Dalvin Cook and Roderick Johnson are the two most prominent names associated with the success of the Florida State running game. Cook, considered a favorite for many national awards and an early draft slot, is the most explosive running back in the country. Johnson became a mainstay on the blind side during Florida State’s undefeated regular season in 2014 and hasn’t given ground since.
The pair are the most heavily discussed part of the FSU running game in the build up to the Labor Day clash with Ole Miss - but there is much more to the FSU ground attack than these stars.
Johnson anchors a deep, experienced offensive line. Potentially missing the services of starting center Alec Eberle, true freshman Andrew Boselli will be snapping the ball to Deondre Francois. Boselli is flanked by guards Kareem Are (if he plays, if not it will likely be Derrick Kelly) and Wilson Bell, with converted defensive end Rick Leonard manning the right tackle spot.
The FSU offensive line features one trait that can’t be taught: size. Each starter weighs 303 pounds or more and stands at 6’4” or taller. That size, particularly in the interior guard-center-guard “GCG” group, will help FSU to mitigate some of the threats the talented Ole Miss defensive line poses.
The Ole Miss defensive line features several former blue chip recruits who attack mostly in a 1-gap, penetrating fashion. This type of penetrating attack can heavily disrupt wide zone or stretch type run plays. When an offensive lineman is taking a lateral, bucket step, the penetrating lineman can often enter a zone/gap with better leverage. Considering that Boselli could be starting his first game as a true freshman at center, it stands to reason these plays will make up a smaller percentage of the FSU run game than normal.
Florida State will likely run more inside zone (IZ) and man blocked plays in this game because of the personnel on both sides. Trying to ask a true freshman center to reach block penetrating defensive tackles play side is simply not a consistently effective strategy. IZ, split zone, power, counter, etc. will help FSU’s large GCG get favorable leverage against a quick interior Ole Miss DL. The Noles’ size will help them create vertical movement and gaps for Dalvin Cook and the backfield to attack. Cutting down splits to further reduce penetration might also be smart.
FSU will also feature variations of their simple runs. The video below shows a counter with split zone blocking - split zone was one of FSU’s most successful run plays in 2015, and the backfield counter action of both backs enhanced it.
These variations in backfield action allow things to stay simple for the offensive line - which is important with a true freshman in Boselli potentially at center. The video below shows how QB/RB action before mesh can stymie a defense without taxing the offensive line with new assignments.
Orbit and jet motion will likely feature heavily in Florida State’s offense pre-snap. Ole Miss is a fast flow, gap shooting team - pre-snap motion will help to keep linebackers’ eyes in the backfield, along with those of inexperienced safeties.
Starting quarterback Deondre Francois also should feature heavily in the run game. While Jimbo Fisher traditionally uses his experienced signal caller’s legs to establish a minimal run threat, he has consistently featured young quarterbacks prominently in the run game. Christian Ponder in 2008, EJ Manuel in 2010 are both strong evidence of this.
Francois adds a significant dynamic to FSU’s run game - turning staple run plays such as inside zone, power, counter into option or package plays. Previous quarterbacks for Fisher have been limited in their ability/desire to carry the football consistently with option/package plays, diminishing the threat and efficacy of these plays.
The Florida State run game fans see in Orlando on Labor Day will be geared towards creating vertical movement against the penetrating Ole Miss defensive line. Inside zone and man blocked run plays could help FSU’s large interior neutralize the speed of the opponent. Orbit/jet motion presnap, backfield mesh variations and quarterback options stand a good chance at keeping the Ole Miss defense confused and the FSU fans excited.