January 5, 2014

Preview: FSU v. Auburn in the BCS Title Game

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No. 1 Florida State (13-0) v No. 2 Auburn (12-1)

When/were: 8:30 PM Monday/Rose Bowl; Pasadena, California

TV: ESPN (plus family of ESPN Networks)

Radio: Seminole IMG Network, ESPN Radio

What's at stake:


The 'Noles look for the third National Championship in program history, a second of the BCS variety. Florida State could be the first team in program history to win 14 games, and the second team go undefeated through the title game. If FSU wins by 14 or more points, it would be only one of three teams in history to win every game it played by that margin ('95 Nebraska, '04 Utah). It would be the first team to accomplish the feat in a 14-game campaign. There are plenty of records that could fall tomorrow night.

Auburn won the BCS title in 2010 and after a dismal 2012 season, coach Gus Malzahn took the Tigers to an SEC Championship with thrilling wins against Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers are led by the nation's most dynamic rushing attack, featuring quarterback Nick Marshall and tailback Tre Mason. A win would cap a whirlwind season and confirm Auburn's "Team of Destiny" label.

Where it will be won

Though 30 days is plenty of time to over-dissect or manufacture storylines, this championship game is straightforward.

Auburn offense v. Seminole defense

There are three critical areas/matchups to define the winner of this battle.

1. FSU front-seven's eyes v. Nick Marshall

Gadgets, motions and reads. Malzahn's offense implements all three to spread defenses out and put players on their heels. Marshall is the ringmaster of it all, using eye/head fakes, run action and choreographed pre-snap movement to deceive. Call it the on-field "clutter".

The assignments will vary on defense - pursue, contain, fill and blitz. But FSU's lifeline in the box will be sticking to its keys and not fixating on dangling carrots. Big plays for Auburn's run game will come no matter what. But FSU would do well to not help the Tigers out with its own mistakes.

2. Edge discipline, leverage

This applies not just to the obvious parties - names like Mario Edwards Jr. and Christian Jones - but also to the Seminole corners.

One of the key breakdowns Auburn can turn into instant points is a lack of edge discipline by cornerbacks. Alabama ran into this problem often, allowing the Tiger receivers to gain leverage by putting themselves between the corner and the sideline. When this happens, the speed sweep and flare throws become lethal. It goes without saying that getting off perimeter blocks is a must, but leverage may be just as important.

As for the edge rushers, getting too far upfield and too far inside creates the same problems off tackle. Auburn will pull guards often, so Edwards, Jones and any star or money player coming up will have to stay in lanes and engage correctly.

3. Man-to-man

This is a talking point more than a key. The Seminole secondary will be on islands with Auburn's receivers and inevitably Auburn will pull a trick out of the bag. It could be as simple as a power-run fake or a true gadget like a reverse pass. The corners get their chance to put some good man-to-man film out there. There's also the chance, at any moment, that they could be targeted on a trick.

On Jameis Winston

Winston hasn't played a bad game yet as a Seminole, but there have been first-half mistakes due to adrenaline. Miami and Duke are two prime examples. Winston has openly claimed this game, on his birthday, to be his rivalry game. Managing emotions will be his biggest challenge.

The general consensus expects Florida State to score and score often. Auburn will likely have to come along for the ride, especially if Winston is in mental command.

Man-to-man part two

Tiger defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson told reporters this week that his squad has to get pressure on Winston and that man coverage will be the plan.

Given his numbers against the blitz, check early on to see if those statements were smoke or real. Will the Tigers really bring four or more? Or is the plan to drop eight and nine back in coverage.

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