Florida State is the next team in line to try and stop—or at least slow down—the Auburn Tigers. Auburn has ripped off nine wins in a row, including toppling No. 1 Alabama, and it boasts the nation's top rushing attack.
So, in the BCS Championship Game, how do the 'Noles go about limiting running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall—two guys who exploded to end the season?
Well, hopefully they don't follow Alabama and Missouri's examples.
Here's a look from the Alabama game against 20 personnel.
And this is Mizzou against a similar formation and 20 personnel. No motions, no moving, just Mason and Jay Prosch in the backfield with Nick Marshall.
It doesn't look bad. The teams are lined up correctly, and they seem to have gaps covered. Yet a closer look at the box, where the immediate run defenders are positioned in either set, shows the issue.
Against a traditional team, this is the smart play. The nickel defender or money player is tight enough to the box to provide additional run support, while two safeties are kept high to protect against the possible big pass play.
Unfortunately, Auburn is not a traditional team. Therefore, the presence of six immediate run defenders within striking distance of the line becomes an advantage for the Tigers.
Auburn has eight men in the box—that's eight players, three of whom can carry the ball, against the six immediate run players. So, while corners or the safeties might be tied to the run defense, these players are not in the vicinity when the Tigers make their decisions. Those choices ultimately lead to positive plays and possible explosions.
Here is where Florida State's belief in its secondary comes into play. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has confidence in his unit, which is led by safety-turned-corner Lamarcus Joyner. Also, both Terrence Brooks and Jalen Ramsey are among the nation's better safeties. Mix in Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams at corner and Nate Andrews as a money player, and the 'Noles have assets at the position.
They believe in those assets. They know that these players—unlike Cyrus Jones at Alabama—can be left alone in coverage without disaster occurring.
In real terms, that means Florida State will—much like Michigan State did this season—commit more players to stopping the run. More specifically, it means adding a defender into the immediate run defense mix. Here is what it could look like for the Seminoles when they hold onto 3-4 alignment while dropping Brooks or Ramsey into the mix.
Out of the 4-3, the Seminoles can get into a similar look.
Assignment football is always the plan against this offensive system, and getting more bodies closer to the point of attack makes everyone's job easier. However, that is merely the start of what Florida State must work with to slow down this offense.
Auburn adjusts swell, and for every defensive thrust, the Tigers have an offensive parry. Gus Malzahn will look to make it hard for the Seminoles. One quick counter will be going from 11 and 21 personnel to 10 personnel, inserting four receivers into the set and spreading the Seminoles out.
Even with four receivers in the game, Auburn still has two 1,000-yard rushers and the ability to motion into the jet sweep. But the formation puts strain on the Seminoles because the defense has to honor and cover the wideouts spread by the two-by-two or three-by-one formations.
What do you think is the most important element of FSU's defensive game plan?
Florida State has to respect the doubles and trip sets because Auburn has no problem taking the snap and throwing quick screens to either side. It is the one pass that Marshall has shown remarkable consistency in hitting over the course of the season. Expect the Seminoles to remain in one-high-safety looks.
Unlike most teams in America, Florida State is comfortable with its defenders mugged up at the line of scrimmage to play press. Although Sammie Coates is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, he's not the type of receiving threat that scares Seminoles defenders.
There will be ebbs and flows to the game, and as Florida State takes away one thing, the Tigers will do another. The key to a successful game plan for the Seminoles is to get bodies to the football. Although the Tigers have made big pass plays over the course of the season, they typically win on the ground.
Playing with fear of the explosive down-the-field pass would lead to inadequate run defense. That is how Auburn has burned a hole in the SEC in 2013. If Florida State does not want to be the Tigers' next victim, they have to stop the run in Pasadena, Calif. at the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6.