The Terps bye week did a whole lot of good for them. They were allowed to get healthy, they got to watch West Virginia take down Oklahoma State (which resulted in the Terps being ranked), and they acquired some incredibly useful game film when the Florida State Seminoles gritted out a win in Chestnut Hill against Boston College. The third point might be the most vital one.
I watched that game twice, once live and once again on a replay, to see how the Eagles were capable of exacting enough damage to remain within 11 points heading into the fourth quarter. That’s not easy task against a Seminoles team as high powered as the 2013 iteration we see today. Offensively, they’re a well-oiled machine that has (so far) disassembled every defense they have faced thus far, which has them sitting at No. 4 nationally in scoring offense.
But there were some takeaways from the game which left you feeling certain that the Seminoles had some pressing problems that inferior competition had otherwise masked. Their defense, for example, is considerably less impressive than the standard talented and athletic unit typically roaming in garnet and gold. They were three yards shy of giving up 200 on the ground against Boston College, and Andre Williams appeared to have very few problems gashing the Seminoles defensive front. In fact, I think the ground game is where we should start.
Andre Williams is a fantastic back when health affords him opportunity; he’s the leading rusher in the ACC for a reason. But bruising backs like Willams don’t often fare well against Florida State’s strong, fast, and athletic defense. I watched Andre Ellington get stuffed up against them for the past two seasons, and just about every other team have their premier back shut down. But this year is the first time I can say that Florida State’s defense looks undisciplined.
That’s not something you can say too often about any FSU team, but I’ll say it here. Florida State will always have enough raw talent to pump out a top 40 defense every single year, but that doesn’t mean they are without their flaws. Williams didn’t do anything special to beat the Seminoles. A lot of power I, a lot up the gut, all telegraphed every play. And yet it churned out positive yardage every play because Florida State looked terrible tackling. In the second half with about 14 minutes left, Williams ran a counter for thirty yards that caught the entire defense out of position as he rumbled downfield. That was just one of many times where Florida State had the wrong defensive package out there, and that falls on the defensive coordinator.
Watch the first quarter and look at how many times Florida State just failed to tackle players. On the Eagles second scoring drive, I saw some of the worst tackling by any Florida State defense I’d ever see. In the red zone, the Eagles Jake Sinkovec runs a very standard route to the flats and is about to be stopped up by three FSU defenders behind the line of scrimmage. What happens next is hilarious. Sinkovec is far from an elusive tight end, yet he manages to tiptoe completely untouched by the Seminoles defenders into the end zone after making one simple cut. All three defenders missed the tackle due to bad angles, poor form, and worse positioning. 14-3, Eagles.
The Seminoles bit on a lot of play action passes as well in the first half. The Eagles first score, if you choose to watch it, was a result of the entire Florida State defense biting on a Rettig play action roll out that resulted in single coverage in the end zone. Rettig threw a pass cross body to the corner of the end zone, and the Florida State defender was out of position and couldn’t get a hold of C.J Parsons in the end zone.
Boston College managed to pick up pretty big chunks of yardage going with the tried and true run-run-pass method because Florida State couldn’t stop either methods. In doing so, they laid out a pretty dry game plan for other teams to follow: control the clock, control the game. Keeping that Florida State offense off the field allowed them to A) tire out the defense and B) force Florida State to start throwing more. Both points were necessary to keep the game as close as it was in the first half.
Jameis Winston is a good quarterback, but he still only has four starts under his belt. Winston started the game 2-of-6, and a lot of his passes were either late, high, tipped at the line, or tipped downfield. He threw his second interception of the game, and if Boston College had just a bit more talent in the secondary, there could have been a few more picks. The Eagles defensive front, which is nothing to write home about, was able to apply heavy amounts of pressure and force Winston to use his legs a lot more.
Forcing Winston to get out of his comfort zone will be incredibly crucial. At times in the first half, you could see him on the sideline with his hands in the air, visibly frustrated. Putting him into that mentality and forcing him out of God-mode could go a long way for Maryland. Boston College was able to get to him four times and that still wasn’t enough. Maryland will have to get their hands up on all his passes (in hopes of tipping a few), and get in his face on every single play (similar to what they did against Geno Smith last year) if they want to slow Winston down.
Now as a credit to Winston, he rushed for 96 yards (when you remove the yards lost due to sacks) and showed that he can, in fact, kill a slow defense with his legs. Still, against a faster, more formidable defense than Boston College? Winston might not be able to break off huge runs and avoid tacklers. Maryland has the personnel to spy the quarterback and keep him honest, while at the same time apply enough pressure to force him to pass into tight-windows.
But in order to do that, Maryland has to get on the board early with touchdowns, not field goals (which is what ultimately damned Boston College). They have to give Florida State a reason to take carries away from a runner as explosive as Devonta Freeman. A slow start will give Florida State the chance to use all facets of their offense, but a clock-controlling offense that goes up by two scores early will make them a lot more one-dimensional. That’ll play into Maryland’s strengths in the secondary and the pass rush.
It’s easier said than done, of course, and doing it for a whole game may prove even tougher to do. Still, Maryland has the personnel to run the ball hard, limit the big plays that Winston can achieve with his ridiculous athletic ability, and slow the tempo of the game down to a crawl. They just have to watch the Boston College game for some tips.