FSU runs a true pro style, west coast, drop back offense. The ‘Noles do not push the pace, they huddle and bring in a variety of personnel packages to try to find an advantage. Quarterback Deondre Francois will line up under center, in shotgun and in the pistol on Saturday. Expect every personnel package from four wide shotgun to two running backs and a tight end. Leading receiver Jesus ‘Bobo’ Wilson is banged up, Dalvin Cook is dodging more tackles behind the line of scrimmage than in the open field and a freshman will be under center. With that said, this is an offense more than capable of moving the ball from red zone to red zone, and if (often when) forced to settle for a field goal the ‘Noles still have an Aguayo.
FSU bases its running game almost entirely around inside zone and outside zone. From there a helping of power, counter and Francois scrambles round out the ground attack. Much has been made of Cook’s underwhelming season, but his offensive line hasn’t given him much to work with. Some of FSU’s inability to get drive on inside zone is by design, when you have offensive linemen as tall as FSU (average height 6’6”, no lineman under 6’4”) asking your line to just get in the way of defensive linemen is not a bad strategy. FSU’s version of inside zone doesn’t contain a ton of double teams or combo blocks so their offensive linemen not stalemating a defensive linemen can get to the second level quickly and seal off linebackers.
This emphasis on second level blocking often leads to big plays, but it also leads to a lot of runs stopped behind or at the line of scrimmage. As of now around one in five Florida State carries ends before they gain any yardage. Weirdly, the offensive line is having a good season rushing the ball in third and short situations, but one has to wonder how much of that is Cook making people miss in the backfield.
FSU prefers to leave their offensive linemen one-on-one in outside zone too, running a variation known as pin-pull. At the snap, the play side offensive linemen without a defensive player head up or inside them pull to the outside. Everyone else blocks down and tries to ensure no one penetrates to kill the play. When it works the running back is sprung in the open field with lead blockers, but all too often a defensive end is able to string the play along just long enough for pursuit to arrive.
Francois is not getting many designed runs in FSU’s pro style offense, however he is very prone to running on third down if he has to step up in the pocket. He’s also pretty good when his number is dialed up, as it is on QB power. FSU typically uses a guard to kick out and has a tight end lead when they run power.
Two to three times a game he’s able to turn a bad play into a first down.
The ‘Noles passing game was an unknown quantity entering the season, with a freshman in Francois taking over as signal caller. So far this season he’s performed excellently. He’s more efficient than explosive thus far, but that is splitting hairs. With a clean pocket Francois can drop back and hit short-to-medium throws all day. He’s athletic enough to be a threat scrambling and capable of making good throws on the run.
The thing is none of that may matter. FSU has some serious issues along the offensive line with pass protection. The only time Francois has been sacked less than twice was against Miami. Louisville took him down five times, Ole Miss thrice. Clemson’s defensive line should be able to generate pressure routinely and without having to blitz, especially given how much FSU relies on drop back passing instead of quick concepts.
Their favorite concept is known as Dallas, and the Seminoles will run it on any down and distance. The first read for the quarterback is a post route, however the concept is designed to get a tight end running a get open route against linebackers. Ninety percent of the time the post is just occupying the deep safety over the top. Tight end Ryan Izzo is a capable pass catcher over the middle and might be able to give the linebackers issues. If the tight end is covered the ball is going to a four or five star player on a swing route and he’s got to make something out of nothing. There are worse plan C’s.
FSU also runs Drive, Mesh, Shallow Cross and Three Verticals at least two to three times a game.
And they run a fairly unique flair route/screen hybrid a handful of times a game.
Ultimately though the ‘Noles success will be decided by if their offensive line plays well enough to give their skill players a chance. This is a well balanced and productive offense, but the Achilles heel plays into Clemson’s biggest strength, especially if the offense is able to keep the defense fresh on Saturday.
Clemson 28- FSU 24