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Previewing Florida State vs. Alabama: the Seminoles Offense

Fisher always has weapons, but can he protect his QB?

NCAA Football: Florida State Spring Game Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Ask most Florida State Seminoles fans about the style of offense run by Jimbo Fisher’s squad and the most common answer will likely be “pro-style,” which is something of an antiquated term since spread concepts have trickled up and largely taken over the copycat NFL. Indeed, it can be tough to classify today’s offenses since most of them are a hybrid of several different schemes. Perhaps the best way to describe the FSU offense is “multiple.” A quick look at some film from last year’s Orange Bowl shows it in action.

First play, they came out in a typical shotgun spread from 11 personnel:

Then moved to a bunched shotgun look, again out of 11 personnel:

then later ran from an old school 21 personnel I formation:

and on the very next play went empty:

Much like Alabama’s new OC Brian Daboll, Fisher likes to identify a few plays that can be successful against a given opponent and disguise them by running from different formations. Unsurprisingly, Fisher chose to help an embattled offensive line on many occasions with play action, max protect and moving pockets:

There is no excuse for a defense allowing a guy to get behind them in a three-on-seven situation. Alabama will likely see a ton of max protect, and must make the ‘Noles pay for it by taking away all of QB Deondre Francois’ options.

Quarterback:

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State
Deondre Francois
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Francois, he had as productive a freshman campaign as one could ever ask for. He lit up Ole Miss to lead a comeback victory in the opener, and really only struggled in two games: the debacle at Louisville and vs. the same Florida team that held Jalen Hurts to 138 passing yards. He is nothing if not tough, continually delivering the ball just before getting drilled. Francois is a capable runner but shows good patience in the pocket and loves to push the ball deep. He finished the season with 3,350 passing yards and 198 rushing yards in 13 contests, completing 58.8% of his passes and throwing only seven interceptions. Second on the depth chart is junior J.J. Cosentino, though true freshman James Blackman has generated some buzz in camp.

Running Back:

NCAA Football: Boston College at Florida State
Jacques Patrick
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

With a freshman QB and Dalvin Cook in the backfield, Flsher leaned pretty heavily on the run game. They were primarily a zone-based attack with a particular affinity for attacking the edges with both outside zone and QB sweep plays. It will be interesting to see if that strategy changes with new starting RB Jacques Patrick in the game. Patrick is a bigger back in the mold of Bo Scarbrough, listed at 6’2” 235 lbs. and even wears a matching number 9. Patrick sometimes runs a bit too upright to take full advantage of his power, but blows right through arm tackles. Behind Patrick is all-everything freshman Cam Akers, who ran 1 and 1A with Alabama freshman Najee Harris in the 2017 RB recruiting rankings. Akers is built an awful lot like former Alabama great Mark Ingram at 5’11”, 213 lbs. He is compact and powerful with 4.4 speed. He was also a fairly accomplished passer as a high school quarterback, so Jimbo might come up with a halfback pass or two this season and FSU fans will probably tire of announcers bringing it up every time he enters the game. Senior Ryan Green and sophomore Amir Rasul should see time as well.

Wide Receiver:

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State
Nyqwan Murray
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The receiver position is something of a question mark for the ‘Noles as they look to replace their top three reception leaders from last season. They do return some experience in Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray, who put up almost identical stat lines in combining for 52 catches for 850 yards and 11 scores. The two are very different style-wise, with Murray as the smaller slot-type receiver while Tate stands 6’5.” Sophomore Keith Gavin is the #3 guy, another big target at 6’3”, and they signed a great class led by five star George Campbell, who may well have cracked the starting rotation if not for a camp injury. He is listed as a backup on the depth chart, so we will likely see him at some point along with fellow freshman Tamorrion Terry. There is plenty of talent here, but that much turnover in the receiving corps, particularly since Cook was statistically the #2 receiver, could pose some issues early as the new groupings get acclimated against live competition.

Offensive Line:

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Florida State
Alec Eberle
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the longest running football clichés tells us that games are won and lost in the trenches, and if Florida State has an Achilles’ heel this season, the offensive line is the most likely candidate. The leader of the group is third-year starting C Alec Eberle. Eberle is a tough kid who played through torn labrums in both hips last season, leading to some inconsistency. He had surgery in the offseason and appears to be healthy, but will be immediately tested by one of the nastiest nose tackles in the country in Da’Ron Payne. The guard position should be solid if the starters can find a way to stay on the field. Former four-star LG Landon Dickerson is coming off ACL surgery while massive 340-lb. RG Cole Minshew was a medical redshirt in 2015 and has suffered at least two concussions in Tallahassee. Behind them are juniors Ethan Frith and Brock Ruble.

The tackle position is perhaps the greatest area of concern for the Florida State faithful. Protecting Francois’ blind side will be junior Derrick Kelly. The coaches seem to be pretty high on Kelly but he is really more of a RT and has been injury prone as well, having seen his past two seasons cut short with knee issues. Kelly started his career at guard but spent last season at RT. On the other side is converted DE Rick Leonard. Leonard is probably the most athletic of the bunch and was also tried at LT this fall before settling on the right. He started six games at RT last season. To be frank, there doesn’t appear to be a legitimate LT on the roster. Highly touted redshirt freshman Josh Ball is supposed to be that type of guy, but thus far hasn’t been able to beat out the upperclassmen. He is listed as the backup at both tackle spots.

Tight End:

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Florida State
Ryan Izzo
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At tight end, the ‘Noles return redshirt juniors Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders. Both are capable as blockers and receivers but were rarely targeted in the passing game, combining for only 29 catches and one touchdown, which isn’t terribly surprising considering the questionable situation at tackle. Look for this group to spend the vast majority of their time blocking on Saturday.

Synopsis:

There is certainly talent to be found on this side of the football, but an awful lot of turnover as well. Alabama is an incredibly difficult dress rehearsal for a conference slate that features two tough September tests in the Miami Hurricanes and NC State Wolfpack, both far more important to Florida State’s playoff fortunes than the opener. With those games looming it will be interesting to see how Fisher plays this one. He obviously wants to win badly, but in the back of his mind he has to be concerned about Francois taking too many shots from an athletic Alabama defense that will be looking to wash January’s nasty taste from their mouths. Look for a heavy reliance on the run game and play action, with plenty of max protect when Francois is asked to drop back to pass. In any event, this unit must jell quickly if the ‘Noles are to have a chance to pull the upset.