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Whiteboard Review: Florida State’s emerging screen game is making Seminoles’ offense even more explosive

FSU leaning on opponents by maximizing their chances to win.

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Our whiteboard session today starts with a quick rundown of two terms that are becoming more common among football fans — success rate and EPA.

Success rate is the percentage of plays that are successful (gaining the necessary yardage to stay ahead of the sticks). A play is successful when it gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down. Analytics has exploded in recent years, and we now have access to success rates for different types of plays. Further, net success rate (your success rate minus the success rate allowed for your opponent) appears to be highly correlated to winning percentage.

EPA, or expected points added, assigns a value to each play based on whether it increases or decreases the offense’s probability to score. Field position matters — drives that start on the opponents’ 40-yard line typically result in points more often than drives that start at your own 25, allowing us to ascertain the EPA for specific plays. It’s more than just “big play good, negative play bad” although that’s not wrong. This plays into all kinds of strategy, including 4th down decision-making, as you can compare the EPA for things like punts, field goal attempts, and 4th down attempts. In the end, it’s more than just “big play good, negative play bad” — it’s about maximizing your chances to win.

So what does all of this have to do with Florida State and their dominant win over Wake Forest?

Well, FSU has spent time and effort in the last several weeks marrying their most successful pass plays this season — targeting the running backs out of the backfield — with their least successful pass type — screens — and made their offense more efficient and more explosive.

This is FSU after the Virginia Tech game:

and FSU after the comeback win at home over the Duke Blue Devils:

FSU has targeted running backs and tight ends noticeably more overall. The success rate of screen passes has increased from 39 percent to 48 percent, and the EPA on screens has gone from -0.45 to -0.12.

Against Wake, FSU made even more progress. Before garbage time the ’Noles ran two screen plays to running backs for 103 yards and a TD. Per gameonpaper.com, these two plays had EPA of 1.27 and 6.11.

Here’s the first one, to Rodney Hill early in the 2nd quarter for 23 yards from an offset pistol formation out of 12 personnel.

2ndQ - Screen to Rodney Hill for 23

FSU opens their drive with good field position following an amazing kickoff return by Deuce Spann, which gave FSU a starting projected 2.59 EPA, then followed it with a great screen call on 1st and 10. The Seminoles, as they have often this year, use counter run action going the opposite way of the play for their blocking scheme.

The ’Noles pull the RG and HB to the backside while the RT moves up into open space and gets a piece of the playside ‘backer. One neat wrinkle is FSU not asking the playside receiver, Kentron Poitier, to block, and the corner sees Jordan Travis on a naked bootleg. Travis easily slips it to Hill who presses the LOS and then rumbles down the sideline for 23 yards.

Not that this has anything to do with the premise of this article, but I love that on the very next play FSU lines up in the exact same formation (but with Trey Benson at tailback) and and runs outside zone (OZ) for five. That’s the stuff. On the next play, Travis threw to Keon Coleman in the flat who easily shed his defender and raced into the end zone:

On Florida State’s next 1st and 10 they run another screen, this time to Benson for 80 yards and a TD. With field position starting on the 20-yard line FSU has an expected points for the drive of 0.89.

2ndQ - Screen to Benson for 80yd TD

Here, they get good blocks from Poitier on the linebacker, as well as from LG Casey Roddick and OC Maurice Smith in open space down the field. FSU also effectively fakes a bubble screen to Keon Coleman as they bring TE Kyle Morlock across on jet motion:

One thing that has noticeably improved in recent weeks is the blocking in open space from everyone. Jaheim Bell, in particular, has ramped up his blocking the last two games, but the offensive line has also improved in its cohesiveness, especially in open space.

As for other notes, this was Travis’ best game in a while. He was extremely accurate down field, and he ran when necessary. The offense was fairly dominant from the start, while the defense was exceptional. The communication in the secondary has been much improved in recent weeks, and they’ve been sticky in man coverage and disruptive at the catch. I’d expect it to continue, as the Pittsburgh Panthers’ offense is currently 127th in EPA, while their defense is marginally better at 82nd.