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Whiteboard Wednesday: Q&A Style

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Let’s answer some questions!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Boise State v Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome Tomahawk Nation faithful, to our first ever scheme question and answer article. I (CoachAB) recently reached out to our writers and editors for any questions they may have about the football team (with an emphasis on X’s and O’s). They were kind enough to respond with a handful of well thought out questions.

The article will start with our answers to the editor questions and then it gets fun.

In the comment section we would like you, the reader, to ask any and all questions you have and we will answer them throughout the day. There are no dumb questions, no question will be ignored, and you get to pick our brains on everything FSU football related.


Florida State football scheme Q&A

How do you run the ball when your offensive line is outmatched vs their defensive line? - From ricobert1

Kevin: There are several methods to circumvent a porous offensive line. The first is to get more people at the point of attack. You can use unbalanced formations or pull blockers from one side of the line to the other. If you can scheme your way to a double team then you have a much better chance of holding the block.

The second most common is to try to avoid the defensive line. The easiest way to accomplish this is some form of misdirection like a counter or draw play. You can also try to race the defensive line to the sideline using some kind of jet sweep, toss play, or speed option. This mitigates the impact of the defensive line as a whole.

However, the best way to run into a superior defensive line is to not run into them at all. It might be the air raid in me but I think a bad offensive line is one to be avoided. A short passing game can be used in much the same way as a running game. It can suck up the defense and open up deeper routes later in the game with the added benefit of steering clear of the mess that awaits at the line of scrimmage.


If teams try to pepper with the quick passing game to try and make the D-line less effective, what are your best options if that is the case.../how many teams are capable of actually pulling it off? - From Saiem Gilani

Kevin: I’m lumping this in with my last answer since this is the best way (in my humble opinion) of avoiding your bad offensive line. Adding short passing plays into the playbook is easier than rebuilding a line from the ground up. Quarterbacks are usually only required to read one side of the field and even the worst quarterback can be accurate on these plays. You need to look no further than any Mike Leach team. He sets records with quarterbacks that can’t sniff an NFL roster. There’s no need to copy the complete system but short passing plays are ideal for making even mediocre quarterbacks look like superstars.


What does having a Marvin Wilson let you do on defense when defending RPO? - From ricobert1

CoachAB: The biggest thing a Marvin Wilson gives you is the ability to force a double team which opens up solo rushers everywhere else. This also means that your linebackers are staying cleaner in the run game and have more time to make their reads of run or pass. Cleaner reads for the linebackers allows them to sniff out some of these fancy RPOs. If you block Marv 1 on 1 then he is going to dominate your backfield.

The biggest thing about RPOs (as Nole fans know) is you have to be able to run the football with some success. If Marvin Wilson, or the other DL, are making plays in the backfield then you aren’t going to be threatening the LBs. If the LBs aren’t threatened then they aren’t coming downhill as quickly and leaving passing lanes open.


What are the best schematic ways (blitzes, alignments, etc) to take advantage of a strong interior rush? - From Trey Rowland

Jon: There are a couple main benefits of a strong interior rush right off the bat, even from a base schematic standpoint. Those guys can free up more defenders in coverage and still control the offensive line and produce hurries and sacks. They can give your edge rushers more one-on-one opportunities. A good interior pass rush can also hurry a QB’s timing and get him off his spot and uncomfortable where he’s more likely to make mistakes.

But to really answer the question, I think it all starts with blitzes. A strong defensive interior will command more attention by the opposing offensive line. A smart and creative defensive coordinator, especially one like Adam Fuller who loves to blitz, can use this to their advantage to create confusion and hopefully spring free rushers at the QB. Say, a double-A gap blitz to overload the OL right up the middle, or getting the OL to slide one way and either bringing a rusher from the opposite side where the OL doesn’t have the numbers or even getting the QB to slide right into a blitz. I’m also a big fan of stunts, such as an end/tackle stunt where the end loops around inside, especially on passing downs. It’s a little gamesmanship, but a really good strong DT can “hold” an OL’s arm to free up that lane without getting called. Boom, free rusher.


Turnovers are luck, but is it possible to schematically improve your luck? - From Perry Kostidakis

Juan: Distinguishing between the types of turnovers is important when trying to understand turnover luck. The way fumble luck happens is very different than how interception luck happens. Fumble luck is usually pretty close to 50%, but the location of where the fumble matters more - if it’s in the offensive backfield, usually there are far more offensive players close to the ball as opposed to downfield if a safety were to strip a fumble from a receiver. Interception luck is largely down to catching the ball - the samples tend to be small, but the national average of interception ratehovers around 23% of passes defended (pass break ups plus interceptions).

Let’s take a look at 2019 FSU. Defensively, they were unlucky in the pass game, only intercepting 13.5% of passes defended. Offensively, they were about average luck at 22.5% interceptions. On fumbles, FSU had average luck defensively, recovering 10 of 21 fumbles. The offense was actually fairly lucky, only losing 8 of 21 fumbles. On balance, the team had pretty average turnover luck - nothing one can complain about as being unlucky in any significant way.

To schematically improve turnover luck, let’s remember how they happen: on fumbles, you recover a higher percentage where you have more players. So in theory, you want to make sure your players are in areas where you have better numbers. In open space, that can be a crap shoot. Reducing the number of plays where you don’t have a number advantage in the run game is probably the only true schematic answer.

Norvell’s scheme (and virtually all modern college offenses) are designed to have numbers advantages in the run game, as has been seen in our scheme analysis series. In the pass game, it’s simply luck in terms of defenders catching the ball. 3-4 more interceptions is just such a small sample that would take FSU back to average luck, and I don’t believe there’s a schematic way to help defensively. On offense, throw to more open men, but that’s the goal anyway, right?


How will the new offense offer chances to showcase a rotating stable of talent, rather than a sole focus/reliance on 1-2 superstars? What are the two biggest noticeable changes we’re going to see on offense, scheme wise? What about defense? - From Perry Kostidakis

Juan: Relying on superstars is something FSU never wants to do, and that will extend to Norvell. While we all know Terry is the star of the FSU passing game, Norvell talks constantly about getting the ball in the hands of playmakers. Playmakers don’t have to be 6’4, 220 and run a 4.4 - a little shiftiness in the open field can make all the difference in gaining a few key yards.

The run blocking is going to look very different to FSU fans. Briles and Bell both were somewhat limited in the amount of concepts they displayed in the run game - partly due to offensive line talent, partly due to first year install issues. Norvell and Dillingham are going to mix in some more fold blocks and make blocks easier for the linemen by doing so. If it can be installed to be efficient remains to be seen.

Defensively, attack, attack, attack. That is what FSU will do under Adam Fuller.


Does better scheme win 1-3 more games last year? Is that even a question that can be answered? - From evenflow58

CoachAB: Fans are going to see drastic differences the first time the Noles take the field. It will be interesting to see how closely Norvell’s offense mirrors the things he did at Memphis. However, we’ve focused in previous Whiteboard Wednesdays about Norvells ability to adapt to his talent. The Seminoles lack a trigger man who can make quick decisions, has confidence, and has a short throwing motion. I’m not even going to talk about the offensive line.

So how will things differ? Well the first thing we will see is more pocket movement in the passing game. If fans could see my head explode every Saturday the last two years when Taggart and Briles refused to move the pocket. This season I expect plenty of bootleg, sprint outs, and movement RPOs.

Another change is OL blocking scheme flexibility. Our 4Verts series has already highlighted ways that Norvell used pullers and wrappers to gain angle advantages. Well I expect that to be the norm at FSU as they rebuild the talent pool in the OL room. This is big because suddenly you aren’t stuck running inside zone as your single running play. Expect a diverse run game that highlights the array of skill sets in the backfield and different blocking schemes that out the OL in winnable positions.


Norvell & Co have talked a lot about how they adjust their offense based off of their playmakers. Looking at his time at Memphis what do you think will be his staple plays in year 1 at FSU? - From evenflow58

Jon: Excellent question. From watching film with the other guys you really do see and get a feel for how Norvell & Co use their playmakers. It’s not just fitting what he asks of them to their specific talents — I kind of view that as a micro look at it. But on a macro level, with the play design and everything, he really does try to put players in the best position to succeed. Like CoachAB says above, I believe they will incorporate a lot of small things to help the big picture along, especially with the blocking angles of the offensive line. Everything will kind of flow from that, because the offense is really built on top of the running game.

Also like Coach said, I think you’ll see a diverse run game with multiple run concepts like some of the ones we’ve broken down in our Whiteboard Wednesdays, not exclusively inside zone. So for that reason I can’t narrow it down to just a few. As for pass plays, I don’t think Norvell’s offense will change significantly. One pass concept that pairs really well with the bootlegs Coach mentioned above is Flood. Roll the QB out — and the pocket with him, which gives the QB more time — and have three pass concepts to that side of the field, one deep, one intermediate, and one shallow. I think we can also expect a fair share of Smash, which is a two receiver hi-lo. In other words, lots of vertical stretches which should give the QB easier reads, but still allows the offense the opportunities to be explosive.


Have a question of your own? Drop it in the comments and let’s talk about it!