Ultimately, coaches are judged on success. But as Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is fond of preaching, it's good process that leads to good results.
Saturday, Florida State got success against Miami and had good process, even though those crucial decisions did not work out directly in Fisher's favor.
It started in the second quarter. With Florida State leading 17-10, it faced a 4th-and-1 from Miami's 10-yard line with about seven minutes left. Fisher smartly made the decision to go for the fourth down. Even with Roberto Aguayo on FSU's sidelines, and Dalvin Cook on the trainer's table, this was the right call. Fisher's move showed an understanding that the value of converting and the potential outcome of a non-conversion (pinning Miami deep in its own zone with time to get the ball back before half) outweighed the three points a field goal would likely net. In the high-point environment of college football where teams routinely score in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, settling for a field goal that early in the game is mortgaging a team's future for the present. Going for the field goal decreases win likelihood.
Florida State was stopped on fourth down as the line did not clear a lane for running back Jonathan Vickers. Quibble with the play call if you want, but the decision to go was absolutely correct. As it turned out, FSU got the stop after Miami was pinned deep and kicked a field goal on 4th-and-13 from the Miami 14.
2-point common sense
Fisher also showed some growth in another area: going for two. A year ago in Dallas, Fisher made the wrong decision to kick an extra point with four minutes left to go up 37-24 against Oklahoma State, but it did not cost FSU. Saturday against Miami, FSU scored a touchdown to go up 29-24 with just under seven minutes left.
Fisher ran several yards out onto the field and hoisted two fingers into the air to signal to his players that they were to stay on the field. Florida State did not get the conversion, and you can question the call of a rollout pass if you want, but going for it in that situation is the correct call. This seems like it should be common sense, but in the heat of the moment several coaches have botched this in 2015, including most notably Tennessee's Butch Jones in the loss to Florida.
All night FSU fans called for more blitzing and more blitzing. But with a hobbled Nate Andrews, an ejected Trey Marshall, and linebackers Terrance Smith and Tyrell Lyons out with injury, FSU was smart to sit back and play more coverage, trusting its defensive line to get enough pressure on Brad Kaaya. What would not have been smart would have been to blitz a ton and expose FSU's depleted linebackers and secondary to more one-on-one coverage than necessary.
The defensive line got a decent amount of pressure on Kaaya, sacking him twice, hurrying him four more times and batting down five passes. FSU's defensive plan bet that Miami, which had struggled in the red zone and third down all season would not be able to consistently drive against it.
In that, the coaches were both right and wrong. FSU did force Kaaya into throwing several balls that should have reasonably been intercepted. But they were not, as Jalen Ramsey dropped one and Lamarcus Brutus couldn't get to another, leading to two of Miam's three touchdown drives. FSU's defensive plan put its players in a position to grab two picks while attempting to minimize the amount of solo coverage defenders like Reggie Northrup and Tyler Hunter had to play.
If the normally dependable stalwarts of FSU's defense make those interceptions, the complaints about the defensive plan would be far softer.