The BCS National Championship Game kicks off today in Pasadena, Calif., at the Rose Bowl. This year’s National Title game represents an intriguing match-up between the No. 2 ranked Auburn Tigers and the No. 1 ranked Florida State Seminoles. While many fans and analysts are debating on who will come out the winner, there is no doubt that both teams have a chance to win this game but only if both teams follow certain keys to victory.
Auburn Keys to Victory
Offensively, it all starts with taking care of the ball. Auburn has only turned the ball over 16 times this season but they have also fumbled the ball 28 times, losing only 11. Going into this game, they can’t afford any type of turnovers, Florida State may not have the best defense in the country but they are more than capable of making Auburn pay for any turnovers they commit. Don’t forget that Florida State returned five interceptions and three fumbles for scores this season.
After that, Auburn must continue to do what they do best which is run the ball. However, for them to have success, the Auburn offensive line must step up. Florida State has a very solid and impressive defensive line, they are led by defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan who does a great job of dominating the inside, then you have to worry about defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman. For quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason to have success on the ground, the offensive line must control the line of scrimmage and open up holes, if they do that, then Auburn has a chance. Running the ball helps Auburn to stay balance and open up opportunities in the passing game but more importantly, it helps Auburn to control the clock and keep Florida State’s offense off the field.
Which leads me to the an even more important key which is passing the ball. I know Malzahn loves running the football but if he plans to win this game, he’s going to have to throw the ball more in this game. Now that won’t be easy considering that Florida State limits offenses to 152 passing yards per game but remember that the passing game doesn’t need to dominate but it should offer balance. For the passing game to succeed, the offensive line must give quarterback Nick Marshall time in the pocket. After that Marshall must make a point to take what the defense gives him and spread the ball around. He definitely needs to get the ball to wide receiver Sammie Coates but he won’t be able to go to him all game long. I’m pretty sure Florida State understands that Coates is their best deep threat so Marshall must get others involved. He must get the ball to wide Ricardo Louis and tight end C.J. Uzomah. Besides Coates, Auburn is not much of a down-field passing team but Auburn can still gain a lot of yards by throwing quick short passes and screens which will allow their receivers to make plays down the field.
Defensively, it all starts with creating pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston. Now I’m not saying that Auburn needs to rack up 10 plus sacks or even blitz. I’m simply saying they need to pressure Winston and make him get rid of the ball as quick as possible. They can’t afford to let him sit in the pocket and make big plays with his arm. If they can find a way to pressure him, Auburn may have a chance. After that, Auburn must do their best to limit the big play, meaning they can’t afford any missed tackles or mis-communication. The secondary must do their best to keep up with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, which is easier said than done and the front seven must do their best to slow down the run game. Overall, it comes down to the Auburn defense giving their best showing of the season but if they can find a way to bend but not break a few times in this game, they will have done their job.
Florida State Keys to Victory
Defensively is where it starts for Florida State and going into this game, they must do their best to make Auburn one-dimensional. To make Auburn one-dimensional, they must do their best to slow down the run game. The Tigers lead the nation with 335 rushing yards per game, so this won’t be easy but it’s not impossible. If I’m Florida State, it starts with containing running back Tre Mason but they can’t forget about quarterback Nick Marshall who is more than capable of making plays on the field. To contain them, Florida State’s defense must be disciplined through the entire game and wrap up and finish tackles. After that, the defensive line must control the line of scrimmage, which will open up opportunities for the linebackers to come in the backfield and make plays. Stopping the run is crucial because it will make Auburn one-dimensional and force Mason to beat through the air but it will also stop Auburn from controlling the clock.
Offensively, Florida State needs to get off to a good and quick start and to do that they must expose Auburn’s weakness which is their pass defense. Quarterback Jameis Winston must spread the ball around and use his various targets. Winston has three big targets in Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene and Auburn can’t cover them all. I assume Auburn will bracket one of them at some point, which will lead to open opportunities for other targets and Winston must take advantage of that. Greene and Shaw have the ability to make big plays after the catch, then you have Benjamin who had great size, so Winston should look to use him over the middle and in the red-zone. Overall, Winston needs to continue making smart decisions with the ball and get everyone involved, if he does that, there is nothing stopping Florida State.
However to remain balance, Florida State must make a point to run the ball effectively, Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams are all legit backs who are more than capable of making big plays on the ground. Just like I said earlier for Auburn, the running game doesn’t need to dominate, it just needs to offer balance. At this point, I expect Auburn to focus on slowing down the passing game, so that will leave plenty of opportunities for the running game to get going. Plus running the ball helps to maintain the clock, move the chains and keep Auburn’s offense off the field. I know they aren’t talked about much but don’t forget that Florida State’s running backs are an explosive group, unfortunately they tend to be overlooked because of Florida State’s other star players but they are more than capable of taking over a game if given the opportunity.
Most importantly, Florida State must be prepared to fight until the end because there is a chance they will have to prove that they can be effective if it’s a close game in the fourth quarter. I know they can blow teams out, mainly because they did it all season long, but they have to show me they can win close game too. I don’t worry about Auburn ability to win close game because let’s not forget that they needed two close game miracles to get here. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Auburn doesn’t deserve the right to be in the National Championship game, I’m simply saying, they know how to win in the clutch, Florida State has to show that they can, if the time comes in this game.
Overall, I expect this to be a great National Championship game, full of great plays and moments but I think Florida State will win this game and put an end to the SEC’s streak of BCS National Championship wins. Don’t get me wrong, I think this will be a close game, but I don’t think Auburn will come victorious. I worry about their inconsistencies on defense and whether they will be stick with Florida State offensively, if the defense doesn’t hold up. Plus Florida State is full of depth, athleticism and speed which I think will be a little too much for Auburn, the main thing I think could hurt Florida State is their lack of experience in close games but I still think Florida State will pull it out in the end with a victory.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com