NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Wind sprints are no longer needed at Florida State practices. There’s plenty of running in between plays.
Auburn will feature the No. 1 run game in the nation when the teams meet in the BCS championship Monday, but it’s not the read-option misdirection that has the Seminoles concerned. The fast-paced, hurry-up nature is the issue. To prepare for the strenuous pace, defensive coaches had players racing the offense back to the ball to line up and get set.
The Tigers want to snap the ball as quickly as possible on offense and hit big plays while the defense scrambles to get in position, get the call from the sideline and make adjustments.
“It’s not hard to run if there is nobody there,” Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said.
The Seminoles do have a trump card that could allow them to handle the pace as well as any team. The defense is chock-full of versatile players who can remain on the field despite the call. That reduces the stress of trying to shuffle different players on the field while Auburn attempts to push the pace.
All-America nickelback Lamarcus Joyner moved from the corner during the season, from safety during the offseason and leads the team with 5.0 sacks. Defensive end Christian Jones moved from middle linebacker after three games. Freshman safety Jalen Ramsey moved from cornerback after a season-ending injury to Tyler Hunter. Linebacker Telvin Smith leads the team with 75 tackles and his three interceptions are the second-most on the team. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. is a premier run-stopper with plenty of athleticism in a 6-foot-3, 285-pound frame.
“We’ve got a lot of guys out there that can do a lot of different things,” Jones said. “Playing against a team like this, it’s going to pay off. They like to hurry-up. They like to get the ball off before we can get set. We’ve been doing a good job in practice trying to simulate that so we don’t make any mistakes during the game.
“So far we’ve been doing a good job. I think the coaches go a bit too fast sometimes, but that’s going to pay off in the game.”
Speedy freshman quarterback John Franklin has played the role of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who has run for 1,023 yards. Explosive back Mario Pender, who was academically ineligible during the regular season, has mimicked Heisman finalist Tre Mason. So, there hasn’t been any lack of speed on the Florida State scout team.
But Auburn didn’t set the single-season school record for yards rushing at 4,364 by accident.
“I feel like we’re pretty good at what we do, and that’s what got us here,” Mason said. “That’s our edge, running our plays at a fast pace, and a very high tempo. We feel like that’s our edge, getting the ball snapped before they’re even ready or realize.
“When we play that fast, I feel like it’s hard for them to determine where the ball is at.”
Clemson presented Florida State with a hurry-up look, but those Tigers weren’t as effective as their Southeastern Conference counterparts. There was more of an emphasis on the misdirection for the defense and controlling their assigned gaps along the line of scrimmage. That’s also a concern with Auburn.
“They create problems with edge with motions, which you’ve got to set edges and they can out-flank you,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “When they do, you have to be gap-control sound inside. … Different guys can carry the ball and they’ll (throw a) deep ball (to) a guy and create big plays that way and then the tempo.
“It’s a combination of all those things and they execute it very well.”
Auburn’s 34-28 win over then-No.1 Alabama is an example. The Tigers rushed six consecutive times while down by seven points and starting on their own 17-yard-line. Then Marshall hit Sammie Coates for a 39-yard touchdown to tie with 32 seconds left in the game.
“We weren’t tired at all and we were able to run the ball and obviously make a big play with the pass,” Auburn’s C.J. Uzomah said. “That’s something that definitely takes a toll on a defense.”
Pruitt knows. That’s why Florida State practices like it does. And that’s why Fisher loves versatile athletes who can play in multiple positions and scenarios.
“You’ve got to get lined up first,” Pruitt said. “Get back to the ball so we can get lined up. If that means we played one front, one coverage all day, as long as we can get lined up, you’ve got to make them earn it.”
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