Florida State is frantically working on a way to stop Auburn's rushing attack. Meanwhile, on The Plains, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is trying to come up with a way to stop the Seminoles' dynamic attack. In addition to mixing and disguising coverages and using the front four, many will talk about blitzing as the answer to Auburn's Jameis Winston problem.
Except the blitz just is not the answer.
Bringing added pressure is not the best answer early. It is not the best answer late. Most importantly, it is not the best solution over the course of a 60-minute ballgame against Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.
Winning against the blitz starts with blocking. Florida State's offensive line passes off loops and twists very well, and the group does a phenomenal job of recognizing pressure coming from depth, all over the field. It is not merely the offensive line. Tight end Nick O'Leary, fullback Chad Abram and the trio of running backs all willingly get involved in pass protection.
The next step for the 'Noles is Winston. The redshirt freshman works well against the blitz in several ways, most noticeably the ball placement and speed with which he gets the ball to his receivers. However, it is the other elements of his game that create the opportunity to get the ball out to his targets.
Winston's a big kid, and although he is still developing his footwork, against the blitz, he often shows why he's one of the nation's best at the position. When pressure comes from his right, he fades to his left. When pressure pushes him from the left, he pushes to his right. As outside rushers run the hump, Winston is comfortable stepping up into the voids.
Then, of course, there is Winston's size. At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Winston is big enough to shake off defenders who bring pressure, and that is a valuable asset. More importantly, Winston's size gives him the confidence to stand in the pocket, in the face of pressure and deliver the ball to his spots.
And the final piece of the puzzle is the receiving group. Florida State boasts the nation's best combination of receivers, and this group is not only capable of getting open, but they understand when and how to create space to help their quarterback.
Now, it must be stated that even with all those positives, blitzing can still work against Florida State. There will be breakdowns, and it can lead to a sack.
However, the issue in defending Florida State is that blitzes create diminishing returns. As teams blitz to create pressure, Jimbo Fisher's team exploits the openings created through pressures and forces teams to pay for adding pressure to the mix. Here, Clemson brings pressure and Winston hangs in the pocket, absorbs the hit and finds the hole in the coverage.
Winston's the X factor on that play because he stands strong in the pocket. A lot of quarterbacks see that blitzer from the left side and crumple in the pocket, or they do not see the pressure and lack the arm strength to deliver the strike while protecting themselves.
Operating in the face of the blitz is something that Winston has done well all season. Here, in his first game, the quarterback takes the snap, recognizes pressure from the right, steps left to get a little space and then delivers a strike to tight end O'Leary.
Out of this set, the offensive line recognizes the pressure, and Abrams steps up to combat the first threat of linebackers pushing into the pocket. Winston notices the deep safety vacating the interior to get over top of the corner route to the right side of the field. Winston then hits O'Leary, who has inside leverage on the defender for a very easy pitch and catch.
Here, in Game 12, Winston works in similar fashion to make a play against the Florida Gators. The offensive line negotiates the movement in front of them, passing the tackle across the formation and picking up the linebackers coming as Kelvin Benjamin grabs a toss from Winston.
Florida plays man coverage in this 11 personnel set. Nickel Brian Poole, No. 24, is tasked with covering Benjamin. He has deep safety help to the interior, but the depth of Benjamin's inside route and the size of the Florida State receiver make it impossible for Poole to make a play on the ball. With the defender, who would usually sit in the hole for that pass, added to the rush, it's an easy throw.
Where the BCS National Championship is concerned, the goal has to be getting pressure to Winston with its talented front four. Dee Ford, Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright, Elijah Daniel and the rest of the group have to handle the quarterback with four-man rushes.
The group certainly has the talent to do it. It will be a matter of getting pressure against a talented Florida State offensive line in order to impact Winston making throws. Without harassment, Winston is going to pick his spots to hurt this Auburn defense. If the Tigers are forced to commit five and six players to consistently pressure the Heisman Trophy winner, the Auburn secondary will have its work cut out for it.