Thursday, December 26, 2013

The National Championship Preview: FSU Defense VS Auburn Offense

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I think everyone in the country is eyeing this particular match up as the most important one on the field. In particular, the Auburn offensive line vs the FSU front seven. ESPN and the spinning heads have all said the same thing about the FSU defense. They are built like an SEC team. Yet, there is that critical word "like." That's because they aren't an SEC team and they aren't SEC level. Now, the talent is SEC caliber, I don't think it takes a genius to see that Fisher has recruited extremely well. Overall, the defense leads the nation in points against. I understand that it's hard to argue against those stats. But, I take a look at the majority of the teams played and they are all bottom 3rd of FBS teams, with the exception of Miami, Clemson, and Duke. Yet, all of those teams have one thing in common, they are ACC teams. ACC teams score. A lot. And usually through the air. But, again, the defense dominated each of those contests with the exception of one game. And in that game, they played a very good running team in Boston College, whom put up 34 points, which is the most points put on them all season.

A closer look at this game shows that Andre Williams, perhaps the closest thing FSU faced like Tre Mason, ran for 150 yards with a 5.3 yard average. It's worth noting that his long run was 30 yards and he didn't score. Yet, what it did do was allow Rettig to take advantage of play-action and throw for 4 TDs.  It's worth noting that he did also throw two INTs, one of which went for 6. All the same, it's hard to ignore the fact that BC was the best rushing team that FSU faced. And that offense found success on the ground and then through the air behind a marginal, at best, quarter back who, aside from this game, had thrown just 13 TDs and 5 picks. Ironically, the numbers for Marshall are almost identical with his identical to Rettig 144 QBR , slightly less than Rettig 1600 yards, 12 TDs and 5 INTs. Yet, Marshall has another dimension that Rettig does not, the ability to run. And Marshall has done that to the tune of 1,000 yards and 11 TDs.

So, it's an adequate situation to compare to, except that Auburn is a better team in all phases of the game at this point. While we pointed out that Rettig has slightly better numbers than Marshall, it's worth noting that Marshall has NOT thrown picks down the stretch. He throws when he has to and he has been absolutely LETHAL when he does throw.

Going back to the talking heads, a lot has been made of the fact that Auburn runs a lot. Because they run so much, the notion that they CAN'T throw has become accepted. And yet, in clutch games down the stretch, starting with Georgia and ending with Missouri, he was the following:

  • Against Georgia: 15/26 for 229 yards and 1 TD, 8.8 yards per completion
  • Against Bama: 11/16 for 99 yards and 2 TDs, 6.1 yards per completion
  • Against Missouri: 9/11 for 132 yards and 1 TD, 12 yards per completion
Now, even going back to games against ranked opponents:
  • Against TAMU: 11/23 for 236 and 2 TDs, 10.3 yards per completion
  • Against Ole Miss: 11/17 for 93 yards, no TDs, 5.5 yards per completion
  • Against LSU: 17/33 for 224 yards, no TDS and 2 INTs, 6.8 yards per completion
In summary, he has 6 TDs and 2 INTs against ranked opponents. Now, I am not one for making excuses for Marshall, but if you take the monsoon game at LSU where he was playing his first ranked opponent, away from home, and from behind the whole game, you have 6 TDs and No INTs against ranked opponents. That's solid numbers no matter how you slice it. That doesn't take into consideration his ability to score on the ground, which he used to take over games with Tre Mason down the stretch. 

So, where am I going with this? I think Mason will get his, and so does everyone else. Florida State will almost undoubtedly find themselves in a situation where they must throw to win. They will find success, as we stated, but it won't be a TD every series and there will be turnovers. Additionally, they will be playing against a clock because the Auburn offense will churn up both yards and time on the ground. The FSU defense will find themselves sticking extra men in the box to stop the run, forcing their secondary to either give up a lot of underneath passes or play close coverage at the line of scrimmage. Both of these can and will be an advantage to Auburn. 

If the secondary, which is a good group of players, has to play back in order to see the run game develop, they will give up the underneath routes to a group of Auburn receivers who can make players miss in the open field, Louis in particular. #5 is extremely good after the catch and better at the short game than down the field, where he has dropped several balls. 

On the flip side, if the secondary plays close coverage up on the line of scrimmage, they will have their backs turned to the run game as it develops. That would make Marshall absolutely lethal to escape the pocket. It also gives Auburn some additional ability to get Grant in the screen game or hit Mason out of the backfield or give him lots of looks with the delay-draw.  

Additionally, if the corners have to play man-on, it forces a serious match-up problem with Uzomah, if he is healthy. Either FSU has to cover him with a safety, going man-on all the receivers, which benefits Coates tremendously. Or they have to bring in an extra secondary player to go Dime or Nickle, both help the Auburn ground game or finally. Lastly, cover Uzomah with a line backer. Any and all of these help Auburn, though the real question is, will FSU force Auburn to throw the ball. I think they have to, to the point of blatantly leaving receivers uncovered. 

So, again, the sentiment is: Can Marshall throw to beat an elite team? I think they can and for 1 very large reason. Marshall, week to week, has grown from a liability player to a tremendous threat. Earlier in the year, you cringed when he threw the ball. In many ways, I wanted to see him tuck it and run instead of making tight throws. As the year went on, specifically after the bye week, that sentiment all but disappeared. Running the ball is almost infinitely safer than throwing it. Malzahn is a very smart coach and he knows this. If the run is there, even if it's 3 yards here, 5 yards there, it's a game winning formula. Let's keep in mind, Auburn has had some explosive plays from Grant, but Mason and his 1600 yards have not come in 60 yard chunks. He has picked them up in methodical 5 yard spurts followed by 1st down running gashes of 10-15 yards. 

My prediction is simple: FSU will go overboard to stop the run, placing their secondary to play man-on. Mason will score 2 TDs and run for 150 yards on 25-30 carries. Grant gets in the mix for one long play, though the buck sweep will be a play FSU will be looking for. He will get a critical first down running the ball and also do some damage catching the ball from the backfield/short slot. 

With the month long break, Marshall will have become even better at reading the defense and executing his offense. Specifically, knowing what to throw in specific coverage (which we mentioned above). Marshall won't have to throw 30 times to do it, but he will put up his first big 300 yard game with 3 TDs in the air and 2 TDs on the ground. He get's 1 TD on a short pass to Louis, 1 to Coates on play action, and 1 to Grant on a screen. The big question is, will he hold on to the ball? The guy has lost a ton of handles on the ball. Can they get it fixed? I think he gives one away, but it won't matter. It will just tick him off.

While everyone cares about the stats, the real matchup is the Auburn offensive line vs FSU defensive line. Though they are built "like" and SEC line, they aren't nearly as deep. They will have to play the whole game against an Auburn offensive line who features a future NFL center in Dismukes and possible first rounder in Greg Robinson. Dismukes is a hard nosed mean player. They have not seen anyone who wants to pound other people like he does. All of Auburn's opponents have said the same thing about this line, they are as talented as anyone, but they are in better shape than any team out there. They are playing a defense that hasn't had to play a full game. FSU will get tired and will have let down plays that will ultimately turn the game in 4th quarter. By then, Auburn will be picking and choosing how to score.

Auburn scores 7 TDs on offense