Author's Note: I'm going to use a bit of a different structure to this preview in order to try to make it flow better and be easier to follow. I'm going to focus on the offense and defense of Florida State as a whole instead of splitting it up in position groups like I did previously. Let me know in the comments if you like this format or the previous format!
Florida State Offense
With the poor defensive play of the Jackets over the past few weeks, the prospect of stopping the Florida State offense seems grim. In this article, we'll try to analyze what makes them click, and how they match up against Georgia Tech.
In the game against Louisville, it was apparent that this team's ability to be multiple is a big key to their success. By multiple, I mean they employ several different formations and can execute a number of different types of plays. They can run inside, run outside, run screens, complete intermediate routes over the middle, and go vertical when needed. Quarterback Everett Golson has progressed well in since his days with Notre Dame, showing the poise to execute just about anything asked of him by Jimbo Fisher.
The Noles will line up in the pistol or under center, and use a wide variety of personnel packages. They will line up with anything from 5-wide in the pistol to a power I with 22 personnel(2 RB and 2 TE). They even occasionally line up in.....wait a minute, that can't be right. Is that.....a flexbone?
Despite the similarities, this isn't actually the flexbone that Tech fans all know and love. FSU primarily uses this formation as a heavy set, and will use it to run Inside zone plays to Cook. The large number of formations speaks to how diverse this offense is. The Tech defense will need to respond to different looks, something they failed to do against Pitt.
Despite their multiplicity, this offense begins and ends with RB Dalvin Cook, who ran over the Tech Defense during the ACC championship game last year. Against Louisville, Cook was visibly hampered by a hamstring injury that has been ailing him. The explosion wasn't there on the edge, allowing the pursuit to catch him several times when he could have gained more yards. Despite his ailments, Cook still had a monstrous day, aided in part by some atrocious tackling by the Louisville secondary. FSU's play calling in this game fed the ball to their play maker as well, with Cook getting almost 100% of the snaps at the RB position. He was effective in both the inside and outside running game, but seemed to prefer to use his superior athleticism to get to the edge, with favorable results. The Noles even attempted some speed-option type plays, but Golson looked uncomfortable making the read, and on one play was tackled for a big loss.
In the passing game, Golson looks more mature, and doesn't make the same mistakes he made while at Notre Dame. When under pressure, Golson tends to throw the ball away or check down instead of throwing into tight windows and having the ball intercepted. That's good for Florida State, because Golson was under a ton of pressure against Louisville. The Cardinals' Defensive Line dominated the line of scrimmage throughout, and at the half the Cardinals led. Despite the pressure, Golson was able to extend plays with his legs, and rarely took sacks. Louisville's defensive front is talented, so this doesn't necessarily mean that Offensive Line is a big weakness for the Seminoles.
If there is criticism to be made of Golson, it's that his passes weren't always accurate. Even the completed passes were often behind the receiver or low, and thus Golson left a lot of Yards After Catch(YAC) on the table. During the game, FSU's WRs were visibly asking for better ball placement from the graduate transfer.
Florida State's wide receivers are all quite speedy, and the coaches like to get the ball to them on the edge. Kermit Whitfield was frequently the target on the smoke screen, and would often have other WR blocking in front of him due to FSU's extensive use of the bunch formation, where 3 receivers line up in a triangular "bunch" to one side of the field. The Jackets failed to properly defend this look against Pitt last week by not shifting a safety over to that side, giving Pitt a numbers advantage. The results were predictable.
Louisville's talented defense was able to slow down the FSU attack for much of the game, before a string of huge penalties by Louisville's defense and bad turnovers by Louisville's offense led to the wheels falling off. Georgia Tech will need to be disciplined and aggressive for 4 quarters. The lack of a complete game was the downfall of Louisville.
Florida State Defense
For the second week in a row, Georgia Tech will be playing against a talented run defense and will have to fight for every point. This unit looked good against Louisville, stuffing the run and causing turnovers.
It's always tough to try to determine how a defense will play against Tech based on how they play other teams. In this game, The Noles primarily lined up in a 4-2-5 look against Louisville's pistol spread system. Against Tech, expect a 4-3 "inverted triangle" look with the OLBs stacked on the DEs and the MLB flexed back 5-7 yards deep. The FSU defense did show a propensity for the A-gap blitz, which will surely be used against a Tech Offensive Line that still hasn't figured out how to handle it.
The majority of Louisville's success came in the passing game, with the seam route being the go-to. After FSU lost its safety, Trey Marshall, to injury, the Cardinals made a point to attack the safeties on vertical routes, with great success. Following Louisville's success with seam routes against zone coverage, the Tech offense could use this as an opportunity to take some pressure off the run game and give the safeties pause. Marshall is now done for the season with a torn bicep, and his backups will need to improve at defending this route in future games. Louisville also tried to get the screen game established consistently in order to get outside of Florida State's defense quickly. Pass protection held up well for most of the game, allowing effective vertical routes to develop.
In the run game, Louisville had very little success up the middle, as FSU's DT tandem dominated their gaps. Nile Lawrence-Stample stood out in particular, putting together a string of dominant plays in both the run game and the pass rush. Louisville instead primarily attacked the outside in the run game with more success. Florida State's linebackers fly to the ball, but got sucked in by fakes a couple times. Tech may be able to take advantage of this on the counter option, or run the counter dive off the fake rocket toss.
It will be tough sledding against the Noles, and the offense will need to prove that the improvement shown against Pitt wasn't a fluke.
Simply put, FSU's kicker, Robert Aguayo, is arguably the best in the nation, with incredible accuracy and power. He had an inexplicable kickoff out of bounds against Louisville, but don't expect that to happen again. Tech should also avoid instances where an opponent field goal attempt decides the game, or they'll get burned again.
Since most of Aguayo's kickoffs go for touchbacks, there will was little chance to look at the coverage units. They most likely won't be needed in this match up, however.
FSU's return game is always dangerous, where the speedy Kermit Whitfield returns kicks. Tech has had a special teams break down in each of its 5 losses, and will need to guard against another in this phase of the game. Harrison Butker will need to kick the ball out the back of the end zone as frequently as possible to avoid having to cover against Whitfield's returns.