November 14, 2013

Breaking down the dream game: FSU O v. Bama D

With the events of the past week on the football field, it's time for some hypothetical fun. This week, the Film Study crew takes an introductory look at how Alabama's defense stacks against Florida State's offense. Before the resumes are complete for 2013, and before we get too in-depth about a matchup that isn't in stone just yet, we mix and match stats with examples of (admittedly few) vulnerabilities for both the 'Noles and the Tide.

Strength: FSU offense

It's no secret that the Seminoles greatest strength on offense has been Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman continues to impress and raise expectations with his play each week. What is most impressive about Winston is how efficient he has been this early in his career.

While the Wake Forest game caused Winston's gaudy numbers to take a slight dip, he still compares favorably to some of the nation's best upperclassmen in similar offenses. On third down, Winston is completing 70.5 percent of his passes with a rating of 194.71. It is better than both Zach Mettenberger of LSU and Aaron Murray of Georgia. Alabama's A.J. McCarron posts a slightly higher completion percentage at 71.4, but has a much lower rating at 146.36. Winston has improved FSU's overall third down conversion rate from 42 percent last year to 52 percent this year.

Even more impressive than Winston's incredible efficiency overall on third downs is what he has done specifically during third and long situations. Jameis has completed 10 of his 11 passes in these moments, for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's good for a rating of 305.17.

In case you're still not bored by the "greatness of Jameis", it's also fun to take a look at what he has done during the very limited amount of time his team has trailed this season. When trailing, Winston is an astonishing 16-of-18 for 272 yards for four touchdowns and zero interceptions. That gives Jameis a rating of 337.8 when trailing in a football game. These numbers certainly seem to support the claim that Winston is crazy competitive.

Weakness: Alabama defense

The Tide's defense is putting up great stats again this season, but they have not looked as dominant when playing ranked opponents. While Bama managed to contain Mettenberger in its meeting with LSU (16-23 241 yards 1 td), the Tide did not fare as well in its rematch with Johnny Manziel.

It did not matter if they brought pressure, played zone or man. The Tide had no answer for Manziel for the second straight season. While some of Manziel's success in this game was a result of his Houdini-esque playmaking ability, he made throws that only a few other guys in the country can make (and one of them is in Tallahassee). Let's take a look at what Manziel was able to do against Alabama.

On third and nine from his own five yard-line, Manziel survey's the Bama defense. He reads the press-man coverage on the outside on Mike Evans, as well as HaHa Clinton-Dix creeping up towards the line of scrimmage, with both linebackers showing blitz.

With Clinton-Dix responsible for the running back, Manziel looks off the other safety Vinny Sunseri, then fires a strike to Evans who beats his man off the line of scrimmage for a 95-yard touchdown.

It should be noted that Manziel is the exception, not the rule when it comes to quarterback play against Alabama. Still, the Tide's secondary is not as talented as it has been in previous seasons and are clearly susceptible to getting beat by physical receivers when playing press coverage. Perhaps it's a favorable matchup for Winston and Kelvin Benjamin to look at, should a game between Florida State and Alabama take place down the road.

Strength: Alabama defense

Unlike any program in recent history, the Crimson Tide has been elite at forcing opponents into a one-dimensional attack. Save for the Texas A&M outlier, explained above, Alabama's defense has done just that again in 2013. Against seven of nine opponents in 2013, the Tide have held either the opposition's passing game or running game under 100 total yards for 60 minutes. In the case of Kentucky, Alabama held both facets of the offense under the century mark.

Take the latest game with LSU as an example. Though Mettenberger and the Tigers threw for 241 yards (unadjusted for sacks), LSU gained just 43 yards on the ground on 31 rushes. Factor out Mettenberger's sack totals (sack yardages are accounted for in rushing yards) and the numbers are still impressive: 27 attempts, 74 yards.

What does that type of defensive success do for an entire team? First of all, it allows the second and third level defenders to key on one facet of the game, creating greater probability for stops. That's translated into the Crimson tide holding the ball for more than 33 minutes of possession time in six of nine games this season.

One-dimensional play also allows for situational success. Consider this numbers in key situations: Alabama is a top-15 defense in the nation in third-down defense, allowing a success rate of just 32.5% in those situations. But most staggering is its success in the red zone. Opponents have reached the red zone just 17 times this year against the Tide, that's tied for the nation's best mark with Michigan State and four clear of the third best team. When the opposition has reached the red zone, it has scored just eight touchdowns and 11 scores overall.

Weakness: Florida State offense

Admittedly, much like finding a weakness in the 'Bama defense, there's some prying necessary to find a true weakness in the Florida State offense. That said, the trend of the last two games raises one concern for Jimbo Fisher's unit: Patience from the quarterback.

Teams tried blitzing Winston. And when it failed initially, they tried to blitz again. And once it failed with both zone and man pressure techniques, coordinators finally got wise. The best way to contain Winston's stats is to contain the coverage. Seven and eight defender drops have been increasingly normal for Seminole opponents, and while it hasn't kept the 'Noles from lighting up the scoreboard overall, it certainly has tested the patience of the quarterback to turn to his right or left and check the ball down.

Here's an examples of success against an overzealous Winston.

Though Miami bluffs a five-man pressure before the snap, it drops seven into coverage, including a shading safety over the top. Even for a third-and-seven situation, the linebacker gives too much cushion to the releasing Devonta Freeman, who has a clear path for a checkdown catch and conversion for a first down.

Instead of firing it out wide, Winston goes vertical off his back foot and throws an interception on an unforced error.

Again, keep in mind that Freeman ended up being the team's leading receiver for the game in a 41-14 victory. But against elite schemes and a formidable opponent, even one mistake could be magnified exponentially in the biggest game of the year.

Why this is a dream game

Alabama likes to force teams into one-dimension. Florida State is as balanced as any team in the country, and a team that can win either on the ground or in the air.

The Crimson Tide has only been gashed by a superstar quarterback. The Seminoles have one of the few.

Florida State has only shown issues when teams mix coverages and keep things in front of them. Alabama is masterful at disguise and scheming specifically to an opponents weakness.

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