October 7, 2012

Tape Review: The key mistakes that cost FSU

In order to finally relinquish a 16-0 halftime lead in the waning moments of Saturday's loss, Florida State had to do its part in helping advance the North Carolina State rally. Sure, the Wolfpack made plays when it counted most. But given the talent disparity on the field, there had to be more to a 17-16 loss than just the home team making adjustments. Let's take a look at four key moments of Saturday's second half, and what went wrong for Florida State.

What went wrong

There's no question the easy chair to be in is that of the person who points out errors with the benefit of hindsight. Simply put though, Florida State cost itself in a big way after the second straight week of errant situational football.

Manuel's third quarter interception

With time running out in the third quarter, Florida State was ahead 16-3 and knocking on the door for more points. Facing a 3rd-and-10 from the Wolfpack 33, the call was for a quick slant throw from EJ Manuel to receiver Rodney Smith. One aspect of the play comes in question here: is the design calling for no read and a throw to Smith no matter what? After the snap, Manuel seemed intent on where he was going with the football.

Regardless if the answer is the design was for Smith only, or if it's up to Manuel, the receiver must establish inside position against his defender on a slant. Once leverage is lost, bad things become the likelihood. The lack of execution on this play not only took potential points off the board for FSU, it galvanized the Wolfpack for a productive fourth quarter.

Manuel sack on 3rd-and-2

The interception at the end of the third quarter was a textbook "what's the only thing you can't do" mistake. On a fourth-quarter drive which Florida State treated very carefully by taking a pair of timeouts - good moves at the time, the 'Noles were systematically moving the ball - it was take two of a critical situational gaffe for the offense.

It was 3rd-and-2 from well inside scoring range, and three points would be good enough. Coach Jimbo Fisher called for a play-action bootleg, one that was doomed from the snap. (Side note: I called the play a levels concept route-wise in the Warchant Sunday Breakdown Show. That was incorrect. Everyone but the receiver stayed in to sell the play action.)

As you can see in the snapshot above, N.C. State had this call sniffed out from the start. As Manuel turns to run, he immediately sees three rushers right in his face. But then, what was already a failed play turned into the big mistake of the night. Instead of throwing the ball away, Manuel turns desperately to the other side of the field, only to meet another free rusher. The subsequent loss - a sack of 15 yards - took Florida State far enough back for the coaching staff to elect to punt instead of try a 51-yard field goal.

Although a lot goes wrong with this play, this mistake ultimately belongs to Manuel and not Fisher's play call. The argument can be made that a simple dive play is the way to go here. A related argument can also be made that this play put Manuel - and the entire offense - in a greater position of vulnerability. However, the coach has to be able to trust his quarterback to know the outs if any play goes wrong. Ask this maddening question: even if the play fails and Manuel is sacked at the 29 or the 30, does Cason Beatty still come in to pin the 'Pack deep? Bottom line: the level of disastrous outcome which occurred is not reasonable to consider when calling the play.

And fair enough, if the next thought that comes to mind is why not just try the 51-yard field goal, that's certainly a valid question too.

The blocked punt

It's two weeks in a row now that FSU has been victimized by a blocked punt. Two weeks in a row that the blocker has come right up the middle to get to Beatty as well. This time, the missed assignment falls on tight end Kevin Haplea, who missed his rusher. There's no real need for a lengthy explanation here, just a simple (but lethal) breakdown. What was going to be a gut-check, length-of-the-field drive for the Wolfpack turned into just a 43-yard task.

Fourth and goal, Glennon to Underwood

Despite 29-plus minutes of disaster, Florida State had one last chance to limp out of the second half in Carter-Finley undefeated. On fourth and goal from the three, the Wolfpack lined up with three receivers, a tight end and one back in the shotgun. Quarterback Mike Glennon faced a three-man rush as Bjoern Werner flexed out into the flat to follow the tailback, while three targets to Glennon's right (tight end and two receivers) all either ran in-routes or slants across the middle.

It's impossible to know for certain which defender missed his assignment here, so instead of naming one player incorrectly, we'll describe who went where. Linebacker Christian Jones follows the tight end to the back of the end zone in what looks to be a man-principle. Linebacker Telvin Smith accounted for the flat to Glennon's right. Nickel back Tyler Hunter followed the slotted receiver on his route, which initially broke outside the seam, then back inward. Safety Lamarcus Joyner occupied the back middle portion of the end zone, while corner Nick Waisome occupied the deep corner of the end zone to the field side. Finally, safety Terrence Brooks was guarding the goal line in the short-side slot.

All that said, the one spot unguarded was the front portion of the end zone right in front of the tackle box. Bryan Underwood came wide open, and Glennon made the simple throw.

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