Watch for three key indicators for the BYU Cougars as they venture into Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday to take on the Florida State Seminoles.
1) The Cougars must limit the Florida State ground attack.
In last year’s contest the ‘Noles racked up a whopping 313 yards rushing and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
The BYU defense will have to perform much, much better against the run this time around if they expect to have a chance to pull this game out.
Watch to see how the Cougar front seven is getting off blocks. Last year the Seminole offensive line swallowed up the Cougar defenders and completely controlled the line of scrimmage.
Romney Fuga’s play in this game will be key. If he can demand a double team that will go a long way towards the Cougars having success in this area.
In last year’s game the front three for the Cougars were handled one-on-one by Florida State’s offensive linemen and that allowed the other Seminole blockers to then get to the BYU linebackers and knock them off the ball.
In the 2009 match up the Seminoles were extremely effective on third down, converting 12 of 15 opportunities, in large part because of their success running the ball on first down. Can the Cougars stuff the run on first down plays and create obvious passing situations for themselves to defend against? That’s the big question.
Much of Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder’s success in the passing game comes off of play action when the running game is clicking. Because they were so successful on the ground, the play-action passing was very effective against the Cougars. Ponder completed 21 of 26 pass attempts for 195 yards and two touchdowns and kept the chains moving.
In Oklahoma’s 47-17 win over the Seminoles last week, the Sooners limited FSU to 123 yards on the ground on 32 carries, a 3.8-yard average.
With Ponder’s running game effectively stuffed, he was unable to get things going through the air with a relatively new receiving corps. He connected on just 11 of 28 passes for 113 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions and eventually gave way to back-up quarterback by E.J. Manuel. The Seminoles also converted just 5 of 16 third down opportunities.
2) The Cougars must execute in the short passing game.
Florida State has changed their defensive philosophy under new head coach Jimbo Fisher. Gone is the man-to-man coverage that the Seminoles had clung to under Bobby Bowden, and in has come a new zone-based scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who comes to Tallahassee after serving as the DC at Arizona for the past six years.
Over the past few seasons Florida State has struggled to recruit the type of defensive backs needed to be successful in a man system, hence the changes in 2010.
But as Oklahoma and sophomore quarterback Laundry Jones showed last Saturday, the Seminoles are still coming up to speed in executing the new defense. The Sooners used the short passing game to exploit a young FSU defense as Jones went 30-40 for 380 yards (321 of those in the first half) and four touchdowns.
The large majority of those passes were of the short-to-mid-range variety, and it appeared that the Sooner receivers were running free much of the afternoon.
Traditionally the Cougars have fared well against zone defenses. Teams that can play tight man-to-man coverage like Utah and TCU have given BYU more problems.
The question is, can either of the BYU quarterbacks approach the same level of execution to take advantage of the Seminoles’ apparent weaknesses on defense?
There are questions about Nelson’s ability to consistently move the Cougars with his arm, and neither Nelson or true freshman Jake Heaps appear to be getting the repetitions in practice necessary to develop the kind of timing and rhythm needed with their receivers.
One would think that Heaps abilities would be better suited to attack the Seminoles’ soft spots on defense, assuming that he can handle the pressure of playing in front of 80,000-plus doing the tomahawk chop.
3) The Cougars must limit their turnovers
As many problems as BYU had on defense, circumstances certainly weren’t helped by the five turnovers that the Cougar offense and kick-return team coughed up.
Early on, in last year’s contest, the Cougars were looking like they might trade punches with Florida State until O’Neill Chambers fumbled the ball deep in FSU territory. The Seminoles capitalized by putting together a 86-yard touchdown drive and never really looked back from there.
Florida State also got a field goal off a BYU gift just before the first half ended to go up 30-14 at half, that after Jan Jorgenson picked up a short kick-off and then fumbled the ball away to the Seminole kick coverage team.
The Cougars then started the second half with Max Hall throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown and that was all she wrote. Hall would go on to throw two more interceptions in a desperate attempt to come back from a huge deficit.
Saturday the Cougars must place an emphasis on ball security. If they turn the ball over on the Seminoles home turf more than once in this game you can probably kiss any chance of victory good bye.
Well, there you have three keys things to keep an eye on for in this game. If the Cougars can execute in the short passing game, not turn the ball over and slow down the Florida State running attack then they have a chance to pull off an upset. If they have major breakdowns in any of those three areas then it could be a long afternoon in Tallahassee.
Both the Cougars and Seminoles are coming off embarrassing losses from last week. The fact that the Cougars will travel a long distance and have little room for error in front of a hostile crowd favors Florida State. So does the expected 94-degree heat and 58-percent humidity (the Cougars better bring plenty of pickle juice!).
The heart says the Cougars will bounce back and shock the college football world yet again. The head says that the room for error is too small to get the W at the house that Bowden built.
Florida State 31 BYU 16
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