Florida State got the job done against Georgia Tech's potentially confounding offensive scheme in the ACC Championship. While Seminole fans questioned why the second half looked so different on offense, the defense held firm throughout the night, eventually clinching the ACC Championship with a Karlos Williams interception.
So how did Florida State handle the Yellow Jacket option attack? Let's take a look at one key concept that was installed to create second-level advantages.
The number one difference from the usual way the Seminole defense lined up versus the way it lined up Saturday was in its spacing and depth. One key contributor at linebacker tells the story with his pre-snap alignment.
Spacing and depth
Middle linebacker Vince Williams was a key cog in coach D.J. Eliot's ACC Championship scheme. Take a look at the photo below and you'll note that Williams looks to be playing closer to safety depth than the depth of a linebacker. The linebackers in a base 4-3 set will play somewhere between three and four yards behind the line of scrimmage. In this case, Williams is a full seven yards away, the depth he operated at for most of the game.
Much like the shotgun set will do for a quarterback, this depth provided Williams more time to see and read play development. It also provides better angles of attack toward his assignment, in conjunction with better angles of avoidance to any linemen coming downfield to block.
One of the clichés tossed around when facing option offenses is that the defense needs to play "assignment sound" football. First of all, any defensive scheme is predicated on assignments, making that term redundant. Secondly, if a defense is not multiple in the way it attacks a triple option, then repetitive assignments become easy for an option quarterback to beat. It's the same rule as running a defense against an elite thrower who can pre-snap check: Don't be predictable.
So, outside of positional depth, what did Florida State do to beat the Jacket offense? The Seminoles utilized their physical advantages to beat, not just neutralize, their assignment. For example, look at this snapshot of a 2nd-and-9 that the Seminoles turn into a loss of five yards. Linebacker Christian Jones shoves away a perimeter blocker, forcing quarterback Tevin Washington to make a pitch too early. He then bursts into the backfield in tandem with Vince Williams to put the Jackets in third-and-long.
Another example of making a play comes on this first down play in which Karlos Williams forces Washington to again make the pitch before he wants to. Although Florida State is in a vulnerable position here - meaning that beyond Williams, Tech has executed its blocks effectively - Williams' ability to get right on Washington rushes the quarterback's decision.
Like a downfield throw under pressure, Williams forces a bad pitch that hits the ground and puts the Jackets behind the chains.
Down and distance leverage
While it's true that Georgia Tech was a perfect 4-of-4 in fourth down situations, that figure helps indicate that the Jackets needed to overcome an advantage for the Seminole defense in traditional down and distance leverage. The Jackets were 4-of-15 in third down conversions in Saturday's game, meaning that when the ball was moving, it was because of early down damage (and conversions) against the Seminole defense.
Plain and simple, with the lack of passing ability for either Georgia Tech quarterback, second or third and long spelled doom for the Jackets until they had to spread it out and ditch the flexbone offensive set.
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