2014 Florida State Seminoles: Undefeated and Enigmatic

fsu from video

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

Florida State’s ability to win close games this year is an enigma. Is it a team strength that the Seminoles always seem to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Or is it a weakness that they find themselves needing to often enough to give their fans ulcers?

In 2012 and 2013, Stanford was that sort of team, and it made no exceptions for the Ducks, which appeared to be an elite team. Two years ago, Notre Dame was that sort of team, and when it came up against an elite Alabama team in the BCS Championship Game, it got blown out.

Over half of Florida State’s wins this year have been by less than seven points — not always against the greatest of competition — and trying to make some sense of it all is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. Florida State as a Team. For starters, the Seminoles aren’t the same team they were in 2013. Seven Seminoles went in the first five rounds of last year’s NFL Draft, and they lost five of their top six tacklers. Still, Athlon Sports picked them as the Number 1 team in its preseason poll. While Athlon’s call may end up being right, the Seminoles have certainly not been the offensive juggernaut that Athlon projected them to be.

Georgia Tech ran for over 330 yards on the Seminoles.

from video

Georgia Tech ran for over 330 yards on the Seminoles.

Karlos Williams averaged eight yards per carry while running for 730 yards last year, and was expected to contribute even more this year. But he’s only run for 609 yards on 4.4 per carry. Freshman Delvin Cook has taken up some of the slack, averaging 5.8 yards per carry for 905 yards. But with a rushing offense that is ranked 104th in the country, Florida State is hardly Stanford of recent history. Its offensive line is experienced and big – in the 305 to 335 pound range – but somehow that has not translated into an ability to grind out drives consistently.

Still, Florida State is good on third down, converting 74 of 160 for 46.3 %. But the Seminoles are zero for four on fourth down. Oregon — with a stronger running game — is better, converting 89 of 174 on third and picking up another 16 conversions on fourth down.

The Seminoles have had their share of injuries, but certainly less than the Ducks, and certainly not enough to account for so many close calls against middling teams. Key injuries to watch with the Rose Bowl approaching are to defensive tackles Eddie Goldman (6’4″, 320) listed as probable, and Nile Lawrence-Stample (6’1″, 314) listed as questionable. Running back Williams is also listed as questionable with a concussion.

2. How Florida State Has Won. The popular thinking is that Jameis Winston has time and time again led the Seminoles to comeback victories. There’s some truth to this in the wins over Notre Dame and Miami, which the Seminoles outscored 21-10 and 20-3, respectively, in the second half. But the last time the Seminoles scored a second half touchdown was November 15, against Miami. They were held to single field goals in the second half against Boston College and Florida, and Georgia Tech limited them to three second half field goals. So the ‘Noles have averaged exactly five second half points over the past three games.

Florida State scored its most recent second half touchdown November 15 against Miami.

from video

Florida State scored its most recent second half touchdown November 15 against Miami.

A greater contribution seems to be defensive halftime adjustments. Since giving up 21 second half points to Oklahoma State in the season opener, in its close games this year Florida State has surrendered double digit second half points only to Georgia Tech (14) and Notre Dame (10). Clemson and Boston College had a touchdown apiece and Miami and Florida each were limited to a field goal. So the greater threat to the Ducks appears to be getting shut down in the second half.

Aric Armstead has a Google Earth view of opponents plays.

Kevin Cline

At 6’8″ Aric Armstead has a Google Earth view of opponents’ plays.

However, coaches Helfrich, Frost and Pellum have proven adept at second half adjustments for the Ducks, as well. And while FSU has a bit of a weight advantage on both sides in the trenches, the Ducks have the advantage in height and reach. A critical factor often overlooked is how many (and how hard of) hits quarterbacks take in the first half, and the Oregon D-line has pounded its share of the talent out of more than one QB this year. Another advantage for a defensive line is having the height to look over the top and see where a play is going. On the other side of the ball, tiring out Oregon’s offense has proven tough to pull off, and the Ducks have played stronger defenses than FSU.

3. Jameis Winston. Searching for the biggest enigma in FSU 2014 leads to the Heisman vs Heisman matchup of Winston vs Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. A number of sources credit Winston as being a more accurate passer than Mariota. Commentators credit his ability to throw into tight windows, where Mariota throws to wide open receivers. But there’s a problem with this. Winston has thrown 17 interceptions this year to Mariota’s two. Assuming that the competition from the defenses that each has faced is similar enough that it’s all from the same planet, there are two possibilities: either Mariota is the more accurate passer by far, or Mariota excercises better judgment in choosing his targets (among other things).

This accurate pass by Winston into a tight window resulted in one of his 17 interceptions this year.

from video

This accurate pass by Winston into a tight window resulted in one of his 17 interceptions this year.

Most quarterback comparisons consider arm strength, accuracy, running ability, intangibles, clutch play, etc. “Judgment” doesn’t seem to be listed among anybody’s defining factors. Yet all factors have limited value if a quarterback overestimates his ability two or three times a game and throws ill-timed picks. Winston has made some great decisions on the field, but as is the case off the field, he has also made some poor decisions on the field. At least seventeen of them to Mariota’s two. And Winston’s touchdown production is way down from last year as well.

So the 2014 edition of Florida State remains an enigma — at least until the first day of 2015. Have the Seminoles played just slightly better than mediocre teams because they themselves are mediocre? Or are they among those who, despite not having the greatest talent, have the greatest heart and rise to any occasion? Or are they among the opposites, those who play down to the level of inferior competition, always doing just enough to get by, no matter the circumstances — and at some point have it all catch up to them?

With no common opponents, it is difficult to know how Florida State and Oregon stack up. Under the transitive property (which though often criticized, is about 90 % accurate), Florida State is fairly comparable to Notre Dame, and Notre Dame did not fare so well against Pac-12 opponents that were nowhere near as good as Oregon.

On paper, talent-wise Florida State looks great. But if it really is that great, despite a second consecutive undefeated season, its greatest achievement in 2014 has been hiding its ‘A’ game. Scoring an average of five in the second half worked against Boston College, Florida and Miami. Against Oregon? Probably not.

Top photo from video

Print Friendly

 Volunteer Position Openings:

--Media Management/Supervisor:  We are looking for someone beyond college age who can help manage students and mentor in a number of different departments. Expertise is not required as organizational skills and interest in guiding others.   --Assistant Football Analyst: Love college football and enjoy watching it for hours? We need associates to view games and find the techniques/teaching points we identify for them in advance.  You will be recognized in publications, and could have the opportunity to move to full Analyst.   --College Football Analyst: We are looking for Coaches, or retired coaches to help create analysis videos (we do the video part) that will be viewed by thousands, and will help young football players as well as fans understand the game much better. The national recognition will help your resume' as well as make an impact upon the game we all dearly love.   --Video Specialist: We are looking for help in the Eugene/Springfield area to assist with the shooting and editing of analysis videos.   All Positions: Send a resume' with full contact information and any writing samples you have to charles@fishduck.com  Again, these are volunteer positions donating five hours a week each.

Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with FishDuck.com. Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • Tallaman

    “Oregon — with a stronger running game — is better”…

    That’s playing against weak PAC12 competition and lightweight defensive lines. Oregon will face a bigger, stronger, faster O line and D line than they have seen all year, certainly playing in the PAC12. That FSU advantage will serve FSU well as the Seminoles will control both run games, provide pass protection for Winston and apply pressure on Mariota. It comes out to a Seminole victory. Oregin will choke against better competition. Again. Go Noles. D2D.

    • Mike Merrell

      Tallaman —

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      First, let’s put your quote from my article back into its context. I was writing about the ability to get from 3rd down to 1st down. Counting 16 conversions on 4th down, Oregon has made it 106 of 174 opportunities — better than 60 %, while FSU is a respectable 74 of 160. I make the point about the running game because of its importance in getting to first down in short yardage situations.

      There is an East Coast perception that Oregon and the rest of the Pac are just a bunch of fast skinny little track guys. Don’t buy it. Yes, WR Devon Allen is a track guy (2-time national champion in the 110 hurdles as a true freshman), but he’s 6’0″ and 190 pounds. Oregon’s scrawny defensive line is between 290 and 310, and the guy who’s 4″ shorter than the others is 6’4″. The starting running back is 229 pounds. And I’ve seen a clip of OL Tyrell Crosby (6’5 – 310) pretty much keeping up with Mariota blocking downfield — and if you think Mariota is slow, you don’t have a lot of company.

      Please see my response to Tgcisme above — Oregon has played against some good defenses, and they are not all featherweights. Washington’s All-American Danny Shelton is 6’2″ – 339, for example.

      You seem to be looking down on the Pac-12. You are entitled to your opinion, even though it does run counter to what informed national pundits believe. Certainly Notre Dame had a rougher go with the Pac-12 than it did with Florida State, and Colorado State had a rougher go with Utah than it did with Boston College.

      Your comment that Oregin (sic) will choke against better competition again is curious. While Oregon has lost a small handful of games over the past few years, it has a fine record against top 25 teams, including two wins over top ten teams this year (to FSU’s zero), so I really don’t know where you’re coming from other than possibly the land of wishful thinking on this.

      And we’re all entitled to wishful thinking — We Duck fans certainly have it as well. But of course, the game is played on the field, and nothing we can say or hope for as fans will change the outcome.

      Thanks for visiting and welcome back!

      • oregonize

        Well said. Tough to troll that response. Go Ducks!

      • Tom Budetti

        Notre Dame was ranked 5th when FSU beat them. Yes, ND tanked after the FSU loss but so did many other teams FSU beat. Oregon is most like Clemson, when looking at FSU’s opponents this season. Both run the option with a mobile QB, however the Ducks are certainly better at QB with MM. Clemson has a bigger, faster and stronger defense than Oregon. FSU beat Clemson without JW5 this season and destroyed them last season at Clemson. FSU’s O-line woes from the first half of the season are solved, JW5 has a healed ankle and his conduct hearing resolved, our defense is rested and healthy. OU just lost their top defender and is much smaller than FSU, despite the height on the D line. FSU wins if they play safe, smart and power football by controlling the clock and keeping MM off the field. If JW5 makes mistakes or gets greedy then MM will exploit his time on the field. UO is a strong second half team, no doubt and if they have a nice lead at the half FSU is in trouble. Expect UO to turn the ball over twice and expect a big play from the FSU special teams.

        • Mike Merrell

          Tom —

          Thanks for reading and commenting. I think it is more accurate to say that the Notre Dame Irish were OVER-ranked 5th when FSU beat them. It was only two weeks before the FSU game that ND barely escaped Stanford, a team which Oregon totally destroyed and which turned out to be a middling Pac-12 team.

          I really don’t understand why you think that “Oregon is most like Clemson.” Clemson has the nation’s number 43 passing attack and its running game is ranked 80th. Oregon comes in at #11 passing and #22 running, while sitting the starters for a good portion of most 4th quarters. Oregon’s overall offensive efficiency is rated # 1 and Mariota’s QBR is # 1. I see your point about Clemson’s defense, but to equate Oregon’s offense with Clemson’s just doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Maybe they both run the option, but obviously the efficiency they run it at are in different time zones. Maybe even on different sides of the International Date Line. Different planets?

          I also find your expectation that UO will turn the ball over twice curious. Of course turnovers are by nature unpredictable and it could happen. However, Oregon has certainly been stingier with the ball than FSU, and I believe actually has the lowest number of turnovers in all of I-A. Oregon’s fumbles and interceptions combined don’t come to half of Winston’s interceptions alone — and I don’t mean this just as a figure of speech.

          The Ducks are also pretty strong on not giving up big plays on special teams. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but as with your prediction about the turnovers it would run counter to what has happened so far this year.

          Ifo on defense was a tough loss, but he was dinged up quite a bit during the year and the team made due when he was out. It definitely hurts, though.

          A more likely scenario is Oregon hurting itself with penalties. The Ducks have drawn a lot of flags. Some of that is probably attributable to Pac-12 officials, who are incredibly generous with yellow hankies even when it’s not the holiday season, but there was one game where every single member of the O-line had a false start.

          We look forward to a good game. Thanks again for joining us.

          • Tom Budetti

            Thank you for the kind words.

            Whether or not you feel ND was deserving of a #5 ranking or not is immaterial and it begs the question. They were #5 when we beat them, rankings are rankings, end of discussion. Regarding my statement about Clemson, I did not mean to suggest Clemson and UO are identical teams, I merely meant to say that of all of FSU opponents this season, Clemson is closest to Oregon. Spread option and HUNH. I did state that Oregon has a better offense than Clemson and clearly the better QB. Clemson’s defense is significantly better than the Ducks by far

            My prediction about turnovers is based on the fact FSU will bottle up the IZR with Goldman and Stamples, forcing perimeter play and MM to likely throw more. FSU will not give MM as much time in the pocket nor as many open looks in the secondary and we have fast closing speed. Add into the mix we are very physical on defense and I expect one pick and one fumble.

            I agree with you on the penalties. I watched the AZ game and it seemed like a holding or a false start was called every third play on Oregon. The FSU O-Line outweighs the Ducks D-line by an average of 40 lbs per man. The Duck O-Line and the FSU D-Line are relatively the same size. Expect a physical game in the trenches and likely more holding calls on Oregon. FSU needs to stick with the power running games and dinking and dunking passes of 5-15 yards, no need to go deep unless Oregon presses with man at the line.

            Thanks again for welcoming me to your community. I am heading to the game from South Louisiana. A meeting between MM and JW5 in a beautiful setting such as the Rose Bowl is not to be missed.

          • Tom Budetti

            Also, my prediction of turnovers and special teams play is EXACTLY based on Oregon being good in NOT turning the ball over. They are due to make mistakes and turnovers are exactly the kind of thing that happens in these games. Regarding special teams, the same logic applies but I was referring more to our outstanding clutch FG kicker.

          • Mike Merrell

            Tom —

            Yes, you never know when turnovers will bite. While always a possibility, they are also more of a probability for some than others. I think Oregon has turned the ball over as many as twice in one game maybe four times in the past two years.

            Re: the field goals, I don’t think there’s an Oregon fan anywhere who would want to see this game come down to a field goal. It has been a while since that has worked out well, although our kickers do have a better track record this year. FSU definitely has the edge on the three-pointers.

          • TR

            Mike,

            Calling ND an overranked 5th is like calling Arizona and MSU legitimate top tens. FSU hasnt played four consecutive quarters up to their potential all year, yet. If they do on January 1st, OU is done. Btw, Oregon lost a game in case you forgot to share those stats. Your stat sheet analysis doesnt tell the whole story. Oregon has not faced a QB like Winston ever! Oregon hasnt played a team with more highly ranked recruits since Pete Carroll was at USC. QBs dont play each other. Its safe to say that Winston had to take some risk to make up ground for defensive injuries and break downs. I like being underestimated. It will be a good game no matter what.

            Go noles.

          • Mike Merrell

            TR —

            Thanks for joining the discussion, but I don’t agree with the idea that early season rankings are as accurate as end of season rankings. If they are, let’s just let those in the know choose the champion in August and call it a season.

            As far as not sharing the statistic that Oregon lost a game, please read the title of the article. This article is about Florida State, and this is an Oregon Ducks fan website. That Oregon lost a game earlier in the year when it was down four linemen and Mariota was dinged up is not breaking news or analysis that I felt necessary to pass on. By any means we all saw what happened when Oregon played Arizona when the Ducks were back up to about 80 % strength.

            Oregon does practice ones against ones, so its defense does have an inkling of what a good quarterback looks like, if you know what I mean. As far as Winston’s having to take chances — maybe. Or maybe he doesn’t always exercise the greatest judgment. There are those around the country who consider that a possibility for some strange reason.

            I think rational fans on both sides expect and hope for a good game. Obviously it will be settled on the field, not on this website, and we’re all hoping our team wins. To believe that the game is a done deal for either side would be foolish.

            There are fans on both sides who think it’s going to be a slam dunk. I’m not one of them. Not that it matters, anyway, because the fans don’t play the games.

            If the players and coaches for either side had that belief, now that would be a dangerous move. I don’t know about Florida State’s team attitude toward Oregon, but I can assure you that the Oregon players and coaches have greatest respect for FSU as an opponent.

      • Joe

        Certainly USC had a rougher go with Boston college wouldn’t you agree? My point is, in college no one really knows if a team is better than another because several factors weigh in. Teams that okay each other on an annual bases week likely give each other a better outing, teams trying to make a statement or their season will give top teams all they can handle, lastly, unless y’all play the same team at the same time than no one really knows because no single team is the same as they were the week prior. The hangover/let down effect does play a roll, at least to the opponents FSU played. I’m no expert, I’m sure none of you guys are either, with exception to the writer, maybe, but I think these are two really good teams with different style of play, different scheme, conference, etc. But they both have the same goal, NC, let the games be played the field gentlemen.

  • Tgcisme

    By what measure has Oregon played better defenses this year. Noles have faced more top 30 squads. Better offenses, I’ll give you. No way on the defense.

    • Mike Merrell

      Tgcisme —

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      To clarify the point, I mean that Oregon has played against better defenses than Florida State — not better defenses than Florida State has played against. Within this context, I am referring to Stanford, which has given up an average of 287 yards and 16 points per game, and Michigan State, which has given up 294 yards and 19.9 points per game. Florida State has given up 378 yards and 23 points per game.

      Of course, these statistics were generated against different teams, so direct comparisons carry a certain amount of risk. The only direct comparison that I’m aware of is that Notre Dame played both Stanford and FSU. Stanford’s defensive performance against ND was superior to FSU’s — by a significant margin. The Irish had 370 yards and 17 points against Stanford; 470 yards and 27 points against FSU.

      Based upon Oregon’s hanging of 40 + points on both Stanford and MSU, I would expect the Ducks to move the ball against FSU. Of course, the longer prep time for bowl games is a bit of a wild card, as are injuries. The Ducks are definitely down Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. It sounds like RB Tyner will be ready and there is some encouraging news on center Grasu. Any latest word on Goldman and Lawrence-Stample?

  • Marc Horowitz

    Mike, nice article for someone that is clearly biased toward the Ducks. I do think you missed a few points that your readers might appreciate. First, the injuries on Florida State have been significant this year and in key positions of the middle of both offensive and defensive lines.

    Let’s start with the Offensive line. The only non-returning from the 2013 squad was at the center position where the 2013 Remington Award winner is now the center for Tom Brady. He was replaced with an inexperienced and undersized senior. It’s safe to say he underperformed and then was hurt early in the season. His replacement was a Freshman. The running game and the passing game suffered due to the poor play in the center of the offensive line until the Miami game which was the 9th game of the year. At that point, the coaches decided to move FSU’s All-American left tackle over to Center and place a highly recruited true freshman to left tackle. I think you might want your readers to see how those changes have improved the line and have resulted in much better run blocking and pass protection.

    On the defensive line, there have been consistent injuries with the defensive tackles that has impacted productivity and depth. The Rose Bowl might be the first game where both lines are intact and playing at a high level.

    While I disagree with a number of your assertions in the article, I think it’s safe to say that these assertions are subjective so it’s not worth debating via a comment section. That debate might make sense over a beer though.

    Good luck to your Ducks and Go Noles!

    • Mike Merrell

      And a nice comment for someone who is clearly biased toward the Seminoles! Thanks for reading and commenting — a debate over a beer would be fun. Both teams have had the injury bugs this year. During the Ducks’ one loss and one single-digit win, they also started a true freshman — plus a walk-on on the O-line. All told, the Ducks have had to use something like eight different line combinations this year, but obviously it all gelled after the Arizona loss — at least enough to hang 40 or more on everybody.

      I took note that FSU’s running game improved toward the end, but also took note that there were zero second half touchdowns in the last three games. This would not be a good recipe for success against Oregon. On the other hand, FSU obviously has the greater experience in tight games and with bowl games you never know who will show up stronger. I think we all look forward to a great game.

      Good luck to your Noles and Go Ducks!

  • GratefulD_420

    Mike Merrell … you are dialed in and ready for the game!

    Excellent piece of analysis and writing. Your discussion on the subject of “judgement” is brilliant and spot on. The guys that implore JW’s ability to “fit into tight windows” with his 2014 stats should be dismissed and you have nailed it… his poor judgement NEVER out-weights arm strength or athletic ability; because we all know how many D-Lineman and backers he will be able to outrun and outgun at the next level. You also show very clearly that this “winning ability,” has also been grossly exaggerated with poor results at the end of games.

    @tgcisme, tallaman, Tom Budetti…..
    you know your teams in trouble when you have to depend on Ducks making turnovers… that they haven’t made all year. Then depending on the Player of the year and the 2014 Heisman winner to have a poor game…. while your 2013 player of the year has the game of his life..and that all the success of our defense and offense were only due to the weak Pac12 instead of your results against the STRONG ACC…… you should be scared. you are. and it shows. good luck. Go Duck….sss.

    p.s. expecting the ducks to “choke,” will be unrewarding. For the Seminoles to win… they will have to make more plays than the ducks. and for that I say good luck as these Ducks know how to make plays…..

    • Tom Budetti

      I do expect the Ducks to turn the ball over and choke and here is why. This is a big time game against a big time opponent and the Ducks are sure to be nervous. Also, historically the Heisman winner plays poorly in the bowl game and history tends to repeat itself. The NOLES have been in pressure situations all season and have won every time, UO has not. In somewhat of a twist, this is similar to the Natty last year where FSU dominated every opponent and Auburn was the come from behind team. Those roles are somewhat reversed and it is now FSU in the Auburn position and UO in the position of FSU last year. That game came down to turnovers and special team play and FSU handling the pressure. I don’t think UO can handle the pressure against FSU. FSU is gelling at the right time and will put together four full quarters of high level football leaving the Ducks grounded.

      • Mike Merrell

        Tom —

        Counting on Mariota to not handle the pressure is an interesting concept.

        • Tom Budetti

          You betcha! If he handles the pressure more power to him. So far in MM’s career he has not plYed against at true top team, especially the reigning champs and the former Heismsn winner. If he can handle it I will be the first person to congratulate him. My bet is he cannot!

          Mike, I checked your bio. Very impressive, my kids were competitive swimmers. My son swam a mid 22 in the 50 free in HS but refused to put in the time to move on to big time college swimming. Great sport! I miss those days. Fyi, my daughter is studying For the CPA exam, working for PWC next summer.

          • BigBallzChipper

            You good sir are delusional at best! To think that MM can’t handle the pressure …… I mean wow …… I know this site is called fishduck.com but I think your smoking something there! Yeah he can’t handle the pressure like against MSU or Stanford or UW or Utah…. Wow you are totally lost let me break some of this down for you…… Having an argument of what you did last year in football is irrelevant because by your same logic I can say we beat the badgers in the rose bowl and they had the third largest/strongest O-line in the NFL does that mean that we should steam role FSU no but your logic is very flawed!

  • CherokeeBear

    The analyses of stats with teams that have changed so much over the season would seem to be of questionable value here:

    Comparing FSU and PAC games to Notre Dame, a team that lost its defensive leader Joe Schmidt in the Navy game and then had so many injuries against Louidville that necessity mandated more than -half- of its defensive lineup be first-year players, mean that the Notre Dame team FSU played was significantly different from the one FSU played.

    Also, FSU’s O-Line changes in its 9th game appear to have made it a different team as well.

    The second-half observations made are good ones as it does seem FSU makes good second-half defensive adjustments also, and it will be interesting to see whether the return of the heart of their defense means as much as FSU fans seem to think.

    The positional matchups on the line do look scary on D, but are similar-sized when Oregon’s defense is on offense. The Duck’s line-blocking scheme in the zone reads still gives a man advantage on the line and still punishes overpursuit unless the O-line is just overpowered which does not look like can happen with similar-sized lines. And tiring Oregon’s O-line in the second half seems unlikely as well.

    This will definitely be a game decided on the field!

  • Ace Man

    The analyses of stats with teams that have changed so much over the season would seem to be of questionable value here:

    Comparing FSU and PAC games to Notre Dame, a team that lost its defensive leader Joe Schmidt in the Navy game and then had so many serious injuries against Louisville that necessity mandated more than -half- of its defensive lineup be first-year players for the rest of the season, mean that the Notre Dame team PAC played was significantly different from the one FSU played.

    Also, FSU’s O-Line changes in its 9th game appear to have made it a different team as well.

    The second-half observations made are good ones as it does seem FSU makes good second-half defensive adjustments also, and it will be interesting to see whether the return of the heart of their defense means as much as FSU fans seem to think.

    The positional matchups on the line do look scary on D, but are similar-sized with Oregon’s offense vs FSU defense. The Duck’s line-blocking scheme in the zone reads still gives a man advantage on the line and still punishes overpursuit unless the O-line is just overpowered which does not look like can happen with similar-sized lines. And tiring Oregon’s O-line in the second half seems unlikely as well.

    This will definitely be a game decided on the field!

    ~Cherokee Bear (Ace Man)
    (wasn’t logged in before so I posted again)

    • Mike Merrell

      Ace Man —

      Thanks for reading and commenting, but I don’t completely agree that ND had changed all that much. Two weeks before playing FSU, ND got a lucky touchdown on broken coverage at the end of the game to beat Stanford by 3 — and we know how Stanford did against the Ducks.

      One week before playing FSU, ND struggled to beat a mediocre North Carolina team by a single touchdown. So — maybe the Irish were worse because of injuries by the end of the year, but they weren’t all that hot to start with. They were certainly overrated at number five.

      FSU definitely got its running game going toward the end of the year, but again, failing to score a touchdown in the second half in the last three games is enigmatic — thus the headline for my article.

      • Ace Man

        Again, apples to oranges if you look at it objectively because the Stanford team Notre Dame played was very different. I mean, he changed the -entire- Stanford offense the week before during the game against Oregon State by scrapping his long-used run-first that had given the Ducks so many fits in past years and instead attempted a spread. Plus Stanford’s top two defensive leaders (S Hoffpauir and DT Parry) were injured for the Oregon game. Don’t get me wrong, the Ducks still would have won this year but not likely by that kind of margin so it really just does not give us a reasonable point of comparison.

        And, yes, North Carolina had a prolific offense at that time and not much defense and so NC has been very inconsistent this year, losing to teams like Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, and East Carolina but beating teams like Georgia Tech that had a steam-rolling offense this year. (No. 1 ranked offensive efficiency over even the Ducks I seem to recall? Not sure that is still the case but Tech’s triple-option has certainly been -very- efficient this year.) But even so, anyone who watched the Notre Dame-North Carolina game can tell you that aside from the three at-that-time-uncharacteristic interceptions thrown by a not completely healthy Golson that even the only moderately-healthy Irish actually dominated North Carolina and the game was not really that close and the Irish unsurprisingly came back to win and stay undefeated. In fact, had the Irish not had -so- many injuries this year who is to say how they would have fared? The Irish injuries just snowballed with busted knees, broken feet, and ripped shoulders this year after already having lost projected starters like Jarrett Grace before the season even began. We may know more next year about how good the Irish actually were earlier this year but the later Irish with third and fourth-string players and the sharp dropoff really just do not give us a valid point of comparison this year.

        Finally, I -do- agree that not scoring a touchdown in the second half in the last three games does show that Winston is incorrectly getting credit for FSU’s defense making half-time adjustments. But that lack of TDs in the second half of the last few games seems to me to be less an indictment of FSU’s newly-found running game than it seems to instead be Fisher’s understandable confidence in his kicker Aguayo to just put enough points on the board to win. That kicker is just scary good and Fisher seems to make conservative play calls to set up his kicker in the second half when his defense is making stops. Sorry, but it is hardly enigmatic when a Coach just does what is most likely to win!

        So, we should recognize that the FSU offense is not likely to lose the game against the inconsistent Duck defense not because of Winston, who is admittedly good but not necessarily as good this year as he is getting credit for, but because of their new run offense combined with their kicking game. No, the winner of this game will come down to whether FSU’s defense can solve an offensive conundrum that not many teams have. Even if FSU’s defense is healthy and gets back Golden and Niles-Stample it is still simply just not as good as last year’s defense.
        So, whether it comes in the form of a half-time adjustment or from the get-go if FSU’s new Def Coach Kelly solves the problem of how to address the “extra-player” advantage from Oregon’s inside zone read then the Ducks lose. But if he, like so many others before him, does not then the Ducks win!

        • Tom Budetti

          Solving UO’s offense is not rocket science. It is simple assignment football, athleticism and discipline. The first thing FSU will do is shut down the IZR with Goldmand and hopefully Stamples. UO CANNOT block these two men with two offensive lineman. They will penetrate and disrupt the IZR. Our four D line,an will occupy all five O Lineman leaving our LBs free. Once the IZR is stuffed, MM will be forced to perimeter play and passing downfield. Our DBs have the speed and athleticism to play man and MM will not have enough time to throw. MMs best option will be to run on the edges and beat our LBs in open space. MM will have some good runs but he will have to make plays passing downfield.

          FSU’s offense against the OU defense is going to be fun to watch. FSU outweighs the Duck D line by 40 lbs per man on average. LBs and DBs will have to come up and play the run and that is when Winston will nail you!

          • Ace Man

            Tom,
            While I disagree with Merrell’s analysis he based on stats because of the changes in the teams (specifically FSU) as outlined above, that does not mean I agree with you about Oregon on offense. I suspect you may not have watched much Oregon football because assignment football alone does not get FSU where it needs to be. But first, let us start with FSU since you may be more familiar and that was the team focused on in the original article. Certainly, if Goldman or other FSU D-lineman could consistently overpower the Duck O-line as you say then that would cause issues. But remember that even when healthy, FSU D had issues in the middle of its defense. See, FSU’s championship defense was built by Stoops and Pruitt around a dominating middle player, Timmy Jernigan. And Coaches Pruitt and Stoops are both now gone. Fisher is a conservative coach (and conservative coaches do not usually like to fix it unless it is broken) and so he elevated current Def Coord Kelley from DB coach with the understanding that the defense would stay the same. But the problem has been that the player the defense was designed around, Jernigan, is now in the NFL and no FSU player has been good enough to replace him in this defense. If we look at past games even before Niles-Stample’s and Goldman’s injuries we still find games where the middle of FSU’s D was getting gashed at will by teams with smaller O-lines than Oregon! We cannot even find games where the middle against the run was not a weakness for FSU let alone overpowering opponent’s O-line as you wishfully hope. Sorry, but FSU has just been vulnerable up the gut all season.
            But what is worse is that Oregon’s offensive scheme basically gives the Ducks an extra blocker because they purposefully leave a man unblocked on the backside of the play and then “zone read” based on what that man does. See, the Duck inside zone read option allows the offense to play off the opposing defenses’s natural overreaction at the point of attack as the play develops when the unblocked defensive player tries to get into the play. But if instead of overreacting the unblocked backside DE or OLB stays home in his assignment then QB reads that and hands off and Duck’s RB gets a decent gain making use of the extra play-side blocker. Further, this basic option play allows a number of other plays to develop off the same inside zone read formation including power plays, Bobby Bowden-style reverses (you may recall how the Seminoles stymied so many opponents with reverses from an offense run by another Heisman trophy winner by the name of Charlie Ward), and of course Heisman trophy-winning Mariota’s play-action passes can also be run off the same inside zone read play. Now, this basic inside zone read does require judgment in reading the open defender and sometimes Mariota’s mis-read results in little gain. But when he makes the right read, the Duck’s offensive design that stretches the defense wide and reduces defensive depth often means a quick score. With this much time before the playoff game, FSU could stop Oregon with a defensive adjustment that had FSU’s ends disguise their intentions from Mariota but it is not clear Coach Kelley is capable of making such an adjustment or that FSU’s current personnel are suited to such a defensive change even if Fisher would allow it. Fisher is a conservative coach whose conservative second-half play-calling has lead many, including the article author, to underestimate the strength of FSU’S offense. But Fisher did uncharacteristically change his O-line in the 9th game, though, so you never know.
            I do agree with you that FSU’s O-line may use its weight advantage to take full control of the trenches about 3/4 of the way through the third quarter. Whether FSU’s D can hold the Duck’s O to a reasonable score until then remains to be seen, though, for all of the reasons outlined above.
            Should be interesting to see what FSU does defensively!

          • Tom Budetti

            Ace Man,

            In no way to I believe FSU will shut down or humiliate MM and the Duck offense. They will get yardage and they will score, they are too good. The best FSU can hope for is to slow them down like we did against GT(who had the nations best rushing offenses). The GT game is a good and a poor comparison for this game. It is good in that GT runs the option, as have a few other teams FSU has played this year, so it is not something new. It is bad because FSU was very worn, injured and tired at the end of the season after playing six straight emotionally and physically draining games.

            If FSU plays defense like we did against Clemson(which is more like UO than anyone FSU has faced) and FSU plays offense like we did against GT, the Ducks will be in for a long afternoon. If not, FSU is in for a loss.

          • Ace Man

            Tom,

            We could say Clemson does play a faster-paced offense (using adjusted pace taking into account run-pass ratio) than the Ducks but otherwise is not particularly similar, right?

            And Georgia Tech’s triple option may share some similarities but is a more compact offense than the Duck’s and as I noted to you above the spread is a significant part of why Oregon’s offense is so explosive. When a play goes right for the Ducks there are just simply less defenders around because of that spread making for a greater possible upside. Now, FSU’s defense is one of the few that has guards who are both big and fast and so team speed may obviate some of that difference but that remains to be seen because FSU has not played an offense quite like Oregon’s. The Ducks will not make significant offensive changes other than to get healthy on O-line. What FSU’s defense does against the Duck offensive scheme and whether significant adjustments are made or not will be most interesting.

            So, I do agree with you that the Duck’s will likely get “yardage and … will score, they are too good” and the extent to which a healthy FSU line can cope with a mosty healthy Duck line will determine a significant part of how much the Ducks can be slowed.

            Yes, if FSU plays offense like it did against Georgia Tech in the Seminoles’ last game then that bodes well for them but, as you know, we have had only a few games by which to judge FSU’s altered offense and the Seminoles have just not been consistent even in those few games. And Winston and his receivers (with the exception of Rashad Greene) have still just not quite clicked all year, causing numerous interceptions. There is also no sure-thing receiver on this team like Kelvin Benjamin who could win the toss into the end zone once in the red zone which has caused Fisher to rely on Aguayo kicks instead this year when he needs a sure thing. And if Oregon is not slowed sufficiently then field goals won’t cut it, will they? Further, a long let-off usually causes rust in an offense.

            See, we just do not have enough games with FSU’s new O-line to predict how well the Seminoles’ offense will do.
            I think it is all mostly wild speculation and wishful thinking until this game gets played because we have so little to judge by!

            Good luck! May the better team win!

          • Tom Budetti

            Ace Man,

            I agree with you, but I am not saying Clemson is better on offense than UO, UO is better and they are faster than Clemson on offense. Clemson happens to be the team FSU has played that most closely resembles UO.

            On the flip side, UO has not faced a team as talented, fast and as strong as FSU. You may want to compare Stanford on the physical part but they do not match our speed or talent on defense.

            The FSU O Line is very easy to predict, just watch the Miami game on and disregard the others. They are big, fast and powerful and I believe will control the Duck line. I believe FSU will give UO a run heavy game and controlled short passes, but Winston will have his chances to take shots downfield.

            Yes, this game will be a joy to watch. I will be viewing it from 20 yard line seats about 15 rows up. My first visit to the Rose Bowl. I am very excited.

            Good luck to the Ducks as well! If you guys win PLEASE beat Bama or Ohio State.

          • Mike Merrell

            Tom —

            You label Oregon fans as overconfident. Then you turn around and say that a team that has the best win-loss record this decade, has the current Heisman winner (who won the award by the second-highest margin ever) and has won its last three bowl games (including 2 BCS games, one against a QB with a Super Bowl ring) will choke against the mighty Seminoles.. And then you post something like this, suggesting that Oregon is wasting its time even showing up for the game. I fully recognize the possibility that FSU may win, but you, my friend, need to take a look in the mirror.

          • Tom Budetti

            Mike,

            I am not sure where I said all of those things but Please keep the following in mind as you enjoy next weeks game:

            The 16 stages of playing the 2014 FSU Seminoles:
            1. Excitement.
            2. Pandemonium.
            3. Warchant mocking.
            4. Quiet and Reserved confidence.
            5. Nervous confidence.
            6. Bouts of frustration.
            7. Cursing.
            8. Horrible not-meant-for-the-kids cursing.
            9. Massive Frustration.
            10. Anger.
            11. Painful Anger.
            12. Disbelief.
            13. Shock.
            14. Sadness.
            15. Having to listen to the warchant you were mocking earlier.
            16. Tears.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    I would tend to believe Marcus Mariota is Head and tail above Winston because the Stats don’t lie and Mariota has had these types of numbers 3 years running. Winston is surely a good QB but if anyone would like to make any sorts of BETS on who gets picked 1st, Well lets just say I’d take Mariota 1st 10 out of 10 times and I’m sure the NFL thinks exactly the same. I certainly wouldn’t base anything on what ESPON ever say’s and their Announcers. On and Off the field Mariota clearly makes better decisions. If anyone thinks Mariota cannot go into the NFL and learn any offense then you clearly shouldn’t ever be considered a Football expert. He is a once in a every 10 years QB like Manning, Luck as in future HOFs!

    • Tom Budetti

      Believing MM is heads and shoulders better than JW5 is fatal mistake number one. My hope is your team is as overconfident as the fans. Do NOT be fooled by our stats. We win and we are the reigning champs, we have been there. Returning to the Rose Bowl is like coming home for us. Stay confident……PLEASE!

      • MAITAIDUCK

        Exactly but I’m not on your WEB SITE talking about the Criminals because I could care less about FSU and don’t need to get in a PISSING MATCH with people that clearly have NO CLUE about the Game of Football! Remember I’m reading on DUCK WEB SITES you are TROLLING here as in you must be worried? Also VEGAS which usually is spot on with their betting I mean look it up as in they wouldn’t be putting the Ducks as 9 point Favorites if they actually didn’t think Oregon could beat FSU! I would say the OVER CONFIDENCE IS actually more so on FSU’S side by your fans being premature EJACKULATORS thinking that they’ll save more money by just buying tickets for Texas as in OVER CONFIDENCE and ARROGANCE all wrapped into 1. We as fans yes have been over confident in the past and Oregon’s lost a couple they shouldn’t have but everyone feels really strong as in the Ducks getting it done in 2015 and If you are one of those people that Bought tickets to Texas then I will give you my E-MAIL and after FSU Loses in our Back yard you can SALE me your tickets at of coarse a DISCOUNT because they will LOSE to Oregon the better Team and the WAY BETTER QB and yes he will more than likely never spend a day of JAIL in his life because he’s got INTEGRITY as in the ALLEGED RAPIST has NONE!

    • Joe

      Your last sentence is very bold my friend. I think you couldn’t be more wrong but it’s your opinion and like me, your no expert.

      • MAITAIDUCK

        Joe I didn’t mean any offense but I do know a thing or two about the Game of Football and I do know talented Football players. I am well aware Winston is a good QB but he will not be a Franchise type like say Andrew Luck because the College to NFL is a whole different Game and Winston wont be 1 of those once every 10 year QB as Mariota will and I’m not just saying that because I bleed Duck’s it’s because you can see the talent and he will be the next great QB. How about Manziel did you think he’d be a great QB? He will be out of the league in 3 and no more than 4 years because he’s not a Pocket QB and you have to do this at least 75 % of the Game. Put your Money where your mouth is as in Vegas as in you can make any bet you want even about certain players. If you are so confident as in most FSU Fans that their Texas bound then put your MONEY down because I’d be glad to take any of your Money if you think for a min ute they will be going anywhere but back to that NASTY HOLE in Tallahassee FL. I’m not being mean but it’s a SHIT HOLE!

  • Mike Merrell

    To All —

    Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays — whichever works better for you. My appreciation to all of you for taking the time to read this article — and also for your thoughtful comments. At a time when so many people get upset and resort to name-calling whenever someone disagrees with their points of view, it is refreshing to see disagreement expressed with the class that you have shown in responding to this article — and you have all made some great points, probably the greatest being the recognition that in the final analysis, we are mere spectators — all just having a good time thinking about this — and that in the end we will either be in the stands or in front of the television hoping our team wins and either crying or gloating in our beer (or whatever) depending upon the outcome of something we have no control over. By any means, it has been a great run for both teams!

    You have given me a lot to think about for next week Monday’s Three-and-Out. The gift of your time and thoughts has been a nice Christmas box to open. Thank you.

    • Ace Man

      Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! :-D