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Florida State is a pretty difficult team to decipher. They unexplainably have come out most of the season very flat in the first half before exploding in the second half to give us performances that resemble the dominant 2013 National Championship team. Due to those differing performances in halves, it's really tough to find patterns and consistent outcomes from their showings. The one consistency is they are very vulnerable in the first half, and they are very dominant in the second half.
I went back and keyed in on the film from the Florida State - Florida game last weekend. The Seminoles started like they have many times this year - early turnovers and an early deficit. FSU did a great job at limiting the deficit last week by forcing field goals despite the Gators having a very short field to work with.
Early Jameis Winston turnovers:
After getting bailed out of a three-and-out to start the drive due to a roughing the kicker penalty on UF, Winston and the FSU offense set up on the first play with running back Mario Pender wide left.
Winston gets pressured from his right and looks directly left the entire play. As the UF pass rusher gets closer, he forces in a throw that Jabari Gorman is easily able to read. Winston still had a window, but he led his running back too far, and the Gators forced an early turnover.
It seems like the problem for Winston at most times this year is him forcing throws that don't need to be made. Even with plenty of time in the pocket, Jameis has repeatedly tried to throw the ball into windows that really aren't there. On this play, he attempts a pass to Jesus Wilson into triple coverage. The window may have been there, but Jameis doesn't hit it, and he throws his second pick early in the first quarter.
Jameis never even looks at another receiver after the playaction, and half of the secondary is following Wilson. Even though he had all the time in the world, he forces another bad throw.
The worst of his three interceptions was the last one of the day for Winston. Late in the first quarter, the Seminoles were backed up to their own end zone. The 'Noles line up with three receivers on the right and try to employ a levels concept on their routes.
Jameis rolls out right and wrongly assumes simple man coverage by the Gators. Even if it was man coverage, he needed to either throw it out of bounds or hit the shortest route for a possible small gain. Instead, Jameis thinks he sees the second level open...
It wasn't. The Florida defender drops back and makes an easy interception. The make matters worse, the throw would've been way behind the targeted receiver and would've probably been intercepted by one of the two back defenders.
Jameis fights back:
Despite all of those early terrible turnovers he and the FSU offense have had this year, they've always found a way to regain their poise and win the game. This was no different against Florida. The only difference was the offensive surge came in the second quarter against the Gators. Winston began making perfect throws, and the FSU offense found the end zone twice.
On this play, we see the Seminoles use a route and throw that we've seen plenty by the Jackets this year - the back-shoulder comeback.
Rashad Greene runs a deep route down the sideline before using a slight push-off against the UF receiver and elevating to make the catch. Winston and Greene have a nice connection on these throws, and it can be very hard to stop when Jameis places it perfectly like this.
Tight end Nick O'Leary is someone the Tech defense will need to put a lot of focus on to limit the Seminoles passing attack. He's an NFL-ready tight end with good size and speed and a great connection with Winston. He's a monster in the red zone.
On his first touchdown against UF, he gets matched up with a smaller safety and runs a simple seam route up the middle.
O'Leary gets the position he wants with the defender, and Jameis delivers a perfect strike the outside of his body to where only he can elevate and make the catch for the touchdown.
On O'Leary's second touchdown, he once again gets matched up with the same undersized Florida safety.
He uses his size to get by the safety in press coverage quickly and then runs a perfect corner route to the end zone.
Isaiah Johnson has much better size than this Florida safety and might match up well with O'Leary, but it's smart to have some help on him, and that's even more so true in the red zone.
Florida State Defense:
I didn't find any clips that were too necessary to show from the Florida game, but this defense isn't as dominant as some fans like to say. In terms of rankings, they're pretty mediocre in most of the advanced metrics on Football Outsiders. Their explosive drive ranking (the percentage of each opponent offense's drives that average at least 10 yards per play) is ranked 65th in the country, and their first down rate ranking (the percentage of opponent offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown) is ranked 52nd in the nation. Both of those could be a troublesome sign against this Georgia Tech offense which is ranked extremely high in many of those categories.
An interesting trend I've seen in the FSU defense is defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. dropping back into coverage. He was thrown on for a touchdown against Florida when he followed a receiver all the way to the end zone, and he's done it on numerous other occasions too. For a guy that's around 300 pounds, it doesn't seem like the greatest strategy. It'll be interesting to see if Paul Johnson tries to test that at all by sending out an A-back on some routes that Edwards may have responsibility for. It's a whole different scheme that FSU is facing, so it's likely that Edwards will be pursuing the backfield on every single play, but I would love to see our A-backs running downfield with Mario trying to stay with them.
Keys to the game:
I'll stay away from the expected turnover battle or limiting possessions answer this week. Those are pretty much givens in every game for Tech at this point.
The first key is getting pressure on a limited Jameis Winston. Winston has battled an ankle injury for quite a while now, and it's easy to see it's hurting his mobility. In the few times he tried to run against UF, he looked extremely slow and ineffective. If KeShun Freeman, Adam Gotsis, P.J. Davis, and company can get to Jameis early, it's almost inevitable that he'll force some throws and potentially turn the ball over a few times. The pass rush has been improving a lot this season, and the Jackets need it more than ever on Saturday night.
The most important thing for Georgia Tech this game is establishing the dive play early. We know how important it is that they get up early and control the game. That will be done with the dive play. The FSU defense is really good on the edges and they can really get after the quarterback with guys like Edwards. The area they can be beat is right up the middle due to a pretty thin group at defensive tackle. If the dive play doesn't work early on, Tech could find themselves in some tough positions on passing downs and having to force the ball to the perimeter. The dive always seems to find its way later on in games when the defense has been worn down, but it's really important that it gains yardage early in this one.
There you have it. We have them all figured out, don't we? Let's go get an ACC Championship!