FSU must make Oklahoma earn its points

Florida State fans remember all too well what happened last season up in Norman, Oklahoma.

This was a defense that was clearly flustered with the no huddle. As I said in the preview, this was an awful matchup for this new defense. OU did a masterful job with formation and motion, knowing that FSU's new defense would not have the experience to adjust to it all. FSU's zone defenders are clearly not reading as they drop. They are "spot dropping" and not reading patterns or the QB's steps. This shows me just how raw they really are. An elite team like Oklahoma that faces a great zone defense in practice was licking its chops at the prospects of playing a raw defense like FSU's. Oklahoma did a great job of using subtle motion to gain a numerical or positional advantage on some plays. Bob knew about how much of the defense Mark could install and he knew what would give a new defense problems.

34 points and almost 400 yards allowed in the first half qualifies as a disaster.

How will FSU look to deal with Oklahoma's offense this time around? Don't expect the plan to be vastly different. Do expect the Seminole defense to understand and better execute the plan. 

But it won't be easy. Oklahoma has had the best offense in the country over the last decade. They know how to move the ball and score in bunches. So here are the building blocks of dealing with this offensive juggernaut. 

Align and Communicate: Oklahoma runs the highest-paced offense in the country, bar none. They can get off two plays in 10 seconds. It's blistering, dizzying, etc. Last year we profiled many instances in which FSU was not ready for this pace, and as a result, failed to properly line up by the time Oklahoma snapped the football. It's impossible to measure just how much impact this had on the game, but let's just say it was not insignificant. This year, with the defense not being so new, FSU has been able to rep this more in practice. Nobody can simulate OU's pace, but it is important to see something close before the game. 

Fast and efficient communication is key. Not only must FSU be lined up and ready for the snap, but the 'Noles must be lined up in the correct place to play the called defense. If FSU doesn't get lined up in the correct spot, it can't hope to accomplish the next task:

Tackling & Fighting Off Blocks

Last year, FSU compounded its lack of alignment with some of the worst tackling ever:

Florida State is, on most plays, going to focus on taking away the run and not allowing the big play. That means the short stuff will be open for the Sooners. Repeatedly. The key here, is to get of the opposing block and tackle the short gainers consistently. FSU doesn't need to be perfect in tackling, just really good. Guys who catch a five-yard pass cannot be allowed to turn that five-yarder into a 10+ yard gain. Simple in theory, but it is not easy as Oklahoma likely has the best group of receivers in the country. If FSU's corners don't consistently get off blocks and tackle the short stuff, this will be another blowout.

LT  59 Donald Stephenson** Sr. 6-6 307
   69 Lane Johnson* Jr. 6-6 296
LG  64 Gabe Ikard* So. 6-4 295
   77 Stephen Good*** or Sr. 6-6 305
   68 Bronson Irwin* So. 6-5 305
C  61 Ben Habern** Jr. 6-4 292
   50 Austin Woods* So. 6-4 290
RG  75 Tyler Evans** Jr. 6-5 304
   74 Adam Shead or R-Fr. 6-4 314
   54 Nila Kasitati Fr. 6-4 285
RT  79 Daryl Williams R-Fr. 6-6 313
   71 Tyrus Thompson R-Fr. 6-5 297
TE  82 James Hanna*** Sr. 6-4 243
   89 Austin Haywood* or So. 6-4 247
   47 Trent Ratterree*** Sr. 6-3 248
WR  85 Ryan Broyles*** Sr. 5-10 188
   16 Jaz Reynolds* So. 6-2 198
WR  4 Kenny Stills* So. 6-1 189
   24 Dejuan Miller*** Sr. 6-4 217
WR  2 Trey Franks* So. 5-10 184
   18 Kameel Jackson Fr. 6-0 195
QB  12 Landry Jones** Jr. 6-4 229
   15 Drew Allen* or So. 6-5 239
   10 Blake Bell R-Fr. 6-6 245
FB  33 Trey Millard* So. 6-2 249
   20 Marshall Musil* So. 6-2 236
RB  3 Brennan Clay* or So. 5-11 194
   8 Dominique Whaley Jr. 5-10 197
   22 Roy Finch* So. 5-7 166

Why focus on taking away big pass play and the run, while simple trying to slow the short pass game?

Running the ball is much safer than throwing. More turnovers occur on passing plays than on running plays, because the interception factor and the potential for a strip and fumble on a sack when the QB is not looking. Additionally, being run on is demoralizing for a defense and takes the crowd out of the game. FSU wants to leverage its electric crowd to the best of its ability, and allowing Oklahoma any measure of success on the ground is a recipe to get blown out. 

Additionally, if Oklahoma gets the run game going, it opens up an excellent play-action passing game. Play-action passes lead to big plays, which is what FSU is trying to avoid here.  Big plays are confidence builders for an opponent and change the course of the game. 

It just makes sense to take away the deep stuff and the run game, while trying to limit the short passing game. This is no easy task, but FSU must accept that OU is going to move the ball just as the Sooners do on everyone. The key is to remain composed, focused and disciplined. If FSU can do that, it has a chance. If, however, FSU's defensive backs become frustrated and start to gamble, take chances, and desert their assignments, Oklahoma will immediately capitalize. If FSU can do that, however, there's a chance the Noles can force the Sooners into taking unnecessary risks, potentially creating a turnover. The mantra needs to be:

No touchdowns for Oklahoma coming from outside the red zone.

I am not proposing that FSU invite or escort Oklahoma inside the twenty-yard line. I am saying, however, that if FSU can accomplish this goal, it will have a shot to win this game. Make Oklahoma earn its touchdowns by denying big plays. Oklahoma's offense is not as good inside the 20 because its run game is not great, it doesn't have a mobile quarterback, and there is simply less space for the spread attack to use.

We've talked a lot about how much bigger and stronger this FSU defense has become under Jimbo's reign. Where does that really pay off? In the red zone. 

The other reason FSU needs to be of the mindset that scores are allowed, if at all, only in the red zone, is that Oklahoma's situation at kicker is quite suspect. The Sooners will be bringing a total of five punter/kickers to Tallahassee. Unsettled is the word that comes to mind.

And for all the talk here about being patient, giving up the short stuff as long as the guys catching the short stuff are quickly tackled and hit, FSU can't make it real simple. No, the 'Noles will give the short stuff to OU if the Sooners realize it is open:

This current trend of defenses gleaning the best attributes of schemes into some quasi-natural selection process creates a deadly and effective method for accounting for fundamental principles of good football. Defenses, with the usage of proper coverage support, pattern-matching principles, and multi-talented linemen (ability to drop to cover receiving threats), are able to open a maelstrom of disguised looks. Defenses can present one look at presnap and morph its use to fit any and all offensive threats after the snap. No longer are defenses limited by walking out on displaced receivers (in man) or staying cemented within the box to stop the run. With these principles of adaptation, the chalk can be held by defensive coordinator.

Mixing up pre-snap looks will be key. Is FSU in man? Zone? Cover 1? Cover 4? If Oklahoma can consistently identify the coverage pre-snap, it will be a long day for Seminole fans. Oklahoma does a lot of looking to the coaches on the sideline for a play adjustment.  Expect FSU to move after that adjustment a good bit of the time. I'll admit there is a certain factor of luck in this. In large part, Oklahoma will be guessing what look FSU will really be in. But luck pays into every football game (like fumble recoveries, which are 100% random). 

FSU will need to bring some pressures and occasionally press, but it must do so when Oklahoma is not expecting the 'Noles to do so.

If FSU can do all of that, it will then have a chance to use its defensive line to its advantage. Last season, Oklahoma had such success throwing the short stuff, that it never had to go deep and the defensive line didn't have time to get to the passer. FSU must scheme to allow the defensive line to get to the passer by mixing up looks and not allowing short plays to become long plays.

FSU has a very difficult task on its hands here. Dealing with Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills is a nightmare for any defensive coordinator. Jones is accurate and smart. But FSU has had all summer to come up with a defensive game plan. Will we see a lot of 4-2-5 looks from FSU to combat the spread attack? I'd think so. The 'Noles defense is healthy and should be focused.

Oklahoma has a good offensive line, to be sure, but it has not yet shown to be dominant.The 'Noles will need excellent games from defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. The key may be Werner destroying whichever new starter OU runs out at right tackle (Daryl Williams or Lane Johnson). The 'Noles say they have three NFL corners. They'll need to show that NFL ability. The defensive tackles need to get push up the middle so that Landry Jones is flushed from the pocket, as he does not throw all that well on the run. This could be a coming out party for a defense that was so awful two years ago and so new last season. But they'll need to do the little things first. 

Look for the preview of Oklahoma's defense against Florida State's offense to come soon:

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