Although the final score didn’t quite reflect it, the Florida State Seminoles controlled nearly the entire game vs the Miami Hurricanes. Outside of some opening drives and the 20th-36th plays from scrimmage, FSU dominated the ‘Canes in expected points per play. The ’Noles biggest efficiency advantage came from the respective differences in the two teams’ passing games. Jordan Travis was reasonably efficient throughout, while Miami’s true freshman QB Emory Williams was just 8/23, although he hit a couple explosive plays.
Florida State had a sound gameplan on defense. They blitzed early and often, both to pressure the young quarterback and as run blitzes, and in several situations they used bracket coverage on the dynamic Xavier Restrepo.
Restrepo, who two weeks ago was two catches away from being the leading receiver in the ACC, was held to zero receptions for the first time this season.
We saw an example of this bracket coverage on Miami’s very first play from scrimmage.
Miami is backed all the way up to their own goal line, thanks to another beastly Alex Mastromanno punt (kid has been a weapon this year). This is a shot play all the way as Miami goes max protect and tries to hit the post to Colbie Young, while Restrepo runs the crosser underneath. But the ’Noles have tight bracket coverage on both Restrepo and Young and the ball falls incomplete deep. On Restrepo, Jarrian Jones takes the underneath coverage while Akeem Dent stays over the top. Shyheim Brown and Renardo Green blanket Young.
Typically bracket coverage will be just that — bracketing a receiver with two defenders to take them out of the game. You do that with one player underneath and the other over the top, or have one defender take outside leverage on the receiver while the other takes the inside leverage.
Since the bye week Florida State’s secondary has communicated much better, and they’re much stickier in man coverage. They also play with consistently good leverage, but need to tackle much better in open space.
A lot of the fun in this game came from FSU’s blitz packages. You’ve seen FSU run the Buck or Bandit safety on a delayed/timed blitz from the third level numerous times in recent weeks, and they did it numerous times in this game, as well, with Brown and Dent. It was very effective as a means to both blitz the passer and stop the run.
You also remember Kalen DeLoach’s incredible blitz from the slot against Clemson that was instrumental to winning that game. DeLoach would have another big game against Miami.
Let’s look at two early blitzes against Miami. The first came on a 3rd and 8 in the 1st Quarter.
Miami is running a mesh concept here with the tight end and the boundary receiver. Restrepo follows the TE from the slot. FSU does a great job disguising their blitz, as in the end they send six and Miami has six in protection, as the RB stays in to block — but DeLoach is untouched as he comes through the middle and sacks Williams.
The key is Jared Verse, who’s lined up as the Fox standing up on the field side. Miami thinks he’s rushing the passer because it’s 3rd & 8, and he’s Jared Verse, so why wouldn’t he? What happens instead is Verse trails the tight end in coverage. He has no chance of keeping up through the wash of bodies as Miami tries to create the pick, but Williams doesn’t stay upright long enough to deliver the ball. Miami’s offensive line is slow to recognize Verse dropping as Braden Fiske bull rushes between the left tackle and left guard, and the LG doesn’t slide. Since both the LT and LG take Fiske, while Brown occupies the running back on the edge, and Miami’s center takes FSU’s other DT, there’s no one left to pick up DeLoach, who knifes through. The sack makes 4th down a greater than 50-yard field goal which Miami’s kicker misses.
Early in the second quarter it’s a similar down and distance: 3rd & 9. This time Fuller calls Cover 2 Man.
But FSU also runs two stunts up front with both edges and defensive tackles switching places. The tight end initially stays in to block, but then peels off into the flat — DJ Lundy isn’t fooled and is right on him. Miami’s QB isn’t aggressive enough to test any of the coverage, but does recognize FSU is running man and decides to take off and try his luck on the ground. What he doesn’t recognize is DeLoach keying on the running back on a Green Dog blitz. Once DeLoach recognizes the back is staying in to block (he chips Fiske on the edge) he gets the “green light” and rushes the passer. He does a great job eyeing Williams through the wash and swiftly tackles him for his second sack. It’s at least partially a coverage sack, though as a very young, raw player, Williams understandably didn’t read progressions in this game.
On Miami’s ensuing drive FSU displayed terrible run fits, allowing running back Donald Chaney to break explosive runs of 26 and 29 yards and Miami would eventually score.
On the first run, FSU linebacker Tatum Bethune jumps way out of his gap to the inside expecting Chaney to run it there. But Chaney sees Bethune and cuts it outside to the boundary and there’s no one there to tackle him. FSU let its edge players pin their ears back in rushing the passer all game, instead of trying to keep the young signal-caller in the pocket. But they often rushed too far upfield and took themselves out of the play. When you do that and it’s a run play you lose an edge-setting defender.
On Chaney’s second explosive run, the ’Noles again blitz the Buck (boundary safety) from the third level, which is Shyheim Brown here. FSU has gotten pretty good at timing the snap on these.
But Miami executes a split zone run, meaning the tight end comes across the formation to the right to take on the unblocked defensive end on the boundary, in this case Byron Turner. All other lineman block flowing left and the run is designed to go that way. The tight end comes across to protect from defenders on the backside of the play. But because FSU is also blitzing Shyheim, what initially looks like two free rushers at the running back turns ugly quickly. The tight end comes across and walls off Brown, instead, which leaves Turner too wide to do anything about Chaney, essentially negating both defenders. Bethune attacks his gap farther inside, but it’s now between two offensive lineman and he’s turned into a non-factor, as well. Chaney cuts it back inside the tight end’s block and to the outside and there’s no one there, giving Chaney his longest run this season. Conrad Hussey chases him down from the back side safety spot, but not before Miami ends up with a 1st and Goal.
Miami has a very good offensive line, but most of their big runs were due to poor fits from Florida State. Aside from a field goal on Miami’s opening drive of the second half aided by a 20-yard run by Mark Fletcher on the very first play of the third quarter (after an unsuccessful onside kick), the only points the ‘Canes could muster the rest of the way were on the fluky 85-yard touchdown pass to Jacolby George midway through the 4th quarter. It’s no coincidence — after Fletcher’s explosive run on that first play, Miami’s running backs were held to just 13 yards on 13 carries. The running game and their screen game were Miami’s best bets to move the ball in this game. Without their running game in the second half Miami went 3 and out on four of eight possessions.
The aforementioned touchdown pass was poorly played by Kevin Knowles, who’s playing out of position at safety. But it was in part poorly played because the ball was very underthrown by Williams — had the throw been better Knowles likely would’ve broken it up at the very least. As it was, the timing was off, and a bang-bang play happened to go Miami’s way.
That was the biggest play of the game. But the most important/most impactful play of the game was Trey Benson’s 38-yard touchdown run with a little over five minutes left in the 3rd quarter that gave FSU back the lead. The ’Noles were on the verge of breaking explosive plays all game, and eventually it transpired. FSU entered the end zone a couple drives later to go up 27-13, and Miami never truly threatened to win the game, as FSU never dropped below a 96 percent win probability in the second half.