Third-and-Lang: On Florida State's improved offense, read option
That was a nice bye-week experience, wasn’t it?
Florida State went on break on a high note with a convincing road win -- just the second in 14 tries for the program -- and is in line to have a nice bit of momentum heading up to a suddenly fallible Clemson in 10 days.
That is, if Mike Norvell’s Seminoles are mature enough to handle business on Saturday against UMass.
In this week’s Third-and-Lang, we look at some of the key plays in Florida State’s win over North Carolina, discuss the read-option renaissance for Jordan Travis, and preview the heavy hitters to come in the season’s second half.
Let’s get right to the plays.
Course materials: This week's video
Kudos to the ACC for making the whole FSU-North Carolina game available on its official YouTube channel. They do this for some games without an obvious pattern, but we appreciate the look this week.
3rd-and-8, 15:00 2Q (18:52 mark of the video)
This play will get lost in the shuffle, but it was absolutely critical to setting the tone for Florida State’s 35-7 scoring run. It signaled that the Seminoles were going to stick to the run throughout the day (and it also said that this was probably two-down territory). This is a read-option sell job by Jordan Travis but, based upon the movement of the blockers, probably a called run for Jashaun Corbin all the way.
*Left guard Dillan Gibbons pulls around to the right. Tight end Jordan Wilson follows, after a pre-snap motion brings him in from the bottom of the shot to the left shoulder of tackle Darius Washington.
*Down-blocks from Washington, center Maurice Smith and right guard Baveon Johnson wall off the left side of the line, while right tackle Robert Scott swings around for a key block on a second-level defender. Gibbons and Wilson take care of the right side.
*Notice the block by receiver Kentron Poitier. After he sells a slant, he engages the cornerback downfield. Detail-sound from Poitier and the rest of the offense. First down.
3rd-and-Goal, 10:35 2Q (23:44 mark of the video)
As far as routes go, this is an all-or-nothing moment for Malik McClain. He is the *only* Seminole to release into a route on the rollout side of this play (Ontaria Wilson is off screen to the bottom).
*Notice the red circle first. Count the defenders (10), and you’ll see why McClain is the go-to guy.
*Mike Norvell dials up an eight-man, sliding protection to the right. Maybe there is an alert for Travis to run the play to the left if the Tar Heels shaded more defenders toward McClain than Wilson, but once the 1-on-1 is isolated, that’s where the ball will go.
*McClain is given outside leverage, releases cleanly and executes a sharp route. A pivotal catch from the freshman puts Florida State on the board. It had to be a significant confidence booster for the young wideout to make the play when, quite literally, McClain knows it's all on him to get the job done on third-and-goal.
1st-and-10, 8:47 2Q (30:24 of the video)
This is where the zone-read starts to take hold and Travis heads toward the executive car service, or however our Ira Schoffel likes to say it.
(Editor's Note: Strait to the Limo, Tom. Straight to the Limo. -- Ira)
*The linebacker circled in Tar Heel blue is the read defender -- who Travis is watching to see if he should keep the ball or hand it off to Jashaun Corbin. As the defender crashes at No. 0, Travis keeps the ball.
*We all love 2-for-1 specials, but how about a 3-for-1? Guard Dillan Gibbons combo-blocks at the line, climbs to the second level to pick up another block on a linebacker, and drives the Tar Heel back far enough that a member of the secondary trips over his teammate’s feet. Gibbons parts half the sea for a house call and is on his way to an ACC Lineman of the Week award.
*Nice pull and block from Camm McDonald (yellow line) at the second level takes care of the side opposite Gibbons’ work.
*Triple-option alert: Travis also has a wide-open throw that may have also scored. Look at the red elements and you will notice a receiver screen to the bottom of the field. The circled defender is absolutely frozen by the zone-read action, leaving Wilson and Helton in a 2-on-1 bubble situation. For what it’s worth, Wilson won his block well enough that if Travis passed to Helton, this play likely scores (and the throw is definitely a part of this play). True burn-the-tape sequence here for North Carolina’s defensive coaches.
On the zone-read and other observations
One of the keys to the read-option/zone-read -- not to be confused with RPO -- being successful was that Jordan Travis routinely carried out the fake at full speed. Travis mostly gave the football to his backs in the early going, but if the play was anything but a designed handoff, he sprinted up the field to carry out the fake .
This little detail helps sow seeds of doubt in a defender's mind, even if the defender makes the right decision on a given play. Simultaneously, I think it has the benefit of slowing the game down for Travis, as he can test his speed against that of the defense with little risk of a big hit. Once Travis calibrated the moving pieces on the field, he executed the option like a chess master.
*The read-option and constant motion from the offensive line wreaked havoc on the Tar Heels' eyes. On the long touchdown pass to Wilson, a rollout plus pulling blockers Gibbons and McDonald sucked the linebackers to the play side (right), while a screen look to the left drew a safety up toward the line of scrimmage. Wilson's post-route enters the space vacated by North Carolina's safety for an easy score.
*Tackle Robert Scott looked as mobile as he's been since the start of the season. We'll see how he performs in pass-protection the next few weeks, but the way Scott moved around in Chapel Hill, it makes sense that this week's depth chart flipped him back to left tackle.
*Effort and consistency from the wide receivers in the blocking game continues to be a positive part of the offense's identity.
*Though the defensive interior -- specifically Fabian Lovett -- performed well, production from the pass-rush has dipped a bit since its hot start. A surge from Jermaine Johnson, Keir Thomas and others in the second half will be critical to keep the winning ways going.
Contact director of original content Tom Lang at Tom@warchant.com and follow him on twitter @_TomLang.