'oto 6-3 261 Sr.  So'Oto is a good player but obviously more of a pass-rusher than a run stuffer at 261 lbs.

Linebackers

At strong-side backer is #1 Jordan Pendleton 6-3 239 Jr. He is the lone returning starter from this young group and is a good hitter.  At middle backer is #51 Shane Hunter 5-10 232 Sr.  Hunter is a career reserve who finally has his shot and held off a talented freshman in #47 Zac Stout 6-1 229 Fr. for the starting job.  At "buck" linebacker is #44 Brandon Ogletree 5-11 225 So.  He's questionable with an injury and if he can't go it will be  # 31 Aveni Leung-Wai 6-1 238 Jr. or # 34 Austen Jorgensen 6-2 235 So.   On the weak side is #48 Jameson Frazier 6-2 225 Jr. 

This linebacker group isn't particularly impressive and it definitely benefits from a much improved run-stuffing defensive line.

Front-Seven

Let's take a look at how BYU measures up in the front-seven to the other defenses FSU will play this season:

Sizes Of The Front Sevens Florida State Will Face (Projected)
  Sam OU WF BYU UVA UM BC NCST UNC CLEM MD UF
DL 270 267 255 295 275 285 251 260 245 275 255 255
DL 285 301 235 307 270 293 295 289 275 310 295 307
DL 280 284 293 261 280 305 286 297 305 315 285 302
DL/LB 245 251 235 239 260 251 257 259 260 260 275 250
LB 212 240 215 232 215 227 244 239 230 215 230 226
LB 245 225 240 225 225 240 235 231 235 230 250 238
LB 220 232 225 225 230 220 225 224 230 220 235 223
 Total 1757 1800 1698 1784 1755 1821 1793 1799 1780 1825 1825 1801

As you can see, BYU is not huge on defense.  The Cougars have decent size, and this group is much bigger than last year's BYU up front.  I'll get to this later, but that should give you some hope that FSU can run the ball some on BYU's front-seven.  If BYU has to consistently commit the 8th defender to the box to stop the run, that represents a substantial opportunity for Florida State to get some things working in the pass game down the field.

Defensive Backs

BYU's defensive backs are not a great group.  The corners lack height and bulk.  At field corner is #7 Brian Logan 5-6 185 Sr.  On the boundary is #5 Brandon Bradley 6-0 193 Sr. One of these two is from Tallahassee but I forget which.  Neither are particularly impressive. 

BYU likes to get its strong safety involved against the run a lot and that is #SS 22 Andrew Rich 6-3 217 Sr.  He is an excellent hitter but a liability in coverage.  FSU should attack him if he is matched up with a receiver, but BYU limits his exposure via scheme.  At free safety is #24 Steven Thomas 5-11 172 Jr.  Thomas is the Cougars' cover guy and isn't bad from the little I saw on him.

How To Attack BYU

Run Game

Last year FSU ran all over BYU.  I do not expect that to happen this season because BYU has better personnel up front to stop it this year and because BYU didn't really prepare for FSU.  That doesn't mean FSU can't run on BYU. The 'Noles can and will run on the Cougars.  The zone runs should be effective provided the linemen can get off their double responsibilities and quickly climb to the next level.  FSU can also run some power because BYU's linemen don't exactly get penetration.  The 'Noles could break some longer runs than they did last season, but there will be more runs stopped for loss as well.

The other issue here is that FSU ran Ponder a lot last season.  11 times in all (though a few were scrambles) for 77 yards.  I do not expect FSU to run Ponder like that this time because the conference season is coming up and FSU doesn't want to get him hurt in a meaningless non-conference game.  

The Noles should be able to force BYU to bring Andrew Rich up and declare him as the 8th man in the box.  That will simplify coverages and FSU fans will easily take Ponder throwing against 8-man fronts all day.

Pass Game

If FSU has success in the run game BYU will really be in a bind to defend the pass.  This is not an experienced linebacker group and receivers Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed should be able to find the holes in the zone underneath.  Playing at home should increase the comfort level for young receivers Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith, both of whom played poorly at Oklahoma.  BYU's defense is also a lot less aggressive than Oklahoma, and that should make for an easier day for those two.

FSU needs to dictate coverage via formation, make BYU respect the bubble screen via alignment.  Throw the bubble until BYU lines up to take it away.  FSU will take a receiver 1-on-1 with a BYU defender in space all day.  FSU will gladly run the smash (curl and combo) against an 8-man front, binding the corner in a predictable cover-3.

I also think FSU will have success in the play-action game, be it via the bootleg or a straight drop.  BYU is definitely worried about the run game and I am guessing there will be play-action opportunities early and often.  BYU is vulnerable to double moves.

Mental Game

I mentioned earlier that BYU is a team that typically does not beat itself.  The Cougars will force the 'Noles to execute.  FSU must remember it is playing BYU this week and not allow Oklahoma to beat it twice.  It's hard to get a mental feel for this team after the beatdown Oklahoma laid last week.  I think FSU will play with average sharpness and motivation.  There's not much reason to respect BYU after last year's beatdown and what the Cougars have shown so far on film.

Prediction

FSU will rush 40 times for 210 yards and will gain 297 yards on 30 passing plays (including sacks) on a few bombs.  That's 507 yards on 70 plays, which is a very nice 7.25 yards per snap.  I see FSU scoring 5 touchdowns and two field goals for a total of 41 points.

FSU wins 41-27.

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