Florida State vs Auburn Tigers Game Preview


Credit to pjohn56 at Tomahawk Nation for this art.

Florida State Rush Offense vs Auburn Rush Defense
Florida State averages 207.38 yards per game on the ground this year, 24th in the nation.  On a per carry basis, the Noles average 5.69 yards which is 9th best in the nation.  The Seminoles have 41 rushing touchdowns on the season, 7th best in the nation.  According to Football Outsider‘s S&P+ advanced stats which take opponent into consideration and filters out garbage time, Florida State has the 11th best rushing attack in the nation.

The Seminoles are led on the ground by a trio of running backs that each bring a little something different to the table.  The starter and the one with majority of the carries (34%) is Devonta Freeman.  Freeman  has 943 yards on a 5.82 yards per carry average for the year and has added 13 touchdowns.  Freeman is a well rounded back that has excellent vision and patience combined with good speed and power from a smaller back.  Karlos Williams is next on the team with 18% of the carries.  Williams has 705 yards on a ridiculous 8.20 yards per carry average.  He also averages a touchdown on 12% of his carries (11 on the year). The majority of his carries (72/86) have come in the 2nd half.  He comes in fresh with a burst of speed that most teams aren’t ready for.   Williams was a safety to begin the year and transitioned to running back after the 2nd game of the year having never played the position in his life.  He has a rare combination of sprinters speed (10.5 100 meters) with size (6’1″ 223 lbs).  Last of the group is James Wilder Jr. who has 16% of the carries this season.  Wilder has 542 yards on a 6.95 yards per carry average and 8 touchdowns.   WIlder is a big, physical running back at 6’2″ 229 lbs that enjoys contact.  He is often called in on short yardage situations and has produced well.  He has 14 carries on 3rd and less than 3 yards to go and has converted 11 of those with a 8 yard average and 4 runs of 10+ yards.

Paving the way for the FSU rushing attack is a good group of offensive lineman led by Rimington Award Winner, Bryan Stork (6’4″ 300).  Stork is the lone senior of the group and anchors the middle.  To the left and right of Stork are 1st Team All-ACC guard Tre Jackson (6’4″ 330) and 3rd Team All-ACC guard Josue Matias (6’6″ 322).  Both guards are excellent in the run game with Jackson being a little better overall in the pass game.  On one edges is LT Cameron Erving (6’6″ 320) who was the Jacobs Trophy winner as the top lineman in the ACC and 1st Team All-American by USA Today and SI.com.  The other side is manned by Bobby Hart (6’4″ 315), an Honorable Mention All-ACC RT.

On the other side of the ball, Auburn is giving up 164.15 yards per game on the ground, 64th in the nation and an 85th ranked 4.59 yards per carry.  The Tigers have allowed 18 touchdown for the season on the ground, 51st in the nation.  S&P+ rates the Auburn rush defense as the 44th best in the nation.

Auburn is led on defense by a deep and talented group of defensive lineman.  Dee Ford (6’2″ 240) is the top lineman at defensive end for Auburn, but he has more on an impact against the pass as a rush end.  Gabe Wright (6’3″ 296) is probably the best run stopper for the Tigers. The defensive tackle has 30 tackles on the season and 5.5 tackles for loss against the run, both tops among defensive lineman for Auburn.  Nosa Equae is an undersized tackle at 6’3″ 269 lbs, but behind the starters Montavius Adams (6’4″ 305) and Ben Bradley (6’1″ 295) have good size.  Weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is the top tackler in run support.  The big 6’3″ 246 lbs McKinzy has a second best 66 tackles on the season.

This matchup favors FSU and could be key to the Seminoles success depending on how Auburn chooses defend.  The FSU passing game has been excellent this season and if Auburn keeps a nickel look with safeties back, FSU could really exploit the Auburn rush defense for a big game.  I look for FSU to at least match their season average of 5.69 yards per carry and most likely finish around 6.0 yards per carry.

Matchup to Watch:  FSU RG Tre Jackson vs Auburn DT Gabe Wright
This is a best-on-best matchup with Tre Jackson being the best run blocker for the Noles and Gabe Wright being the Tigers top run stopper.  While many of the FSU run plays are of the off-tackle or stretch variety, controlling the interior of the line is imperative for developing the play and will go a long way in determining the success on the ground for the Noles.

Advantage:  FSU


Florida State Pass Offense vs Auburn Pass Defense
Florida State has had one of the top passing offenses in the nation this season.  Florida State leads the nation in passing efficiency at 178.28, is 3rd in the nation with a 10.3 yards per attempt average, and 14th in the nation averaging 322 yards per game.   The FSU pass offense is rated as the best in the nation according to S&P+ advanced statistics.

Florida State is led through the air by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.  Winston is tops in the nation with a 190.06 passer rating and 10.9 yards per attempt.  He is 3rd in the nation with 38 touchdown passes, 11th in the nation averaging 293.8 yards per game, and 9th in the nation with a 67.9% completion rate.  He’s been especially good against the blitz and on 3rd down.  When teams bring 5 or more pass rushers Winston is completing 70.6% of his passes with 20 touchdown to just 3 interceptions and 12 sacks.  On 3rd down, he is 47 of 69 for 754 yards, 43 first downs, 8 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.  When it’s 3rd and 10+ yards, he’s even better completing 16 of 21 for 317 yards, 15 first downs, and 4 touchdowns.  He is a very accurate passer with a good arm, but excellent anticipation.  His anticipation and pre-snap reads in particular are probably his greatest attributes as a passer.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s throwing to 3 potential future NFL wide receivers.

The most popular target in the Florida State pass offense is Rashad Greene.  Greene has 67 catches on the season for 981 yards and 9 touchdowns.  He is a well rounded receiver that has adequate size at 6’0″ 180 lbs with great quickness and good speed.  He runs excellent routes and has very good hands.  Greene is also very dangerous after the catch.  Next up is the hottest receiver for the Noles the last few games in Kelvin Benjamin.  Benjamin is a massive 6’5″ 236 lbs wide receiver good speed and agility for a big man.  He is averaging a team best 19.14 yards per catch and leads the team with 14 touchdown receptions.  Benjamin is 2nd on the team with 957 yards and 3rd with 50 catches.   Lastly is Kenny Shaw, the most consistent and polished receiver of the bunch.  Shaw is 6’0″ 170 lbs, runs excellent routes, and is a tough reliable receiver.  He has 52 catches for 929 yards and 6 touchdowns on the year.  This is the first trio of wide receivers in FSU history to have 900+ yards in the same season.   Tight end Nick O’Leary is 4th on the team with 33 catches for 557 yards.  He is a very reliable option for Winston and has developed a good rapport with the first year quarterback.

Protecting Jameis Winston is a good group of offensive lineman.  Left tackle Cameron Erving and center Bryan Stork are the most decorated of the group, but right guard Tre Jackson and left guard Josue Matias also have garnered post season accolades.  Bobby Hart has also played very well this season at right tackle.  Overall the group is probably better in the run game, but you can’t argue with the results of the passing offense.  Negatively, the group has allowed 29 sacks this season, 87th in the nation.  Arguably, many of those rest on the shoulders of Jameis Winston for holding the ball too long, getting greedy wanting to throw downfield and not taking check downs.  Also important to note is the job of Devonte Freeman in the passing game.  First, he is very good a picking up the blitz in the backfield.  He is also a reliable target out of the backfield with 19 catches for 257 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, Auburn has struggled against the pass in 2013.  The Tigers give up 259.3 yards per game which is 103rd in the nation, 7.4 yards per attempt which is 83rd in the nation and have allowed 3,371 yards this season which is 113th in the country.  The Tigers have a pass defense rating of 126.25 which is 61st in the nation.  Part of their issue is giving up big plays as they’ve given up 50 pass plays of 20+ yards on the season, 11th most in the country and 3rd most by a BCS conference team.  One area the Auburn pass defense does do well is in the redzone.  There opponents are completing just 38% of their passes and a passer rating of just 101.28  Adjusted for opponent, S&P+ ranks Auburn 31st in the nation in pass defense.

Auburn’s top defender in the secondary is Chris Davis.  Davis was named to a couple 2nd team All-SEC teams as a cornerback.  He has decent size, very good speed and agility, and is the top cover corner for the Tigers.  He leads the team with 13 passes broken up, however he hasn’t nabbed an interception on the year.  The most opportunistic player in the defensive backfield for the Tigers has been Robenson Therezie with 4 interceptions.  Therezie plays the Star position in Auburn’s defense, basically a full time versatile nickel back.

Auburn is not especially great at getting after the quarterback.  They have 28 sacks on the season, which is tied 43rd in the nation, but have 109 quarterback hurries on the year.  Leading the way is speedy pass rusher Dee Ford, who is a 1st Team All-SEC performer.  Ford has 8.5 sacks on the season and 17 quarterback hurries.  After Ford, Auburn gets after the quarterback by committee with four defensive lineman having between 2 and 4 sacks on the year.  Most of the pressure comes off the edges from Ford, Carl Lawson, Ladarius Owens, and Elijah Daniel.  The Tigers rely on the front four for pressure as linebackers have combined for only 2 sacks and no defensive backs have recorded a sack.  Likewise, there have been very few quarterback hurries from outside the defensive line on the year.

On paper, this is the biggest mismatch of the game.  The Tigers have given up 300+ yards passing 5 times with two of those games being 400+ yard games.  Florida State has thrown for 300+ yards passing in 9 of their games.  I can’t see Auburn holding FSU under their averages of 10.3 yards per completion or 322 yards through the air per game.

Matchup to Watch: FSU WR Kenny Shaw vs Auburn Star Robenson Therezie
Kenny Shaw is often lined up in the slot for FSU.  This will most likely have him matched up against Star Robenson Therezie.  With the Auburn safeties most likely giving extra attention to either Kelvin Benjamin or Rashad Greene on the outside, Shaw may find himself in a lot of man to man situations.
Advantage: FSU


Auburn Rush Offense vs Florida State Rush Defense
Auburn has one of the top rushing offense in the nation.  The Tigers average a nation’s best 335.69 yards per game and 4,364 total yards on the ground.  It’s not just number of rushes that get them there (though they do run the ball more per game than all but 4 teams), but the production on each of those runs, too.  Auburn averages 6.46 yards per rush which 3rd in the nation. The Tigers 46 rushing touchdowns is also 2nd in the nation.  S&P+ ranks the Auburn rush offense as the 3rd best in the nation.

The Tigers are led on the ground by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason.  Mason is bowling ball of a back at 5’10” 205 lbs with power and speed.  He also is a very patient back that does a good job reading his blocks, exploding in the hole and using good vision to find the seams.  After a bit of a slow start to the season, Mason has rushed for 100+ yards 5 straight games and 8 of the last 10 (with one of the two non-100 yard games being against Florida Atlantic when he played sparingly).  On the season, Mason has 1,621 yards on a 5.73 yards per carry average and 22 touchdowns.  The second leading rusher on the team in both carries and yards is quarterback Nick Marshall.  Marshall runs the read option very well and has blazing speed.  A former cornerback at Georiga, Marshall reportedly runs a sub 4.4 fourty yard dash and is able to find the edge with that speed.   Marshall has 1,023 yards rushing on the season with a 6.56 yards per carry average and 11 touchdowns.  Corey Grant is the most explosive of the Auburn running backs with 650 yards on just 65 carries for a ridiculous 10 yard per carry average. Cameron Artis-Payne rounds out the bulk of the carries for Auburn with 609 yards on 90 carries for a good 6.77 yards per carry average.

When a rushing attack is as successful as Auburns is, they must be doing something right up front on the line.  Auburn is led by Rimington Trophy finalist Reese Dismukes at center.  Dismukes (6’3″ 297) has been called the glue that holds the Tigers line together as a smart and important leader calling out blocking schemes, etc.  Greg Robinson (6’5″ 320) is the top NFL Prospect on the Auburn line at left tackle.  Robinson was an AP 1st Team All-SEC selection.  Guards Alex Kozan (6’4″ 297) and Chad Slade (6’5″ 313) are less heralded, but vital to the Auburn rush offense that used guards pulling a good portion of the time.  At right tackle is Avery Young (6’6″ 304) has just 10 career starts and is the least experienced of the group, but still very talented.

Florida State is giving up 116.5 yards per game which is 14th in the nation.  On a yards per carry basis, however, they’re 7th in the nation allowing just 3.14 yards per carry.   They are 1st in the nation allowing only 5 rushing touchdowns on the season (zero by the first team defense).  S&P+ ranks the Noles rush defense as the 5th best in the nation.

The FSU rush defense has actually been a little better than the stats show, but that hasn’t always been the case.  Early in the season, the Florida State defensive coaches were experimenting with a lot of different personnel groupings and formations that led to some less-than-inspiring performances.  After the Boston College game where the Noles gave up 200 yards on the ground, changes were made that made a drastic impact on the defense.  In five of the last nine games, Florida State has held opponents under 100 yards and in the games that they gave up 100+ yards (NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest) the vast majority of those yards came in the 2nd half against backup and reserve defenders during blowouts.

A big reason for the recent play of the Florida State rush defense has been the play of defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.  Edwards is a powerful 6’3″ 277 end that does an excellent job of setting the edge and forcing teams to either bounce way wide or try the interior of the defensive line.  He has just 22 tackles on the year, but it’s more about what he forces other teams to do.  Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (6’2″ 292) is the beneficiary of the plays turned to the middle.  With 54 stops, he’s 4th on the team in tackles and also leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss.  Jernigan is almost certainly a 1st round NFL Draft pick in 2014 and can dominate the line of scrimmage with quickness and strength.  Eddie Goldman (6’4″ 303) starts next to Jernigan and has seen his play really escalate the second half of the season.  He is a touch guy to move at the point of attack and does a good job swallowing blockers.  At the other end is Christian Jones, an undersized 6’4″ 235 lbs player who spent the first 3 years at outside linebacker.  This year, after starting the season at middle linebacker, Jones has found success playing a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position with his hand on the ground most of the time.  He uses speed and quickness to his advantage.  Where he excels is in his ability to play the read option using his linebacker skills.  The top tackler for the Noles is linebacker Telvin Smith.  Smith is a bit on the small side at 6’3″ 218 lbs but is blindingly fast with great anticipation.  He and cornerback/star Lamarcus Joyner (5’8″ 190) do an excellent job at chasing down stretch plays and plays boucned to the outside.  Their play will be critical against the potent Auburn rushing attack.

This is the biggest “something’s got to give” matchup of the game featuring an outstanding run defense against one of the nations best run offenses.  I don’t see see FSU shutting the Auburn rushing attack down , however, I do think they can slow the attack some.  I think the Noles will hold Auburn to around 5.5 yards per carry which is 175% their average allowed and 85% of what Auburn normally averages.

Matchup to Watch: Auburn RT Avery Young vs FSU DE Christian Jones
I tend to think that Mario Edwards will have some success against LT Greg Robinson.  Coming into the game I think Auburn probably would like to attack Jones side more, too.  Therefore, this becomes a big matchup for both teams in determining the success of Auburn’s run game.  Jones does well in space, but I think Auburn can have some advantage running right at him.

Advantage: Auburn


Auburn Pass Offense vs Florida State Pass Defense
Auburn is a run first team, but has much more success through the air than other run first teams like Georgia Tech or Navy.  The Tigers throw for 169.6 yards per game which is 109th in the nation.  They average nearly 8.5 yards per attempt, though, which is good for 17th in the nation.  Auburn is also efficient when throwing with a 20th best passer rating of 151.01.  S&P+ ranks the Auburn passing attack as the 21st best in the nation.

Nick Marshall leads the Auburn passing attack with a strong arm and good accuracy on deep balls.  He’s not as accurate on shorter and intermediate routes, however.  Marshall as thrown for 1,759 yards with a 60.4% completion percentage and a yards per attempt average of 8.3.  Marshall has a decent touchdown to interception ration with 12 TDs passes to 5 interceptions thrown.  His passer rating of 144.03 ranks as the 32nd best.  Marshall’s favorite target is Sammy Coates, a 6’2″ 201 lbs wideout that is 2nd in the nation with a 22.13 yards per catch average.  Coates has 38 catches on the season, which leads the team and is 23% of the Auburn receptions.  His team leading 841 yards, however, is 38% of the receiving yards for Auburn.  In fact, the next 4 yardage leaders combined don’t equal Coates yardage total.  Ricardo Louis (26 catches 297 yards), Marcus Davis (22 catches 191 yards), and Quan Bray (20 catches 191 yards) are the only other players on the team with significant contributions in the passing game.

Up front, a good Auburn offensive line does an average job of protecting quarterback Nick Marshall.  They’ve given up just 16 sacks on the season, which is 21st best in the nation.  However, when you consider they’ve only thrown the ball 258 times this season (6th fewest in the nation), it brings a little context to the job they’ve done.  Greg Robinson is the best pass blocker of the bunch.

The Florida State pass defense leads the nation in passing yardage (152.0), pass efficiency (90.90), yards per attempt (4.9), and interceptions (25).  The Noles are 13th in the nation allowing a completion percentage of just 52%.  S&P+ ranks FSU’s pass defense as the 2nd best in the nation.

The Florida State secondary is led by Jim Thorpe Award finalist Lamarcus Joyner.  Joyner is a 4 year starter for the Noles and is Mr. Versatile.  After starting at safety for the last 2 years, he has moved to cornerback in a hybrid star/money role.  He is often lined up on the inside on a slot receiver which allows him to blitz, support the run, and drop back in coverage.  He actually leads the team in sacks with 5 in addition to 2 interceptions and 4 pass breakups.  The best pure cover corner for the Noles is Ronald Darby.  You won’t really know it by looking at stats though, because he’s almost nonexistent on the stat sheet.  He has just 12 tackles on the season, just 3 pass breakups and 2 interceptions.  It’s because opposing teams just don’t throw his way.  He’s 5’11” 190 lbs with sprinters speed that runs track for the Noles as well.  He has the ability to press and run and the Noles should feel comfortable leaving him on an island.  The Noles also have several other excellent players in the secondary with cornerback PJ Williams and safeties Terrance Brooks and Jalen Ramsey.  Ramsey actually became the first true freshman to start at cornerback in the opening game when Darby was still rehabbing from offseason surgery.  Now the big 6’2″ 195 lbs Ramsey has settled into the free safety role with excellent results.

Florida State gets after the quarterback from all over the field.  They have 33 sacks on the season, which 27th in the nation, but no player has more than 5.  Seventeen different Seminoles have a sack, however, and ten players have 2 or more.  The pressure comes from every level, too.  Defensive backs have 8 sacks, linebackers have 9 sacks, and defensive ends have 6.5, and defensive tackles have 9.5 sacks.  The best pure pass rusher on the team is probably Christian Jones, who is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker that relies on speed and quickness off the edge.  Mario Edwards Jr. and Timmy Jernigan use brute force to collapse the pocket with Jernigan also possessing excellent quickness for a big guy.  Lamarcus Joyner uses amazing closing speed to get from his corner spot into the backfield much quicker than quarterbacks expect.

This is certainly an advantage for Florida State.  Auburn will have to rely on the big play and lulling the Seminole cornerbacks to sleep with the run to have success through the air.  If, for some reason, FSU is able to hold the Tigers in check on the ground, Auburn will not be able to consistently beat the Noles in the passing game.

Matchup to watch: Auburn RT Avery Young vs FSU DE/OLB Christian Jones
Jones is an extremely fast rusher off of the edge that could give Avery Young a lot of trouble.  That is only in obvious passing situations, however, as Jones will have to remain discipled against the Auburn ground attack.  Flying upfield rushing spells disaster against the Tigers ground game much like Mizzouri proved in the SEC Championship.  If Auburn finds itself in 3rd and long situations, though, look for Jones to pin his ears back and Young to have an important role in giving Marshall time.

Advantage: FSU


Intangibles and Conclusion
Neither team should have much of an advantage when it comes to crowd noise, motivation, etc.  Although I suspect a crowd split slightly in favor of Auburn, it won’t be enough to amount to anything at a neutral site on the west coast.  Motivation wise?  Bulletin board material, chips on shoulder, feeling disrespected and all that stuff is just clutter.  I fully expect both teams to be well prepared and focused for this game.  I do think the layoff helps FSU more than Auburn, however.  Auburn’s offense is very scheme based and Florida State will enjoy the extra time to work on assignments and gap control.  Auburn has excellent players, but with a more one-dimensional offense, being well prepared is very important.  Florida State’s offense is predicated on being able to attack in multiple ways with multiple athletes.  Having more time doesn’t necessarily help if you struggle to match up with each prong of attack.

The biggest equalizer is turnovers and special teams.  They are almost impossible to predict and can swing the outcome of the game wildly in both directions.  Both teams have good special teams with the only real weakness on either side being Florida State’s punter Cason Beatty.  Florida State has the stronger kicker in Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo and Florida State fans should feel more comfortable if the game comes down to a field goal.  I don’t think that’ll be the case, though.  Auburn will have more success than any other team has had on the Florida State defense, but Florida State has had a lot of success against defenses equal to and better than Auburns in 2013.
Score Prediction: FSU 45-28

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