Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What We Learned in the Florida State Game

[Note: This has been published simultaneously at]

I have now completed my self-imposed 72 hour deep breath and am prepared to assess this game from a place other than the ledge. This loss was a hard pill to swallow… A bad loss to a team held in low national esteem on national TV while ranked in the top ten and playing in front of the home crowd. It showcased an impotent defense and a very generous offense. On the flip side, however, the team is still 2-1, nationally ranked, with a win over a very good Oklahoma team on their resume, and several redemption games still left on the schedule.

Last week I wrote:
“FSU will be ready for this game—for them it is redemption, a chance to salvage a season, prove the doubters wrong, and knock off a top 10 team on national TV (sorry Direct TV subscribers). There is also a chance that BYU has begun to believe the hype and all of the things that are being said about them (let’s hope not), which, if true, probably will take one to two quarters to snap out of. In any case, BYU fans and players will take a win any way they can get it.”

That turns out to have been the story of the game, only we never really snapped out of it.  I also posed 11 key questions that would impact the outcome of the game and allow fans to measure the team's improvement over the previous week. Here is my assessment of the answer and impact for each:

1. Will the injured Players Play? Yes and No. Harvey Unga played and had a good game, but looked as if he was still feeling the effects of his hamstring pull. Senior Scott Johnson sat out and was replaced by true freshman Craig Bills. Also, Braden Hansen sat out on the O line (as expected) and Moose Thorson played in his place. As the field general on the defense, Johnson’s presence in particular was missed on the field.

2. Can Max Hall avoid throwing an interception? No. No. No. This game was a turnover nightmare. Three interceptions, two fumbles, and zero take-aways from the other team. Max has now thrown a pick for six games in a row (13 in his last 6 games). That in and of itself isn’t incredibly meaningful (Ty Detmer used to throw a ton of interceptions) as long as Max is still consistently moving the offense with confidence; however, a streak like this can begin to shake that confidence.

3. Which direction will the running game go? Regressed from the Tulane game. The overall rushing game was relatively effective (5.7 yards/carry), but not very significant in the outcome of the game. With 108 rushing yards the rushing game seemed to have settled somewhere in the middle of its previous two showings (28 and 208 yards respectively). Time of possession and playing come-from-behind limited the number of carries by the blue team in the game.

4. How nice is it to be home? Not so much. The 18 game home win streak was snapped. The new field left much to be desired in its debut as it gave way to divots and slippage. Despite the sellout, crowd noise was never really a meaningful factor as FSU took an early lead and never relinquished.

5. Will the refs become a factor? Yes, but not really. The ACC refs only called three penalties on BYU (the fewest in the last 16 games dating back to only two against UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl to end the 2007 season), but it was what they didn’t call that seemed to stand out—frequent play-making holdings and a blatantly obvious slingshot PI on the pick six. That said, the game might have been closer, but given how well FSU played, it would not have changed the outcome.

6. How much will the altitude affect the Seminoles? A non-factor. Altitude tends to affect the defense more, since it is harder to substitute, and it tends to become a factor late in the game. FSU did a great job mitigating this by maintaining possession for 40 minutes, allowing the defense plenty of rest, and by taking a large lead into the fourth quarter nullifying the importance of any slowdown by its defensive players.

7. Who will kickoff? Riley Stephenson. He won the job in practice last week and was an improvement over the previous two games. He had five kickoffs: 2 touchbacks, 1 returned out of the end zone to the 18, 1 returned from the 1 yard line to the 27, and 1 that only went to the 12 yard line returned to the 40. It was nice to see a few kicks into the end zone and an instance of them starting behind the 20. Hopefully with more confidence and experience, Riley will improve his consistency and this type of kicking game will be the rule rather than the exception.

8. Have we solved the punt return issues? Don’t know. Florida State only punted once in this game and it rolled to a stop. Stay tuned…

9. Will the team stay healthy? Mostly. There were no season ending injuries, although nose tackle Russell Tialavea, lost early in the first quarter, will be out for 2-3 games with a sprained knee. Overall, this was a good outcome against an athletic physical team.

10. Will the receivers be able to get open on FSU’s man defense? Yes. For the most part, the offense was able to do as it wished. The only things that really stopped them were turnovers ending possessions and standing on the sidelines while the defense was on the field.

11. Can the defense maintain pressure on QB Christian Ponder? No. This was perhaps the key to winning the game for FSU. Ponder was 21/26 for 195 yards, 2 TDs, and no picks. Even more importantly he had 77 yards rushing on 11 runs, and the team was 12/15 on third down. The few times that the BYU defense did get in, Ponder was able to take a hit and deliver the ball or evade the tackle and run for significant gain. The Cougars missed numerous tackles, and gave up over 300 yards rushing. It was as if FSU knew exactly what we were going to do on each play—and now that our blitz schemes and alignments are on film from the first two games, perhaps they did.


  1. Good work Dave. I like you consistent, in-depth analysis. Much better than the talking heads who said, "We think Florida St. is fast. BYU must have lost because they were too slow."

    We lost because we could not stop the run, and because we don't know how to play when we get a couple of touchdowns behind. You hit it right on the head with, "BYU has begun to believe the hype"

    You can tell when after the game Max Hall talked about how they lost the chance to play for a national championship and BCS game. Those two topics never should have crossed his mind.

  2. Agreed, Max Hall isn't the best leader around, but has given us some great years and great games. As for the rest of the team, they might be just as hit and miss!? Where were they? I just hope that the coaches aren't the real issue behind not being ready to play in important games. ALL GAMES MATTER!! (will you please let them know next time you're in Provo)