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Whiteboard Preview: How FSU can tailor its offense to Tate Rodemaker

Noles take on the Gators in regular season finale

North Alabama v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

There is no replacing Jordan Travis, from his skill set to his athleticism to his leadership to his experience.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t still win, and the Florida State Seminoles (11-0, 8-0 ACC) will need to find a way to do just that in the next two games against the Florida Gators and the No. 10 Louisville Cardinals if they’re going to win the ACC and reach the College Football Playoff.

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the adjustments FSU made to tailor the offense to Rodemaker, as well as some additional hypothetical things that might fit Rodemaker’s game to minimize his weaknesses and maximize his strengths to finish these next two games 2-0.

First, let’s take a quick look at Rodemaker: FSU lists him as 6’4” and 196 lbs. He plays with good, technically sound mechanics which leads to accurate throws, especially down the field. He plays with a nice wide base and does a good job squaring his shoulders to the target, showing the ability to speed up his delivery and to slightly change his arm angle to get a pass out, but still throw it accurately. He possesses good arm strength for the position. He does a good job keeping his eyes downfield when pressured, even when looking to scramble. Rodemaker seems most comfortable when he’s able to drop back in rhythm and throw down the field.

There’s a small but particularly relevant precedent at FSU for this situation — we only have to go back to last season’s game on the road vs Louisville. Travis was injured late in the second quarter and in stepped Tate Rodemaker who, like he did on Saturday night against the North Alabama Lions, led a comeback win.

With Travis as the signal caller last season FSU ran lots of unbalanced formations — such as trips receivers to one side with a nub end on the other, and other 2x2 and 3x1 spread formations with receivers (and hybrid players like Lawrance Toafili) lined up out wide.

But on Florida State’s first drive of the second half against Louisville, however, they debuted a new look — Pistol-I, specifically out of 12 personnel with two inline tight ends. What did they do out of this formation? Ran a play-action pass on a bang 8 seam/post route for 22 yards to his favorite target Johnny Wilson.

2022 Louisville - 3rdQ Rodemaker pass from Pistol-I

The right tackle comes across the formation as Rodemaker fakes the handoff, giving the pass protection eye candy as a running play. But Rodemaker pulls the ball and hits the skinny post for a huge gain. It didn’t hurt that the safety was coming on a blitz that vacated the area, and Tate does a great job getting the ball out on time and accurately.

And for Florida State’s coaches, getting the ball out of Rodemaker’s hands on time will be the key. Because as we pointed out in our X-Factor matchups for the Duke game, Travis was elite at avoiding the high rate of pressure FSU’s OL gives up this season while Rodemaker tends to take a lot of sacks.

In short, Travis often covered up issues with FSU’s pass protection and with Rodemaker under center, those flaws will likely be more pronounced. Against North Alabama, Rodemaker took two sacks, a sack rate of at least 8 percent. It’s not because Rodemaker is a statue — in fact, he possesses a decent set of wheels and he’s not afraid to use them.

Based on what FSU fans are used to seeing, you’ll notice he’s not quite as elusive as and his pocket presence isn’t quite as good as Travis’. But it’s also because Rodemaker can tend to hold the ball. His inexperience shows as he takes a noticeable beat or two longer than Travis to process the defense and deliver the throw.

Florida State set up and hit several of these shot plays for Rodemaker against Louisville last season, most often paired with play action and with the run-blocking pass protection schemes we’re used to seeing. Against Louisville they often really only asked Rodemaker to read half the field — usually the shorter boundary, which doesn't tax your QB as heavily as reading the full field or asking him to throw to the far side of the field.

The Pistol-I, something FSU has used for the majority of their formations this season, really fits Norvell’s philosophy. It allows you to blend a “pro-style” aka downhill running attack with spread formations and plays. It allows you to be multiple and as was pointed out on the broadcast of the game lots of the Seminoles’ plays can look exactly the same, until they don’t. I think the fact FSU has used it a ton this season will make the transition to Rodemaker smoother than it might have otherwise been.

When you put all of those things together, the Pistol-I is also great for running RPOs and packaged plays. It’s all very fluid these days, but the main differences between the two concepts is when the quarterback makes his decision. It’s not how it’s commonly understood or used, but in the strictest old-school technical sense, an RPO is when the QB makes his decision pre-snap, and in a packaged play it’s post-snap. None of that is really important — what’s important is how they function, and how FSU can use them to simplify things for Rodemaker and get the ball out of his hands quickly.

In one example of an RPO, it can be simplified down to the quarterback counting the number of defenders in the box. How an offense lines up in their formation and personnel can stress a defense, making them choose whether to have plus-one to say a trips receiver side, or plus-one in the box to defend the run.

Whichever the defense chooses, the quarterback knows pre-snap where he’s going with the ball, which is to where the offense has better numbers. If you have a QB who is a threat to run, you can change the numbers even further in your favor.

In a packaged play, you can combine two or three different concepts (or more) into a single play. To make it more confusing, packaged plays can ask a quarterback to make a series of decisions, some pre-snap and some post-snap. A good example of a packaged play would be what is often confused as an RPO — a play where a single defender is put into conflict.

Should the defender, say a linebacker, stay home in the hook/curl zone, the QB can hand the ball off. Should the linebacker come up against the run the QB can pull the ball and throw into the vacated zone. Another example is the more modern spread “triple-option” football, such as one that starts with a run concept where the QB can read a defender and either hand it off or pull the ball. Once the QB pulls the ball, they can either run with it or throw it to a receiver, such as a screen or even a common pass concept such as Stick.

These types of plays, including utilizing and throwing out of heavy formations as well as throwing on early downs, are all things that can help out a young quarterback. To be fair, FSU has run these concepts in the last several seasons, including with Tate.

Lastly, let’s look at Rodemaker against North Alabama on Saturday. The lack of competition makes it more difficult to truly gauge his development, but we can still make some inferences. Rodemaker entered the game with 1:33 left in the first quarter. On FSU’s second drive they came out in a 3x1 formation. Rodemaker drops back, reads the trips side, decides he doesn’t like it, climbs the pocket and comes back to the boundary and hits Johnny Wilson for a first down. Rodemaker did not make full field reads last year, but he did consistently against UNA. This was also the first time he consistently seemed comfortable enough to climb the pocket. He clearly loves and trusts Wilson as a target.

Let’s look at another example below, late in the 2nd quarter.

2ndQ - 1st&10 Mirrored Switch Verticals

FSU is running a mirrored switch verticals concept. UNA is in what looks like quarters coverage. Rodemaker reads the defense and hits Jaheim Bell in the hole. It’s pretty bad spacing by the defense, but Tate delivers an accurate throw on time to a wide open Bell, who picks up a lot of extra yardage. It’s a huge explosive chunk play with one minute before halftime that gets FSU into the red zone.

Immediately following this play FSU runs tempo and runs the exact same play. However, while some players have a step on their defender and are calling for the ball Tate hesitates and doesn’t feel comfortable challenging those tighter windows. He doesn’t climb the pocket and instead scrambles into pressure and is lucky to throw it away (though he does throw it away instead of taking a sack). Toafili runs it in for a touchdown on the very next play to put the ’Noles up 23-13 and FSU never looked back.

None of this is to say that FSU can’t or doesn’t or shouldn’t trust Tate Rodemaker. FSU fans should find some comfort in the fact that Tate appears to have developed and improved his game a tremendous amount since he was a freshman, and in potentially critical ways since last season. Perhaps he has full command of the offense and only needs an opportunity to show it.

It is only to say that Travis was excellent at avoiding negative plays, and you’re likely to suffer more negative plays without Travis, regardless of who replaces him. Those kinds of negative plays can kill drives or lead to turnovers, which kill your chances to win games. FSU has proven itself the better and more talented team than both UF and Louisville, but the margin for error has gotten smaller.

An undefeated regular season, a conference championship, and a playoff berth are all at stake in these next two games. Utilizing QB-friendly ways to limit negative plays can help FSU keep the margin and get into the playoff.