Without a doubt, Brigham Young’s Max Hall is drooling over a chance to face a Florida State secondary this Saturday that looked young, inexperienced, and gullible in the team’s first two games.
After all, in two games of his own this season, Hall has completed 71 percent of his passes for 638 yards and four touchdowns en route to upsetting Oklahoma, blowing out Tulane and leading his team to a No. 7 ranking in the AP Top 25.
For Brigham Young, a win Saturday over the visiting Seminoles would keep the dream of a perfect season alive and reward the Cougars for taking a shot at some tough out-of-conference opponents to start the season.
For Florida State, a much-needed win would return confidence to the program and its recruits, and the momentum swing could prove crucial going into a stretch of the schedule that features South Florida, Boston College, No. 14 Georgia Tech, and No. 24 North Carolina.
But can FSU’s makeshift secondary keep Hall and the high-flying Cougars from stretching their home winning streak to 19 games? Well, I would argue, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Sure, the Seminole secondary looks to be at a disadvantage against Hall and a talented receiving corps, but could the unit perform any worse than its debut showing against Miami? Between blown assignments, missed tackles and just flat out poor coverage, FSU defensive backs made Miami quarterback Jacory Harris look like a Manning brother.
But, when it was all said and done, the Hurricanes still had to score 21 points in the fourth quarter and survive a goal-line stand in the final seconds to beat the Seminoles by four points.
In other words, will Max Hall take advantage of FSU’s struggles in the secondary? Most likely, yes — just like Miami did. But will that translate into a win for the Cougars? I’m not so sure. What I do know is there are a number of things Florida State will have to do as the underdog to turn the tide in its favor.
First and foremost, the Seminoles must find a way to pressure the quarterback and disrupt BYU’s passing attack at the line of scrimmage. That is much easier said than done, however, as Hall is good at getting rid of the ball quickly and the average Brigham Young offensive lineman weighs in at around 317 pounds.
While the Seminoles registered just one sack against Miami in the season opener, FSU sacked Jacksonville State’s Ryan Perrilloux seven times in the defense’s second outing. The improvement can be credited largely to senior linebacker Dekoda Watson, who was used in a number of way to create havoc in the backfield, and recorded a team-high 3.5 sacks. Expect the Noles to use Watson as a weapon again on Saturday and to continue to bring pressure off the edge and from the secondary.
Ideally, putting pressure on Hall would also limit BYU’s chances on third down, where the Cougars have been very effective. Through two games this season, Brigham Young has converted 14-of-27 third-down attempts and holds close to an 11-minute advantage in time of possession — a margin the Seminoles will have to cut into in order to be successful on Saturday.
One way to limit the Cougars’ time of possession would be to win the turnover battle. The Seminoles are 7-0 when Christian Ponder does not throw an interception, and much of the team’s struggles against JSU can be attributed to the three fumbles FSU coughed up in an ugly win that came down to the final minutes.
And, despite being the No. 7 team in the country, Brigham Young isn’t exactly error-proof this season. The Cougars turned the ball over four times against Oklahoma, and a similar performance would create opportunities for an FSU defense that hasn’t lost its big-play potential. The Seminoles have scored defensive touchdowns in each of their last two games and in four of their last six games dating back to last season.
Speaking of big plays, Florida State could also even the playing field Saturday on special teams. Freshman Greg Reid has shown that he can be a dangerous return man so far this season, and the Noles are no strangers to making big plays on special teams, especially on a big stage.
While Brigham Young returned a fumble for a touchdown last week against Tulane, the Cougars have not scored on a kickoff return or punt return since 1998 and 2006, respectively.
Offensively, Florida State will have its hands full with a BYU defense that likes to get after the quarterback. Against BYU, FSU cannot afford to be one-dimensional, and that means Jimbo Fisher and company will have to establish the running game. For the Seminoles, the ground game may start with Christian Ponder’s ability to scramble and pick up big chunks of yards on the run, but it has got to start somewhere.
Florida State will need the running game to avoid third-and-long situations where the Cougars’ 3-4 scheme and fondness for blitzing will be most effective. The running game will also help FSU’s offensive line buy Ponder enough time in the pocket to find targets down field, and, if they can do that, the Seminoles’ passing attack should be just as potent as BYU’s. Ponder threw for 294 yards against Miami, 324 yards against JSU, and has a number of deep threats and run-after-the-catch guys at his disposal.
So there are my keys to the game for Florida State on Saturday. All things considered, the Seminoles should have a pretty good shot at turning their season around and proving to their fans that things may not be as bad as they look after all.
The bad news? Brigham Young is a grind it out team that isn’t about to give up its dream season and the No. 7 ranking without a fight. The Cougars have won nine consecutive games decided by seven points or less and are 34-4 when leading at the half.
My guess is Saturday’s game goes to the team that wants it the most. BYU’s motives are pretty obvious, but to Florida State, I would ask, “Are you content with being irrelevant?”
Because that’s the conclusion everyone outside of Tallahassee will keep coming to until you can prove otherwise. Why not start on Saturday with BYU?