As a data analyst by trade and an avid Auburn fan at all other times. I commonly find myself digging through the performance data for Auburn and their opponents in an attempt to find the aspects of upcoming games that your professional sports analysts may have missed. Obviously professional analysts and oddsmakers have to work through hundreds of teams every week and they don't have the time to pay individual attention to a team that a casual fan might.
Being an Auburn fan, I am susceptible to confirmation bias when I run through these numbers, so take my words with a grain of salt and do your own digging before you go running off and betting next month's paycheck on Auburn to win the title in 3 weeks. Having said that, there are a few things on which the general consensus and I agree, mainly that Florida State has not played a difficult schedule. In fact, of the best teams in the ACC outside of FSU, Virginia Tech, Ga Tech, Clemson and (arguably) Duke, Florida State has played only two of them.
Had FSU faced VT at some point this season, I think we would have a much better idea of how their offense would fare against a stout defense. And had they played Georgia Tech, we would know how FSU's defense responds to having to defend against the run all day. Unfortunately, those games didn't happen and we're left with Clemson, Duke, and Boston College to base any decent analysis on.
Of the aforementioned three teams, Clemson is the only team that stacks up well against FSU on paper. The scary thing about the game that occurred is that Clemson was absolutely destroyed beyond recognition. Having attended the game, I can tell you that it wasn't even close. It was obvious that Clemson had no idea what was going on and before halftime, everyone in the stadium knew that the game was over.
So in this post, I want to spend some time looking deeper into FSU's offensive performance against Clemson. How did they put up 51 points on a team that hadn't given up more than 14 points since their season opener against Georgia?
I'm leaving out any defensive analysis of FSU from this particular write-up as many of us are confident in Auburn's ability to move the ball against any team in the country after having done it to Alabama and Mizzou.
First Drive: 3 Plays: 34 Yards: TD
On the first play from scrimmage, Clemson gives up a fumble and just 3 plays later, FSU is in the end zone. I didn't want to give credit to the FSU offense for this TD at first glance because they were fortunate to have a very short field to play with, but looking at the actual TD play. A very acrobatic catch was made on a perfectly placed throw just inside the pylon. Clemson had two men on the receiver but the play was executed perfectly and could not be stopped. These are exactly the kinds of plays that FSU will use to score on Auburn. And if they are able to execute every time, then they can win the game easily. Thankfully, no team has ever been able to execute at that level.
As we look at FSU over the course of their regular season, it will be important to keep an eye on how often they are challenged to execute at that level. I sometimes feel like I'm the only one, but I believe that Auburn's secondary is every bit as strong as their defensive line this year. While the numbers say that we allowed Mizzou to pass efficiently, we also forced them to run much more often than they normally have. This came from James Franklin tucking the ball and running when he didn't have any passing options down field. Auburn's ability to force those situations will require Jameis Winston to either tuck the ball and run, or throw perfect passes all day in order to move the ball on us.
Second Drive: 16 plays: 77 yards: FG
On Florida State's second drive, they were forced to kick a field goal when Clemson was able to keep them from moving the ball on the ground.
Third Drive: Fumble recovery for TD
On Clemson's third drive, a Tajh Boyd fumble was recovered by FSU and run back for a TD.
For the total in the first quarter, FSU scored 17 points, 14 off of turnovers and 10 credited to the offense.
First Drive: 4 plays: 31 yards: INT
In their first drive of the second quarter, FSU's offensive line caved to pressure and Winston threw an ugly pick with absolutely no receivers in the area. It's hard to tell from the footage, but it looks like Winson just got scared with the linemen crashing down and forgot that his receiver was running a post. The play of our defensive line can truly turn the tide of this game by putting pressure on Jameis. Even if we are unable to force him to make mistakes, just keeping him from having time to throw will be enough to shut down FSU's offense.
Second Drive: 3 plays: 0 yards: Punt
Clemson's line, once again, brought strong pressure on this drive and was helped out greatly by a pair of FSU penalties. FSU was able to successfully complete a big throw in the air for what would've been a huge first down, but it was called back on delay of game. Another note, Winston ran the zone read and kept it on this drive, but he is not a very mobile quarterback and was brought down at the LOS by the safety.
Third Drive: 4 plays: 95 yards: TD
In fours plays on this drive, FSU ran for 0, passed for 11, passed for 12 and passed for 73. The more I watch FSU's running game, the more I truly believe they'll have very little luck getting past our line. Clemson did not blitz too often and was been able to stop FSU's rushing attack with just their front 4. As for the 73 yard pass. This was a blown play on Clemson's part where two missed tackles allowed the receiver to get 60ish yards after the catch. What is more interesting is Winston's ability to easily pick up 10+ yards in the air. On all three passes of this drive, Clemson ran zone defense. The second was a screen, but the other two were passes delivered to the receivers just as their passed from one zone to another. Winston's timing on these throws is impeccable. However, Auburn does not commonly run zone defense in the secondary unless absolutely necessary. We have been very successful with man coverage this year and I expect us to continue with that in the Championship.
Fourth Drive: 13 plays: 72 yards: FG
On the final drive of the half, with 5 minutes left, FSU wanted to burn enough time off of the clock to ensure that Clemson wouldn't be able to score and finish off with one more touchdown. They were able to burn the time off but they mismanaged the clock a bit in the middle of the drive and found themselves having to kick the field goal with 6 seconds left. This drive also included more of Jameis making perfect throws between zones but also throwing what should've been a pick (dropped by Clemson) under pressure.
So in the first half, FSU scored 27 but 21 came off of turnovers. So far in the game, FSU has succeeded by taking advantage of huge Clemson errors.
First Drive: 6 plays: 42 yards: TD
Clemson's kickoff was returned 43 yards to start off. On the first two plays of this drive, Clemson came out fighting, forcing an incomplete and a loss of 2 yards before Winston connects with a receiver for 27 yards. Clemson's secondary had two men standing 5 yards behind him and was reminiscent of Auburn's secondary in 2011 and 2012. This play puts FSU in the red zone where they throw two incompletions and a TD.
Second Drive: 5 plays: 5 yards: Punt
On this drive, Clemson came back with the pressure hard. With the exception of a single 13 yard pass, FSU was unable to move the ball whatsoever. Clemson picked up 2 consecutive sacks after 1st and 20, a rush goes for no gain and FSU is punting.
Third Drive: 8 Plays: 66 yards: TD
After ANOTHER Clemson interception, FSU gets the ball back once again. In this drive, FSU picks up small yardage on every play but a 27 yard pass that would have been just a handful of yards if not for very poor tackling on Clemson's part.
After 3 quarters, FSU has now scored 41, with 28 coming from INTs. FSU has only driven over 50 yards for a TD 3 times and only 1 TD drive has been over 70 yards. The only two drives consisting of over 10 plays both ended in field goals.
In the fourth quarter, FSU had 2 drives but they changed schemes and just ran the ball except on long obvious passing downs. The game was out of reach for Clemson at this point. The Tigers threw 2 interceptions and gave up 2 fumbles, all resulting in FSU touchdowns. But the promising thing for Auburn is that, while we do tend to give up the ball once a game, we haven't lost the turnover battle by more than 1 since playing Mississippi State in week 2.
I wrote an analysis on a forum before the Iron Bowl saying that Auburn will win the game if they can do 2 things: score over 30 and avoid giving up turnovers. I was right as Auburn held Alabama to 28 and only gave up the ball once. The game in Pasadena is the same story. FSU is going to have a harder time moving the football on Auburn than they have had with any of their opponents this year thanks to Auburn's special teams pinning them back and strong defensive play all game. They will score touchdowns, but their offense isn't nearly as efficient as Mizzouri's nor do they avoid giving up turnovers like Alabama's. Auburn will bring pressure using just their front four and play solid man coverage in the secondary.
I won't sit here and admit that FSU can't move the ball on Auburn. They will, but their success depends on their ability to consistently execute, which is something that they haven't done all season (because they haven't had to). It will be interesting, though, to see how Winston responds to Auburn's defense. He has show the ability to make brilliant plays but they come inconsistently. This is the type of game that can prove whether Jameis is a truly elite QB and able to do what Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron couldn't, or whether he still has some growing to do when faced with strong pressure.