Florida State vs. Auburn: Seminoles' Best Defense Is a Ball-Control Offense

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 3, 2014

Getty Images/Jeff Gammons

A lot of the talk leading up to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn has been how Florida State's defense—which ranks third nationally (268.5 YPG)—will slow down the Tigers' multi-dimensional rushing attack, which leads the nation at 335.7 yards per game.

However, this game may not even be decided when Florida State is on defense.

In fact, the Seminoles' best defense in this particular matchup is a ball-control offense, and they have the weapons to get it done.

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 26: Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles runs to score during the opening minuets during the first half against North Carolina State Wolfpack at Doak Campbell Stadiumon October 26, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida (Photo
Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

While all of the attention seems to fall on Auburn's three-headed running game, the Seminoles' trio of Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. has been no slouch, either. The 'Noles finished third in the ACC in rushing offense with 207.4 yards per game, finished second in the conference with 41 rushing touchdowns and led the conference in yards per attempt at 5.69.

Florida State RB James Wilder, Jr.
Florida State RB James Wilder, Jr.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Freeman is the work horse of the group, rushing for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns on 162 carries this season. He's a prototypical every-down back, who can absolutely take over a game on the ground.

Luckily for Florida State, he doesn't have to.

Wilder and Williams have settled into roles as key contributors, and allowed head coach Jimbo Fisher to keep all of his running backs fresh for a full 60 minutes. That will pay off if the 'Noles get tested in the fourth quarter of the title game.

Williams knows that the best way to neutralize Auburn's offense is to keep it on the sideline, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

Run game is going to be very key. To milk that clock, get that clock going down, because they score fast. …They key on our side of the ball, from watching them, is making sure we control the clock, making sure we control the line of scrimmage, and the run game is going to open up the passing game.

Unlike Auburn's rushing attack, which puts running backs in very specific roles that play to their strengths, all three of Florida State's key contributors on the ground excel in a variety of roles. That uncertainty makes them very dangerous in the title game.

Florida State vs. Auburn - Top 3 Rushers
PlayerTeamRush YdsYPCRush TDsYPG
Tre MasonAuburn1,6215.7322124.69
Nick MarshallAuburn1,0236.561185.25
Devonta FreemanFSU9435.821372.54
Karlos WilliamsFSU7058.201154.23
Corey GrantAuburn65010.00650.00
James Wilder, Jr.FSU5426.95845.17

So how does Florida's rushing attack match up with Auburn's defense?

The Tigers rank 10th in the SEC in rush defense, after giving up 163.2 yards per game this season. They're giving up an average of 182.10 yards on the ground per game against BCS AQ competition this season, and 202.8 per game since the start of November.

Auburn's defensive line rotates eight guys all game long, but linebackers Jake Holland, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost routinely take poor angles and struggle in the tackling department.

If the Seminoles can force Marshall and company into a spectator role, it will wear down Auburn's defense and open up those passing lanes off play action whenever they do decide to open things up.

With Winston taking snaps; Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene outside; and a porous Tigers pass defense, it's easy to say that the game will be won or lost through the air.

The path of least resistance for the 'Noles will be on the ground.

It's where they've excelled this season, and will keep Auburn's most dangerous weapon—that offense—on the sideline.