On BCI Radio this week, AJ and I talked about the Florida State gameplan and what we thought the Seminoles would be bringing to Chestnut Hill. Because of the short week of practice and with a day built in for travel, FSU would have substantially shorter amounts of time to implement a different scheme from what they used against South Florida. As a result, there's plenty we can learn from what FSU did well against the Bulls during their game last Saturday.
We know that Dalvin Cook is the central focus point of the FSU offense. Against the Bulls, he tallied 266 yards and three touchdowns. In the first quarter, he took a handoff from Everett Golson and rumbled for 70-plus yards en route to a touchdown. Let's take a look at how it went down:
Cook takes this run to the house for several reasons. For starters, USF is running an unbalanced defense. Five of their 11 defenders are bunched in man-to-man coverage on the strong side of the line. The second cornerback is lined up on the weak side in sole coverage against the Y receiver, and one linebacker is spying either quarterback Everett Golson or Cook.
With this setup, USF is essentially a sitting duck for a big play. Because the DB is playing so far off the line, there is only block needed to spring Cook for a long gain - the right tackle's block against the left defensive end. FSU gets that sealed off with relative ease because the defensive line comes straight forward into one-on-one blocking coverage. With a little help of a subtle hold under the shoulder pads, Cook is able to turn the corner without an issue.
From there, the Bulls just completely break down. Nobody actually tries to tackle Cook; they just assume they can hit him and he'll go down. The defenders have their backs turned and aren't going side-to-side at all. They're not square, and they're not in good position to stop the running back. Cook is able to cut back and then blow through double tacklers because they're just trying to hit, not tackle. He finishes the run by just hitting the B button turbo.
Part of what makes this type of play dangerous is that it masks itself as a read option. Golson marks up the read option run to allow the defense to freeze ever so slightly. If you watch the two defenders in the middle of the screen, they assume the read option is going to run the ball up the middle. For whatever reason, the middle linebacker doesn't spy Cook or Golson; he just runs right into the line. Golson makes the presnap read that the two strong side defensive linemen have virtually no use on that play. When the linebacker steps up, the center handles him easily.
It's a play that could've been blown up if USF just covered it correctly. While they do need to have three corners covering each receiver, the middle linebacker needs to recognize the run play and be the read defender. By allowing Golson to read off the edge, the play goes from being a potential QB run to a stretch play for an incredibly fast running back. Because he's not patient and following the ball, it opens up the middle of the field. From there, the deficiencies of the defense take over, and FSU scores what should've been a preventable six.
BC's defense needs to be ready for those type of plays. Remember what I said earlier in the week - Boston College's defensive line is going to receive massive amounts of attention from the FSU blocking scheme. The offensive line is going to harness everything it can to box off the BC front four. The linebackers will be drawn off to coverage by a tight end or slot receiver. FSU will try to open up the field and force BC to respect Cook. When they do, they're going to hope that opens up a slot receiver or downfield threat in busted one-on-one coverage.
To prevent the big play, the Eagles need to rely on their middle linebacker, Steven Daniels, and safeties for read coverage. If Daniels can hang back and read the play correctly, it'll make Golson make the incorrect read. If Golson is reading the defensive end, he won't watch Daniels spy the ball and use instincts to take over. In that play, if the ILB goes after the ball and not the middle of the line, he automatically comes off to the near side. Cook, in that regard, doesn't run to space because there's a body there. If he tries to cut back, the far side of the line is now able to fill in because they're able to break away from receivers knowing it's a run play.
In the same breath, if Golson attempts to go left, he'll be running into a wall of defenders. He'll have several DBs and linebackers over on the side. He'll either need to rely on wide receiver blocking or hope for a seam that he can burst through. Since both aren't likely to spring someone for a long gain, it's a good way for BC to cover themselves.
This is a basic offensive play Florida State turns into six points. South Florida had more than one opportunity to stop it and failed miserably at doing their job. For Boston College's sake, there's much to be learned from this offensive set because I feel this is a play the Seminoles will run more than once.
The chess match between offense and defense is going to be something I can't wait to breakdown after the game. For BC's sake, let's hope checkmate comes because FSU simply didn't have time to castle and prepare.