The Florida State Seminoles defeated the Florida Gators 24-15 to finish undefeated in the regular season (man that felt good to say).
The Gators had a good gameplan and executed it well early. The Gators’ defense sold out coming downhill, trying blow up the run game and/or FSU quarterback Tate Rodemaker. It is concerning that FSU’s offense did not muster more than a paltry 4.0 yards per play against one of the worst defenses in the country.
On offense, the Gators wanted to play keep-away and shorten the game. FSU only ran three plays the entire first quarter and by the time they got their second possession early in the second quarter the Gators had already run 26 plays.
UF also bought time running a different scheme (more tailored to Brown) than anything they had run all season with Graham Mertz. They repeatedly utilized jet motion, split zone, and split zone bluff early and often (they ran a lot of the same plays over and over), and mixed in other motion and blocking schemes to really mess with the Seminole defense’s eye discipline.
One benefit of jet motion is it can attract defenders’ eyes and pull them laterally out of their gaps because they don’t want to get outflanked to the edge by a player already running full speed at the snap.
As we’ve covered before, split zone is a zone run where the backside defensive end is left unblocked by the OL, but is blocked by an H-back or tight end coming back across from the front side of the formation. It’s a straightforward running play.
In split zone bluff the QB is running a zone read, reading the unblocked DE. If the DE stays wide the QB hands the ball off and it works like a split zone run. If the DE crashes down in toward the RB, the H-back/TE coming across still physically gets in the way for a second as he fakes going in to block the DE (hence the bluff), but instead turns into a lead blocker for the QB who pulls the ball. The offense has outflanked the defense and has numbers, taking a defender out of the play without using a blocker to do it. Jared Verse blew this up multiple times.
Jet motion/sweep and split zone bluff is a particularly effect combination because the motion of a player coming across the formation looks very similar but three different players can end up with the ball going in different directions. Then in the second quarter UF started adding pass concepts on top of it. Florida’s RB walked in untouched for their only TD of the game off of busted defense due to these combined concepts. One “counter” concept to this they ran in the second half saw them pair jet motion with zone read and Brown read Patrick Payton for a keeper, picking up another third down conversion.
The main suckers of all that eye candy were FSU’s linebackers who were largely awful in both coverage and their run fits, especially early. By the second quarter the ‘backers were guessing which gap the play was going to go or who had the ball. A lot of that got cleaned up even before halftime, and the Gators mustered only 3 points early in the second half.
Florida State’s defensive line was absolutely dominant all night. There’s not much more to say other than they were fantastic as a group, even down the two deep. Verse, Payton, and Braden Fiske were of course the big standouts. Credit to UF QB Max Brown, who took a bunch of hits but often stood tall and made some tip-your-cap NFL throws.
FSU’s starting safeties played well with Akeem Dent being particularly spectacular. There was one fun play in the second quarter where Fuller feinted a blitz from Shyheim Brown from the boundary (which we’ve seen a hundred times this season) and then sent Dent from the field side instead. Brown didn’t see it and UF was lucky the pass wasn’t picked. Jarrian Jones was also excellent.
Let’s quickly run through what went wrong early for Florida State on offense and then how they adjusted/responded. It’s worth noting that Keon Coleman did not play well, and the offensive line was again disappointing to poor.
FSU’s first drive: Ends in a 3&out, poor execution from numerous players. All ugly everything.
1st down Kyle Morlock whiffs on a block on jet sweep give to Jaheim Bell, still a decent gain. On 2nd down Trey Benson loses his mind and 12 yards for no reason. On 3rd and 17 it’s a screen that had room but both Johnny Wilson and Keiondre Jones whiff on their blocks. Gross.
FSU’s second drive: Another 3&out. Six total plays and zero execution from everyone, but only one of those is on Tate so far.
They run an unbalanced trips formations very similar to what we covered last week when we talked about Tate’s game against Louisville in 2022 — in fact, we saw quite a few of these spread formations all night. After a false start it’s a screen to Benson in the flat but Lawrance Toafili whiffs his block and it’s nearly a pick-six/backwards pass fumble. 2nd down run to Benson gets nothing. 3rd and 15 FSU smartly rolls the pocket giving Tate plenty of time but he’s late on the comeback route to Wilson and it’s incomplete.
FSU’s third drive: One first down then a 3&out. Rodemaker is late with a throw on a potentially explosive play.
Quick screen to Wilson who picks his way for 12, two good blocks by OL and two from WRs. Next play Toafili makes a horrible read/cut based on defender’s leverage on Morlock’s block, — had plenty of space wide but gets cute and then taken down for two-yard gain instead.
2nd down and FSU has a wrinkle with Keon Coleman lined up in the backfield — it’s a rail route that FSU likes with running backs and it’s open immediately where Keon would have one defender between him and the end zone but Tate takes forever to throw it, giving defender time to close and it’s nearly picked. One thing Rodemaker doesn’t do is speed up his mechanics to get the ball out when he recognizes something open. Almost too deliberate. FSU runs this play again in the second half which ends in a Rodemaker sack.
3rd and 8 is a fade down the sideline incomplete to Johnny. Good defense, but Wilson is 6’7 and shouldn’t be letting a defender squeeze him out like that.
FSU’s fourth drive: Ends in a safety. Feels like a meltdown down 12-0. FSU not doing a good job avoiding negative plays. Lots of poor effort by multiple players on offense at this point. Doesn’t feel like Rodemaker is being given a chance to succeed.
1st down, Spacing route concept to Wilson for decent gain, Tate gets ball out on time. They would run that again in the 4th quarter on a critical 3rd down in the red zone. 2nd down another unbalanced trips/nub formation, Keon gives no effort blocking and the defender runs right by him and takes Benson down for loss of four. Really aggravating. 3rd and 7 UF sends the house, one more than FSU can block, plus multiple OL get beaten quickly. Impossible to tell if Tate held the ball too long or could have gotten rid of it but he eats it for a safety. An example of how much FSU misses Jordan Travis’ ability to evade rush and extend plays and/or get the ball out quickly.
Also want to add on that UF tried to take a kill shot on their ensuing possession, built off their earlier stuff with the end around reverse flea-flicker that Fiske and Joshua Farmer blow up that draws intentional grounding.
FSU’s fifth drive: Well executed textbook 90-yard four-minute drill for a touchdown right before halftime to put FSU back in it. Winning the first half of the Middle-8. From here on out we won’t cover every play.
Finally, here we go. FSU opens this drive with a fun wrinkle in the run game that we haven’t seen before this season, CY Counter, which goes for 15.
The wrinkle is they line up Bell as an inline TE and pull him, and center Maurice Smith. Smith takes the unblocked defensive end. Bell takes the apex defensive back lined up over Keon (in the slot). Regardless of who Bell was asked to block, this is asking a lot from your tight end to come around from a long ways away and Bell delivers. Keon again doesn’t give great effort on his initial block to the same slot defender, but Bell gets him. Keon then turns around and makes a much better block on the safety. Darius Washington and D’Mitri Emmanuel combo block the DT and then Washington climbs to the second level and gets a great block on the backside linebacker and Benson’s got a lane.
Next play FSU runs the slowest-developing screen play I’ve ever seen, but a UF player is ejected for turning on the spray setting and FSU gets another 1st down.
Two plays later Rodemaker finally shows what he can do through the air, and it’s arguably the first real opportunity he’s given with the playcalling.
FSU runs trips to the field again. Trips side is running Dagger with clearout by Coleman in the slot and a dig route by Wilson, plus an option route by the #2 receiver Ja’Khi Douglas. On the other side Bell lines up in-line to the boundary side and runs a post. Keon’s clearout pulls the playside safety out of the area. If the safety had stayed home Keon would have walked in for a touchdown.
Two plays later FSU is feeling it and runs GT Counter, pulling Washington and Emmanuel and Toafili gains 16. A few plays later Tate shows good anticipation on the sideline throw to Wilson where they rolled the pocket. A couple plays after that Benson punches it in.
Rodemaker and FSU also executed a great drive out of halftime to take the lead, capped off by a 36-yard run by Benson for his second TD of the game. FSU won the Middle 8 minutes of this game. Late in the fourth Benson put the dagger in with another long TD run.
Tate Rodemaker — Thoughts and Observations
Right off the bat, his inexperience with operating the offense. There were at least five times Rodemaker did not get the snap off in time, four of which resulted in delay of game penalties. I would imagine that will get cleaned up this week in practice. It is the minimum expected of a quarterback, though to be fair to him the Swamp is a tough place to play.
I didn’t think the early playcalling did him any favors. Lots of runs and screens basically took the ball out of his hands. Was it because the coaches didn’t trust him, or was it just the gameplan because of matchup reasons? It might be the latter, but it’s hard to know. FSU burned four drives and nearly the entire first half before they opened up the offense. At the same time, from our review above we can see that besides the operational issues none of the offense’s problems in the first half were really attributable to Rodemaker.
Tate is clearly more comfortable and more accurate operating in the middle of the field with in-breaking routes such as slants, posts, and digs, as well as curls, than he is with routes outside the numbers and/or out-breaking routes such as comebacks, outs, flags/corners, etc. He is comfortable operating a quick game under 10 yards and also deeper route concepts 15-plus yards down the field. He again routinely made full field reads and on a couple occasions appeared to look off defenders who were trying to read his eyes.
Rodemaker still took too long on some throws. One thing I haven’t seen Rodemaker do yet is noticeably speed up his process or his mechanics. He plays quarterback in what feels like a deliberate way. When Rodemaker throws in rhythm, by that I mean when he hits the top of his drop and gets the ball out, he looks good! He is capable of quickly reading the defense and distributing the ball. Those times when he hits the top of his drop and he doesn’t release it is where he gets into trouble. Sometimes it seems like he’s then unsure of what to do. Still, he did a good job reading the defense pre and post snap and generally found the open man. He clearly favors Johnny Wilson and there were a couple times Keon Coleman was open but Tate did not look his way.
FSU did a good job rolling the pocket, especially on third downs where the defense was likely to blitz. Rodemaker is capable of being a threat on the ground but we didn’t see it until the fourth quarter, where he almost suffered a concussion that could have knocked him out for an extended period. I would imagine FSU is likely to run him again vs. Louisville. The questions for the ACC title game are the same — can Rodemaker avoid the negative plays? Can the offensive line give him a chance? If the answers are yes, FSU should be punching their ticket to the playoff.