How to handle FSU's defense


The 20th-ranked Coastal Division champs couldn't do it. No. 7 and then-undefeated Miami couldn't do it. Heck, even No. 3 Clemson couldn't muster more than two touchdowns against Florida State's defense.

Will No. 2 Auburn?

Maybe -- if it follows the Boston College blueprint.

One thing Auburn and Boston College had in common this season was their ability to run the ball. Several offensive coordinators throughout the ACC agreed that Auburn's offensive line will be the best Florida State has seen all season. On the flip side, Florida State enters the VIZIO BCS National Championship ranked first in the country in scoring defense (10.7 points per game), No. 3 in total defense (268.5 yards per game), and No. 14 in rushing defense (116.5 yards per game). Only Boston College was able to score more than two touchdowns against Florida State. It wasn't as if coordinators throughout the ACC weren't prepared -- just as Auburn will be tomorrow. It was simply that the Seminoles made fewer mistakes and executed their game plan with elite athletes.

"If you can't run the ball on them, then they don't have to put an extra safety in the box and then it becomes more difficult to throw the ball," said Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day. "They're so deep, they can roll a lot of guys and stay fresh. They're really talented all across the board, so you can get yourself off schedule if you can't run the football on them on first and second down, and you get yourself into third-and-long, third-and-medium, and it becomes an uphill battle."

Day, who also coached against FSU when former coordinator Mark Stoops was leading the defense, said the Seminoles' new scheme under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has several more fronts, different spacing and is "a little more intricate." With Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams leading the way (28 carries for 149 yards), the Eagles came oh-so-close to FSU's only upset of the season before falling 48-34. They ran the ball well, used misdirection, threw to the tailback and took advantage of some undisciplined reads to create some explosive plays. And, of course, their ability to run the ball allowed Day to take some shots with the play-action pass.

Of course, he'd like one more shot at the Noles -- this time with one big change (listen up, Auburn):

"Don't lose the game on third down," Day said. "Run the ball or check the ball down. Punt the ball, play the next series, but don't lose the game on offense trying to throw the ball on third down, third-and-long. If you get yourself off schedule, take your medicine and go play the next series. Because once you get into a situation like that against Florida State, where you're dropping back and trying to throw it, you get yourself in trouble."

Just ask Clemson. Or NC State. Or Pitt. Or Miami.

Miami offensive coordinator James Coley knew Florida State's defense would reload this season, in spite of losing every starter on the defensive line and a total of 11 NFL draft picks from the entire 2012 roster. As Florida State's former offensive coordinator, Coley witnessed the talent waiting in the wings at the Seminoles' practices in 2012.


They're really talented all across the board, so you can get yourself off schedule if you can't run the football on them on first and second down, and you get yourself into third-and-long, third-and-medium, and it becomes an uphill battle.

" -- Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day

"When I was there last year, you watched [defensive tackle] Eddie Goldman practice, and you'd say to yourself, Oh my god, this guy is going to be so good," Coley said. "The younger guys were just as talented or even more so than the guys who were drafted."

Florida State proved him right in a 41-14 win over Miami on Nov. 2 in Tallahassee -- Miami's first loss of the season.

While scouting FSU's defense in preparation for his game, Coley said he noticed that Florida State switched from a 3-4 defense at the beginning of the season to more of a 4-2-nickel scheme by midseason, which allowed standout defensive back Lamarcus Joyner to flourish.

"If you go 3-4, he's just a cornerback," Coley said. "If you go 4-2-nickel, now you have him as the SAM nickel to the field and he's orchestrating everything. ... Lamarcus Joyner is taking up most of the ground. I think Clemson was preparing for a 3-4, and they did the hokey doke and switched to that nickel, TCU's defense. That scheme really utilizes the personnel they have because you want Lamarcus Joyner in all the action."

Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said he also noticed Florida State's ability to change schemes -- midgame. Rudolph said the Noles went from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in the season opener. FSU held Pitt to just 96 rushing yards and two third-down conversions.

"Scheme-wise they present you with problems when they are able to kind of line up in a traditional four-down defense and then they can shift with the same personnel into a three-down defense, a 3-4 look," Rudolph said. "That can [pose] problems. They're not afraid to man up in their personnel on the outside and load the box and force your hand and challenge your formations, especially when you're using a tight end and fullback, or two-tight-end sets."

Rudolph added: "We hit them on some things that we kind of challenged what they were doing a little bit; there was some good back and forth, but there's a difference between just being athletic and being good football players, and they have a good combination. They're very athletic, they can run, guys can tackle, they can get off blocks and make plays. You don't patronize someone by saying he's a really good athlete. They're good football players. In a game like that, you have to play exceptionally clean. You have to put yourself in the absolute best position to be successful."

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris thought he did that -- then the Tigers turned it over on the first play of the game.

It was just the start of Clemson's offense coming undone in a shockingly lopsided 51-14 home loss. Mario Edwards Jr. scooped up Tajh Boyd's fumble and ran it back for a touchdown, helping the Noles to a 17-0 lead just 12 minutes into the game. Morris said the only thing his offense could have done differently that game would have been to eliminate the four turnovers.

"We didn't help the cause and they got in a situation when they were up on us to where they could just sit back and say, 'Hey look, you're not going to beat us with a big play,' and let their guys up front go to work," Morris said.

It wasn't as if the ACC coordinators didn't do their homework.

"We had prepared for all of it," Rudolph said.

So did NC State. Didn't help. The Pack lost 49-17.

"You play a team -- even a highly successful defense -- and there's normally an area you want to try and go attack against that team, and they really don't have that glaring weakness," said NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada. "They are a very sound defense. You go in knowing it's going to be a challenging day. You're going to try and run the plays you feel go against their scheme the best, you're going to hope the ball bounces your way a little bit. Obviously for a lot of people, not just us, that didn't occur."

Auburn will take the last shot at a different result.