Getting to know the 'Noles: The running game

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The Seminoles running game is most effective once a defense is desperate to stop the pass.

Auburn loves to run the ball. Washington State and Mike Leach love to throw the ball. Many teams love to run to set up the play-action pass. Auburn's opponent in the 2014 BCS Championship Game, Florida State, loves to throw the ball until the defense dares it to run. With a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and three receivers gaining nearly 1,000 yards on the season, this seems like a valid strategy.

The receivers are so good at getting open, and even when they are well covered, quarterback Jameis Winston is able to throw the ball where only his teammates can reach it. Often times, the 'Noles start the game passing more often than running. Teams determined to stop the run usually get torched either by a long and methodical drive full of screens and quick outs or by a long shot down the seam between defenders. Either way, teams start to back off, leaving only six men in the box. That's when Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. start to break out of the backfield.

vs. Nevada

Near the end of the first half, Florida State had the ball at its own 44 yard line with just under two minutes on the clock. After three quick passes, the 'Noles were just outside of the red zone looking to increase their lead. Wide receiver Rashad Green was split wide to the right, and cornerback Evan Favors was playing press man, hoping to disrupt any timing routes, like a slant. At the snap, Green just took off down field. Favors forced him to go to the outside, which was good, but he also fell behind, which was very bad. Winston threw the ball to a spot where only Green could catch it and the result was a touchdown.

When the third quarter began, the corners were playing off of the line of scrimmage to prevent Green from beating them deep. Winston saw that the boundary was relatively open, so he checked to an outside zone run to the right for Freeman. All four linemen were easily contained, and the play-side and middle linebackers were taken out by the guard and second back. The backside linebacker was not a factor because the ball went away from him, and, even though the ball was coming his way, the boundary cornerback wasn't a factor, either. He took himself out of position by retreating at the snap and then not reading the run correctly.

vs. Boston College

With about five minutes left in the second quarter against Boston College, Florida State found itself trailing by a touchdown. For a freshman, Winston is good and taking what the defense gives him, and the first play of this drive was a perfect example. Three receivers ran relatively deep routes that curled back at around 15 yards, but Winston took the safe four yard pass to Rashad Green running  a shallow cross. Green rewarded the good decision by breaking a linebacker's tackle and getting down field for a first down.

Winston threw two more 10-plus-yard passes, and then the 'Noles used the first play of the drive again. The pass rushers left a hole in the front of the pocket and this time, a linebacker chased Green all the way across the field. Winston took off and gained 20 yards before sliding safely to the ground.


vs. Syracuse

This game was in garbage time as soon as the second quarter started. Scoring four touchdowns in the first quarter, including two within the first five minutes of the game, is a good way to put a team away quickly. On the first drive, Florida State called five straight passing plays, three of which were screens and another was a pass to a quick out route. The drive finished with a 3-yard touchdown run, but the Syracuse defense had been beaten easily to the outside.

On the first play of the second drive. Florida State used a toss to the field. With the previous drive in mind, Syracuse was ready for a play to the outside like this. The problem was that everyone expected the run to stay to the outside. With his only carry of the day, Levonte Whitfield found a cutback lane and outraced the safeties to the end zone. Because they were thinking about defending the outside passes, the defense was left vulnerable back inside.


It doesn't matter if Freeman, Williams, or Wilder is the main back. It doesn't matter if Winston takes off on his own. Even a rarely used receiver like Whitfield can find plenty of room to run in this offense once the passing game has forced the defense to back away.

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