Saturday’s game vs. the Boise State Broncos started out swimmingly for the Florida State Seminoles, but the home team was manhandled after intermission.
Let’s first break down the four touchdown plays by the FSU offense before the break.
The first TD was a 38 yard run by Cam Akers:
On a 4th and 1 play, FSU is just looking to get a first down, but Akers (who was explosive all game) broke a tackle and eventually found the end zone. The first thing that jumps out about this play is the offensive line getting a hat on a hat and giving Akers a hole. This was obviously a massive concern entering the season, but the starting offensive line was able to create a crease for Akers to burst through. It was nice to see freshman Dontae Lucas winning a one-on-one battle at the point of attack, while wide receivers are working hard downfield (almost always a key to explosive runs).
The Broncos have an 8-man box, leaving FSU outnumbered, but the Boise pressure is coming off the edges, thereby running themselves out of the play. Tight end Tre’ McKitty is aligned behind the tackle and presented an angle to wrap up onto the linebacker creating an isolation look on the play. Backfield action gets the Mike LB to step, and Akers wraps back into the hole and runs through the Mike’s arm tackle. Alignment and action help get the Mike out of position, allowing Akers to break this big run.
One thing that helps this play go, outside of the Mike being out of position, is the defensive end (lined up over RT Ryan Roberts) rushing in the same gap as the blitzing LB. When you get two defenders in the same gap, you often see big plays happen (ex: FSU run defense).
*Side note: we saw Akers do a much better job (confidently) hitting the correct holes throughout the game. This is obviously very promising to see.
The second TD of the day was a James Blackman pass to Tamorrion Terry for 75 yards:
The thing that excites me about this play is the fun design. This is a Kendal Briles RPO at its finest. Terry is motioned into the box as if he will be a blocker. He pauses, before releasing flat behind the line of scrimmage. Blackman rides Akers, before pulling the ball out and dumping it off to Terry. A big shoutout, once again, to McKitty who throws a massive block to help break this play.
With the ride of Akers you see pursuit by the BSU linebacking corps, effectively taking them out of the play. A crash by the DE gives Blackman a pull read to throw it to Terry. The rest is simply a special talent like Terry making things happen. Also, Roberts hustles downfield and chips a couple Broncos, shielding them from Terry.
The third Florida State score was a Blackman pass to Gabe Nabers on the goal line:
This is another fun play-design by Briles. You’re looking at a slant-flat concept by Ontaria Wilson and Nabers. Wilson, running the slant, sets a pick that fortunately went uncalled. This “pick” frees Nabers to catch a well-placed ball by Blackman and walk in for the score. Putting Nabers in the “sniffer” position (see McKitty on the Akers TD), gives the illusion of run to the defense and puts the safety in the box (thus giving Wilson an angle for his “pick”). This play is a RPO, though, as Blackman gives Akers a ride and decides to pull because Curtis Weaver for Boise steps down inside taking away the run. Had 99 come up the field or stayed wide, Blackman would (should) have handed off.
*Note: FSU is quite lucky not to be called for a pick and/or having multiple OL in the endzone when the ball is thrown. These are things they need to tighten up, or they risk getting penalized for them.
Florida State’s final touchdown was a huge bomb to Keyshawn Helton:
This is the pure definition of a shot play. FSU utilizes 11 personnel (one RB/one TE) and goes max protection, as seven players are tasked with keeping Blackman on his feet. Akers and McKitty join the OL, which slides right, allowing the skill players to cover the left side. However, they don’t really do a great job. This is just a four-man rush from Boise, but the skill player “double-team” on the left allows the end a pretty simple entry, while LG Brady Scott just gets whipped, leaving C Baveon Johnson to stop the delayed blitzing linebacker.
The routes show Helton was the target from the snap. Blackman pump-fakes while looking at the single receiver on the field side, drawing in a safety. Helton runs a streak down the seam and easily beats Boise’s safety with his double-move. The other two receivers run pretty lazy looking routes (fairly normal for this sort of play) and don’t pass the first down marker.
This is what the Briles offense is supposed to be (other than the poor protection, despite the numerical advantage): snapping the ball very quickly and allowing your skill player to win in space.
Expect to see more of these plays - speedy skill guys like Helton being isolated in space, while the offense is running fast.
This play is sort of a microcosm of the first half: Boise’s front winning the battle in the trenches, while FSU manages to overcome it. The Seminoles were obviously somewhat lucky, but it’s also good execution to get the ball out and placed well downfield for a big time touchdown.
Here comes the ugly. FSU rushes three and drops eight, allowing a huge 3rd and 17 conversion to QB Hank Bachmeier and Boise State:
FSU looks to be in good shape here - opponent is stuck deep in their own territory on third and long with limited clock remaining in a one-score game. And then they messed up the end game.
The ’Noles drop eight, rushing just three and not getting any pressure at all against the six blockers of Boise. Cover 3 has three safeties defending deep thirds, with five underneath defenders. Distribution appears to be a scissors concept, with the #2 receiver running a corner route underneath the #1 receiver’s post, while the running back runs an out route.
The vertical and horizontal stretches work, and Bachmeier throws the corner, while two FSU players take the underneath out route.
This is bad. You can’t be getting beat by doubling an underneath route on 3rd and 17. This is poor situational awareness on top of bad defending.
The absolute ugliest. Two seniors, S Levonta Taylor and LB Dontavious Jackson slap the ball out of each others’ hands like two preschoolers in an angry game of pattycake on the playground after Hamsah Nasirildeen forced his second fumble of the contest:
FSU brings five, and Boise throws right behind the blitz to the running back on a wheel route. Jaiden Lars-Woodbey misses the tackle, but Nasirildeen gets a shoulder on the ball and pops it out.
Then all hell breaks loose. Jackson goes to scoop the ball, while Taylor slides to try to land on and cover the ball.
Neither succeed, and the ball goes through Jackson’s legs and straight into the Boise tight end’s arms. Not only does Boise recover the ball, but they get a fresh set of downs as they passed the first down marker.
Then Boise takes a lead they do not relinquish. This is the ugliest of the ugly.
The fun didn’t stop there. Cam Akers loses the ball in a key possession.
Man, this was a punch in the gut.
Florida State DT Marvin Wilson had just forced a sack-fumble on Boise, giving the ’Noles the ball in Boise territory.
FSU blocks up this run nicely out of 11 personnel, but the Broncos are running a cowboy blitz (corner blitz from boundary), and it disrupts the open space Akers seemingly had on the boundary. RG Dontae Lucas gets to the second level and blows the linebacker back, but in doing so, the backer awkwardly tackles Akers and manages to knock the ball out.
This is well blocked and well run, but Boise makes a nice play. You could feel the stadium deflate and see the players follow suit on the ensuing drive.
This moment was a major inflection point in the game. FSU had just gotten the ball after Harlon Barnett’s much-maligned defense got its third straight stop to start the second half, and the Seminole offense looked to get back to a three-score lead. Once Boise got the ball back, it promptly drove 69 yards and scored, bringing the lead down to one score. Brutal.
Shot play to Helton, part two: the bad version.
You saw FSU run this player earlier in the game for a big TD. However, BSU isn’t falling for it this time. Florida State is in basic max protection (seven staying in to block) and gives Blackman a nice pocket (The ’Noles were able to give Blackman a clean pocket on first and second down which is crucial for this offense).
Blackman thinks he sees one-on-one coverage like the last time he went to Helton deep on the double-move. However, Boise dropped a safety to the middle of the field this time, making sure to take away the deep shot. The Broncos are able to get bracket coverage on Helton, preventing him from getting open. Not a bad offensive play-call and not necessarily poorly executed; definitely a tip of the cap to Boise for choosing the right defense.
Our major beef on this play is Boise has six men in the box, so FSU should be running the ball into a short box (FSU has six blockers). Florida State commented that this was an RPO - which must be pre-snap read based, considering post-snap action. Blackman should have chosen the run pre-snap.
The pump-fake doesn’t pull the safety off, and Blackman appears to think he has this open. He somewhat does - the corner is beat by Helton, and Blackman is looking for the outside shoulder. Blackman could have taken the underneath ball, but he looked for the home run. Considering its success earlier, it’s not bad to take the shot, but you also need to take what the defense gives you.
FSU showed good, bad and ugly signs against BSU. Unfortunately, in the end, the latter two prevailed.