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Florida State v Oregon preview: Scoring on the Ducks

The Seminoles will have to score in bunches to beat the Ducks but can they?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If FSU is to win the Rose Bowl and advance to the National Championship Game, it's going to need points. Probably a lot of points. Let's look at some of the key matchups.

The first thing FSU is going to do in the game is to figure out how Oregon will deploy its personnel against its formations. Florida State's does not run that many different plays, but it does run its plays out of a variety of formations and within those plays, there are many options.

Oregon has shown a tendency to play very heavy formations against two-back sets, as it did against Michigan State and Stanford. FSU, however, has the ability to throw out of two-back sets in a way that those two schools did not.

Conversely, FSU will want to see how Oregon reacts to its spread and one-back sets. Do the Ducks go to their nickel linebackers and add an extra defensive back? If so, FSU will likely be able to run the football fairly well, and may look to run Jameis Winston some as well. If not, FSU will likely have an advantage throwing the football against Oregon's standard personnel.

Offensive Line v Defensive Line

A little more than half way through the season, line coach Rick Trickett and Jimbo Fisher had seen enough of true freshman Rod Johnson in practice to place him at left tackle and move All-ACC LT Cam Erving to center and the line took on a whole new identity. Since the moves, running backs have averaged 5.6 yards/carry. Both players have been better than expected at their respective positions and the FSU offense has become much more consistent.

While Oregon's NT Alex Balducci is not a great player in the Oregon 3-4 line, DEs Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner are NFL quality players that will present quite a challenge for the FSU line. Both Armstead and Buckner are long, heavy ends who play very well with their hands while still maintaining the weight needed to not get bull rushed. It's not likely the Noles will get much of a running game going outside but rather up the middle where linemen should be able to reach the second level and attack the linebackers due to Balducci's deficiencies. Tackles Rod Johnson and Bobby Hart have not faced length like this and it could present a problem. Oregon will try to use that length to keep blockers off its linebackers. Those linebackers are quite good though and will be tough to block. FSU's interior line, however, is tremendous and it should be able to run the football between the tackles against the Ducks, particularly if Oregon elects to go with smaller personnel against one-back sets. FSU needs to not get dominated by Oregon's ends, and consistently beat the Ducks' nose guard to win this game.

Oregon is not the best pass rushing team, and FSU will need to make sure that trend continues, because if Oregon gets pressure while rushing just four men, it means more defenders will be in position to pick off pressured throws.

Injury at the Wrong Time

Losing Ifo Ekpre-Olomu with an ACL injury is a big hit for the Oregon secondary. While Ekpre-Olomu wasn't having as great of a year most people expected (similar to PJ Williams) he is still a very good corner and allowed Oregon to be more multiple in their defenses, particularly because of his playmaking ability and play against the run. While Oregon normally played a good bit of zone expect them to do so even more without the Sr All-PAC12 player. The rest of Oregon's secondary is by no means great but they don't have to be considering one stop on defense could shatter a team's hopes of upsetting the Ducks due to their great offense.

When Winston has struggled this year it's been against mostly 2 high safeties with a LB dropping to medium depth. Winston often times has not identified the LB and thrown into his path over the middle of the field. Florida did a particularly good job of confusing Winston by constantly shifting their coverage. However, they often found themselves out of position in their run fits and Dalvin Cook ran all over them. While Oregon does not possess the same level of secondary play as Florida they could use the month off to create confusing packages for Winston. History has shown that type of game planning will work but rarely for more than a half and often times less than a quarter.

The Ducks are a secondary that likes to gamble underneath, which is fitting with the strategy of getting the ball back to their offense. But at the same time, they do not allow a lot of big plays over the top, due to playing a lot of 3-3 over the top with their zone blitz packages.

The bigger issue FSU will likely face in the passing game is themselves. Too often this year Winston and his younger receivers have not been on the right page. Receivers have either run wrong routes, stopped on routes or have just flat out dropped the ball and if that continues FSU will be hard pressed to score enough to beat the Ducks. Jesus Wilson especially has found himself open but has struggled to hang onto the ball, but can a month off get his head straight?

FSU's backs are also very good at catching the football, and are nice, safe options for Winston.

Running to Success

Much like Oregon's Royce Freeman Dalvin Cook is a freshman who has come on late and made a big name for himself. Earlier in the year Cook would often times try and hit the home run ball instead of taking what was given to him. Just like many freshman backs Cook has learned he can't out athlete college defenders and is playing more within himself. The result (along with better blocking up front) is an offense that can beat defenses multiple ways. Teams must construct their coverages with a mind towards the run or risk being run out of the game.

As mentioned earlier FSU isn't likely to get a ton of yards on outside runs but could create healthy gains up the middle. Cook and Karlos Williams, who will be back from his concussion after missing the Georgia Tech game, will have opportunities to keep FSU on schedule and will need to do so. If FSU can run the ball well they can keep Oregon's offense off the field and give their own defense a rest.


Neither offense is likely to be stopped much on January 1st, but when you have 2 top 10 offenses in FEI going up against the 17th and 18th ranked defenses you'd expect as much. Add in the fact that both teams field Heisman Trophy winners as their quarterbacks along with multiple former 5* players all over the field and offensive minded coaches and you have a recipe for points. While Mark Helfrich does an excellent job of understanding field position and when to go for it on 4th down Jimbo Fisher hasn't always excelled. If FSU is kicking field goals they are very likely to lose but if they gamble a bit on 4th down and turn that chance into 7 points they'll have a shot.

If FSU can avoid turnovers, it should be able to put up a good number of points against Oregon's defense, particularly because the Ducks have been poor in the red zone. FSU needs touchdowns, and if it avoids turnovers, it'll likely get them.