Thursday, December 19, 2013

The National Championship Preview: FSU Offense vs Auburn Defense

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Here are the predictions for the Special Teams
Here are the predictions for FSU Defense vs Auburn Offense

I figured I would get the word out on what I predict for the National Championship. Otherwise, it might go down like the Iron Bowl did. Between my birthday, fishing tournaments, and Thanksgiving, I ran out of time and didn't make a prediction. That's ok. I would have screwed it all up anyway, though I at least would have gotten the winner right.

Let's get going, show we. Let's discuss the teams, overall, and then move to FSU offense vs Auburn defense.

I have to say, the first place to start is with FSU. I think we are all impressed with Famous Jameis. I didn't quite buy him for Heisman, but that's ok. We will settle that in the follow up to my  first post: Best5Zach's Bones to Pick with 2013 College Football Awards.

To me, Florida State falls in the same boat as Ohio State. Who did they play? Look. I know everyone will point to the fact that they are indeed undefeated and didn't play a close game all year. I don't care about any of that. The fact is, the ACC is terrible. TERRIBLE. There are only two games on the schedule that I can give any credence to. The first is obvious the win at Clemson. Yes. They drilled Clemson. But, Clemson this year is the same Clemson we saw last year. And the year before. Not only will they loose one of their only big games, they will lay an absolute egg once a year. And it was against FSU. Again, I understand that they beat them 51-14 in Clemson. But, if I had 6 straight weeks of cupcakes before my first REAL game, I bet I could game plan a win too. I mean, look at their schedule for the first 6 weeks:

  • Pittsburgh(6-6)
  • Off
  • Nevada(4-8)
  • Bethune-Cookman(10-3) 
  • Boston College(7-5)
  • Maryland(7-5)
But. Ok. So they win big in "Death Valley". What about the other game I alluded to? Florida. Yes. I understand that Florida was the punching bag for the SEC (and everyone else, it seems). Yet, Florida still has a good defense which held them to their season low of 37 a stretch where they had scored 59, 59, and 80 points in respective weeks. I think it's worth pointing out that Jameis Winston and his starters were NOT out of the game after the first half, as everyone seems to think they had done for every single game. Yeah yeah. "ONLY 37 points" isn't a great line and I know that. But it does show that their production was cut in half simply playing an SEC-Caliber defense. And that Florida team has NO offense. None. 

I understand that it's hard to pick apart a team that doesn't seem to have any weakness. They are 1st in the nation for points against and 2nd in points for. That's tough. Double tough. But, again, statistics are as Mark Twain said: "There are lies. Damn lies. And statistics." To me, you can't know a single thing about a team until they have been through adversity. I said that same thing in my Stone Cold Pick of the Week of the YEAR in taking Michigan State over Ohio State. You don't know how to win until you lose. And you can't fight against adversity and come from behind if you've never been knocked on your rump. The only exception to this is, if this FSU team is the best the world has ever seen, and I don't think they are. 

FSU, behind Winston, has an extremely potent passing attack. The Heisman winner has 38 TDs and 3820 yards. That's incredible. He does have 10 picks, but I don't put much stock in that considering the pure volume of passes his has thrown. If had thrown multiple picks against Florida, I might say there was some leverage there that he struggles against good defense, but he only threw a single pick. 

Their running game is entirely complimentary though it may appear balanced on the surface. They have a back-by-committee system where they have 4 different players with over 70 carries and 400 combined carries for around 2500 yards. The TD total for the 4 is almost equal to the passing TD total that Winston has, making it appear that they might be balanced. Yet, it's worth noticing that many of these TDs spring from very long runs against inferior opponents. Just take a look at their lead rusher, Freeman. Of his 13 TD runs, 4 came from runs over 30 yards. Many of the rest came in times killing drives to put the game away. 

All I can say about this is, the Great Bear Bryant said: "There are three things that can happen when you throw the ball and 2 of them are bad." 

Since this is THE GAME, we will dedicate a post per phase of the game. 

Auburn's Defense vs FSU Offense
We all know Auburn gives up a ton of yards. To an extent, they give up a ton of points too. They give up 24 points per game and haven't shut out anyone. Not Western Carolina. Not even Florida Atlantic. They only kept two teams out of the endzone all year, Arkansas State and Western Carolina. Is that a concern? How could it not be. There doesn't even seem to be a rhyme or reason to it. Is it first half or second? Is it running or passing? It seems to be something different every week, whether it's a 4th quarter meltdown or a hemorrhage against the pass. Additionally, turnovers haven't been as plentiful as the year started out to look.

There is only one certainty in defense: when the game is on the line, the defense absolutely shuts a team down. Now, it may be a game winning drive or even a game winning play (as per UGA) that they stuff, but they manage to do it. It's the darnedest thing, really. Can't stop Manziel all game, yet you get two sacks in the last 2 minutes? Alabama's offense was clicking every single play in the second half but the defense manages to stop a 4th and 1? 

In my untrained eye, it seems that the defense has not played equally on all 3 levels. Different games have shown completely different gameplay for the 3 levels of defense that I can't explain. Did we think that James Franklin was going to throw for a lot of yards? Sure. But, receivers inexplicably found themselves wide open. Early in the year, it was reversed. The secondary played well while there was zero pass rush. LB play has been spotty at best, but they have played as well as expected when it mattered and atrocious at other times. I attribute a lot of this to the general youth of the program and the week in/week out preparation against good and versatile offenses in the SEC. 

FSU hasn't seen a defensive front like they will see against Auburn. While the stats aren't overwhelming in terms of sacks, hurries, and knockdowns, it was obvious down the stretch that offenses were scheming against the D-line by getting the ball out of the hands of the QB quickly, especially early in the game. The dink and dump passing game has been a huge area of concern early in games. Washington State was destroying the defense in the opener with the short pass game. Yet, for all the yards given up, the tactic didn't win any games because teams got down in score and had to open things up to come back, spelling their doom. Only Georgia's decision to throw short to Gurley or slants and skinny seams to slot receivers almost won the day in Jordan-Hare. I give Mike Bobo a ton of credit for his halftime adjustments in that game. Ultimately, they were down too much to kill the game. Also, the immaculate deflection didn't hurt. 

Where am I going with that? FSU will find success. I have no doubt that they will score points. However, they will not be able to stop the Auburn offense and will find themselves rapidly running less and less and throwing vertically more and more. Benjamin will come down with a lot of these balls. The difference is, for every 3rd and long that may for for a big completion, one won't and the ball will get handed back to the Auburn offense. If you sprinkle in a turnover or two, this game could swing way out to Auburn's favor. I still believe that Auburn's defense will give up points in every single quarter. The difference will be in the 4th quarter when Winston is running for his life and tossing bullets down field. All it will take is 2 or 3 of these to be errant and the game will be over. 

Do I see Auburn's defensive line dominating the game? No. Winston can run well and that does present a major problem. Auburn played 2 terrific dual threat QBs this year. Franking hurt Auburn with his running at times, but never broke the game open. Yet, he didn't take any huge sacks that truly hurt him. Manziel, on the other hand, took huge losses at times that ultimately spelled doom for TAMU. The question Winston will have to answer is, can he settle for sustaining drives and not breaking the game open? Will he know when to get down? Or will he try to live up to his billing and force his run game? I think he will find the endzone with his feet, but I do not see a Vince Young moment. I do see sacks, however. 

The LB play will be the biggest concern. Will they stay at home? If Winston can step up in the pocket and run, Auburn will lose this game. They do a credible job to sealing the outside well as it is. If the LBs get out of position as they have in the past against Murray, Auburn is in trouble. Additionally, if they cannot make tackles at the point of attack,  as they have shown many times this year, FSU's run game could run amuck. If McKinzy, in particular, can use this month to really understand the scheme of the passing game, Auburn will be fine.  

Another big concern will be the overall fitness of the two teams. Russell has proven to know exactly how to get kids in shape and keep them healthy. All you have to do is point to the relative lack of injuries experienced by this team. While I am certainly talking about keeping these kids in peak condition over the holidays, I also point out that FSU's starters haven't played a whole game yet. There is simply no shape like game shape. And how can this team, who admittedly hasn't played starters past the half but a handful of times, know about game shape and gutting it out in the 4th? To me, this is perhaps the biggest mismatch of the day and it isn't just FSU offense vs Auburn's defense. While I disagreed completely with playing Tre Mason into the last drive of the game in the SEC championship, he has proven that he can and will HAPPILY take 40++ carries. While I think Auburn wins this game is it sits, its hard to imagine that FSU could ever put the game away against Dismukes and Co with a backfield that can and will run all game long. 

Ok. So we aren't talking about the offense, right? How does this translate to defense? Well, Auburn's D-line has shined in the 4th quarter. Why? Because they are extremely deep and talented. FSU's offensive line will have to do something it hasn't done all a whole game. On the flip side of the line, Auburn will be doing exactly what it has done all year and proven to be quite good at: subbing regularly and coming on super strong in the 4th. 

Going back to what we were saying early about getting the ball out of Winston's hands early. The question will be, will they do it early and will they stick to it if they get down? My hunch tells me they will start out dink and dunking early. But when the Auburn offense scores on every drive, the throws will get longer and the desperation will get higher. 3 down turns to 10. Then 17. Then it rolls and rolls just like Missouri saw. Even worse will be if FSU comes out slinging early and gets shut down a few times in the first half. 

The line? After allowing 14 points per quarter for the first 2 quarters and 10 in the 3rd, Auburn shuts out FSU in the 4th to hold them to 38. In particular, the throws get deeper down the field and Winston has to sit in the pocket more. The fresh Auburn D-line takes over and makes FSU pay. 

FSU 38 Points. Auburn has 5 sacks and 1 turnover plus 2 turnovers on downs