December 23, 2013

FSU not worried about Auburn's running attack

Auburn's offense is one of the most dynamic in college football - despite focusing heavily on the running game. But Florida State's defense isn't worried.

Defensive end Mario Edwards said the idea that Auburn's offense is so diverse it doesn't have tendencies was "overhyped."

"Everybody had tendencies whether they pick it up or not or notice it or not," Edwards said. "I'm not going to say exactly what their tendencies are but we've picked them up."

On paper at least, Auburn presents challenges not faced by FSU since the early part of the season. The Tigers combine a physical running game and varied packages with a Clemson-esque tempo and spread system. Auburn has more rushing yards than anyone in the country this season, averages 6.46 yards per carry, and rips off 52 carries per game. Both Tre Mason and Nick Marshal have more than 1,000 yards on the ground this season, and Marshal has also shown an ability to throw it over the top if teams sell out to stop the run.

"They do a lot of trickery stuff," senior Christian Jones said. "They remind us of Clemson a lot. They like to do a lot of motion just to see, just to get us out of whack with our eyes. Right now we're doing a good job of slowing this whole process down and taking it step by step. That's what you have to do when you play a team like this. One of those teams that like to go fast, that like to throw different stuff at you just to throw you out of whack."

Such a multifacted offense will require FSU to be disciplined. That was something of a challenge for Florida State against Boston College and Pittsburgh early in the season, but since Edwards returned healthy and Jones moved to his defensive end-linebacker hybrid position, FSU has drastically bettered its run defense.

In the first four games of the season, FSU gave up 151.5 yards per game on the ground, including 200 to Boston College. Since, teams have averaged just 92.7 yards rushing.

Edwards attributed that improvement to the confusion that Jones' move causes. Jones' ability to play defensive end or linebacker frequently throws offenses off-balance. Edwards said he's seen offenses mislabel the Seminole defense.

"In certain calls they might call it certain calls, mike this or mike that and not knowing that just because he's standing up he's actually playing end or something like that," Edwards said. "Most people don't understand that. They get confused sometimes. They'll make the wrong mike calls and he'll come underneath like he did in the Wake Forest game when he came off the edge."

Jones' productivity, combined with Edwards' return to the defensive line, has completed FSU's run defense. Edwards and Jones have combined for 14 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback hurries, 4.5 sacks, and 71 tackles. Against Clemson, the closest comparison to Auburn's style of offense, Jones had eight tackles, two of them for loss, in the blowout win in Death Valley.

Whether that will be enough to stop the best rushing attack in the country remains to be seen, but Edwards said the experience of playing teams like Clemson and Boston College who have tried similar things to what Auburn will do in Pasadena has FSU well-prepared. He said he's well acquainted with a defensive end's responsibilities against the option, no sweat.

"You're going against an option team you have to read your keys," Edwards said. "If something goes down you sit and you read. You read if the QB keeps it you've got the QB. If the quarterback gives it then you have to drop off and make the play."

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