Two weeks in a row we've talked defensive line; starting with the LSU big boys against the Oregon blocking scheme followed by Auburn's glaring need to defeat blocks and make a play. This week we're off the line and we're also out of the SEC. The biggest game of the weekend draws this guy's eyes as we look into the most important match up when the Florida State Seminoles play host to the Oklahoma Sooners.
Last years game saw the seventeenth ranked Noles crushed 47-17 by the tenth ranked Sooners in Norman. It was an ugly football game on both sides of the ball for Florida State as they posted just 14 first downs and gave up 487 yards of offense Bob Stoops' team. OU made it all look easy. Everything they wanted was there as Landry Jones piled up the yards hitting open receiver after open receiver. Tight ends, running backs, wide outs all got involved in the party as the Crimson and Cream machine embarrassed Florida State. That carnage was very real.
So here we sit a year later and the Noles are fifth in the nation welcoming the Sooners into their house, a Sooners team that has embraced their number one status. There are plenty of things that Florida State has to do right to have a chance to win this ball game in the end; execute on offense, get big play out of special teams, get pressure on Landry Jones and plenty more. However, the biggest match up to watch this weekend will be the one Oklahoma exploited a year ago, Florida State's back seven attempting to cover OU's pass catchers.
In watching last year's game we can see the laundry list of things that Florida State did wrong against the Sooners, both pre and post-snap. Missed alignments by the eleven young men on the field set the Seminoles up for failure as it is tough to handle your defensive responsibilities when the unit cannot even get lined up correctly.
After the snap the fun really starts, here's a quick run down of their issues in the backend:
Poor Pursuit Angles
Failing To Carry Players In Zones
Bad Use Of Positioning
Allowing Receivers To Get On Top Of Them In Zones
Failing To Read The Quarterback
Getting Lost In The Backfield
Missed Assignments In Coverage
Poor Route Recognition
A lot has to change this year for Noles to be successful in this contest against OU. Let's run down what they'll have to do to put themselves in a position to win.
This year the Noles are in the seventeenth game of the Mark Stoops era. They've got two springs and two fall camps under their belts and a ton of snaps played in his coverage schemes. Repititions are the most critical element to kids learning what they're supposed to be doing. Film helps tremendously. Chalk talk and classroom sessions have a great effect on a player understanding concepts. However, reps, live reps, are the cornerstone of a player making the leap from "knowing what to do" to "doing what they're supposed to do."
First step for the Seminoles is getting line up right. The pace of the game got them out of their wits and when you lose composure and line up in the wrong spots that's a recipe for uncovered receivers, two defenders covering one zone and holes all over the place. This weekend Mark Stoops must get those calls in early and the Seminoles have to make sure they are at their pre-snap landmarks prior to Landry Jones setting up under center or in the shotgun.
You can't disguise a coverage or a blitz if you're not in your proper spot to begin with so the first bugaboo that must be remedied is pre-snap alignment. If a team has their pre-snap setup correctly and is comfortable with responsibilities pre-snap they are afforded the luxury of walking up to disguise coverage, mugging linebackers to show different fronts before backing off into coverage or blitzing from depth. Confusion created through disguises will be a benefit that Florida State was not afforded in 2010.
In watching the game from a year ago the next issues come with Florida State getting to their zones in coverage. Part of zone coverage is gaining depth in relation to the quarterback and what receivers are doing all in conjunction with the zone for which the player is responsible. It is a lot to process and in game two with rapid fire live action the Noles struggled mightily here. For the secondary it is always pass first, drops start on the snap and continue until run is diagnosed. At the linebacking level run is the prime directive until a pass is diagnosed and then drops are taken.
Florida State has to not only get depth in their drops but mirror the quarterback this year to put themselves in position to make plays. If Landry Jones has his shoulders tilted left the defenders need to weave their zones to the defenses right. If Jones stops his drop at three steps the defenders should start to settle as they track receivers through the quarterback. When Jones drops deeper, defenders have to continue to get depth.
Another improvement to look for out of Florida State is how they play receivers and the quarterback. The kids aren't just dropping back willy nilly to their landmarks. They have football going on in front of them and while their mark might be the top of the numbers or splitting the hashmarks the fact is both the quarterback or receivers are going to be the determinant in where the defenders play from.
Zone coverage isn't playing an area it is playing the receivers who are or can be in your area. No one is protecting the hook to curl or curl to flat for the hell of it, they're protecting it because the tight end might settle in the hook or the wide receiver might curl up for an intermediate reception or a back will release into the flat.
In short Florida State is going ot have to carry the receivers in their zone. Not allow free run throughs, rather making sure they are talking and communicating about crossers and potential threats. Safeties cannot let receivers get on top of them when they're covering the deep halves, thirds or quarters of the field. If he's even, he's leaving is the phrase for that occurrence and when a player gets on top of a deep defender the quarterback might as well hold his hands up for six because it is next to impossible for a safety to open his hips and keep up with a receiver and his 15-20 yard headstart.
Basically this game is all about Florida State's back end and how they've grown from last year. Not experiencing the dreaded paralysis through analysiswhich crippled them a season ago is crucial to giving them a shot to win. Getting lined up is the first job but after the ball is snapped the real fun begins. This Noles defense must get their drops right, then see receivers through the football to put themselves in a position to make plays.
Making up 30 points is a tall task, however, the boys in Tallahassee will have a better showing on offense which should keep OU's potent point scoring unit off the field. They also will get some help from a pass rush that really started to grow together as last season progressed. The weight of this game is heavy for Jimbo Fisher's team, the back seven in particular, but they don't have to carry it alone.