2014 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW- OSU vs ALABAMA oops, I mean AUBURN vs FLORIDA STATE

Posted: January 7, 2014 in All Things Power Spread

2013_bcs-national_championship

FLORIDA STATE 13-0        AUBURN 12-1
 

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

OSU vs Alabama…??  Mentors are out!
Ohio State Introduces Urban MeyerIt was supposed to be Power Spread Ohio State vs Old School Power Alabama. The two best Head Coaches in the Country over the last decade. One of the originators, and possibly the granddaddy, of Power Spread Football vs. the Granddaddy of Power Spread Defense. Or to simplify to the point of inanity – Read Option vs Zone Blitz. 
 
american-football-ncaaWell, this is Sport. Sport is a window into the lives and culture of the people who play and watch it. In the case of American Football, it is confined more to the North American Culture. For now. Sport, like life, is also constantly evolving and full of surprises. Some Times are more explosive and rapidly changing than other Times. We are in one of those Times. 
 
Alabama got knocked out by the PS Master over at Auburn, while OSU got beat by one of those new Spread Power teams in Michigan State. Both Meyer and Saban need to make tweaks to their ideas of producing National Championship teams as there are better PS teams out there now and even the ones trying to resist the PS storm, such as Michigan State, are coming up with some brilliant Post-Snap Spread ideas even if they don’t Spread as much from the Set. 
 
Auburn vs FSU –  Proteges are in!
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are about to watch Auburn vs Florida State in the Championship Game Monday night. The Power Spread is spreading fast (no pun). So is the excellent proteges of former master coaches. In the next 10-20 years we are looking at a new Football World – college and pro alike – where every scheme and set ever used will be seen on a weekly basis. All under an evolved set of concepts and philosophies this game has never seen. It is happening under the nose of every Coach, Player, Telecaster and Fan. Love replaces Fear, Mind replaces Fist, Strength replaces Weakness, Open replaces Closed, and on and on. 
 
maxresdefaultWe don’t have the Masters, but their proteges could very well be an even better watch. Gus Malzahn may one day be called the Father of the Power Spread. His original passing spread genius combined with more recent additions of power spread are unrivaled. The flexibility and simplicity of his offenses are off the charts. He wasn’t always simple – even during his first stint at Auburn – but now he could have a Peyton Manning spread as easily as the run based power he’s used this year. Or a mix like 2010 with Newton. And it’s not just Offense. He has shown innovation on Defense as well. All PS ideas. Deceptive Aggression all the time. Gives up big plays against PS Offenses, but creates more turnovers. Also on Special Teams. Always stretching the boundaries (Alabama Game). 
 
Duke v Florida StateOn the other side of the field, I never thought much about Jimbo Fisher. A good offensive mind that became a good head coach. Nick Saban status – no. But this year he is proving otherwise. I missed the boat on this one, but I should have seen it coming. Fisher has coached for years under Saban. He has a Saban protege run his defense. Like Nick, he does not consistently use the Spread, but also like Nick, his ideas are uniquely TEAM oriented from the coaching staff on down to his players. He uses a lot of depth and of course, PS ideas throughout – especially on Defense. His team is also about micro management, intense scheming/play calling and PERFECT EXECUTION.
 
This last element, PERFECT EXECUTION, is what deviates Fisher and Saban’s philosophy away from the PS Concept more than any other idea. This is what makes this matchup today just as intriguing as an OSU/Alabama matchup, if not more so.
 
 

CLASH OF IDEOLOGY – New School vs Old School / PS vs Pro / The Future vs The Past

Mistake Free Violent Perfection vs. Free Aggressive Creation
Either one works, but the Power Spread way is just a lot easier as there is much more room for error. The Old School way or long time “Pro” Style needs high levels of Talent, Leadership, Brains, and Toughness. And, of course, near Perfect Execution. PS=fun. Like we have all had in the backyard. Pro=military. Like some of us have experienced in organized sports or to the extreme in military war like conditions. PS is passion based. Pro is fear based. PS rules with the heart and mind. Pro rules with the iron fist.
 
Now, none of this is so black and white as it’s an evolution in progress. Not only in Football, but in all Sport. Through all Life. The murky waters are what make this matchup possibly more interesting than the OSU/Alabama matchup.
 
With Meyer and Saban you know what you are getting. They are at the top of their profession. Saban was just more traditional about it, but no less brilliant than Meyer. Innovations happened on both sides, but Meyer’s Offenses helped to transform the landscape of modern football.
 
The Malzahn / Fisher matchup isn’t so Black and White
Malzahn’s PS ideas are reaching far beyond the PS originators, including Meyer. His concepts are even further ahead than the other gurus of today such as Chad Morris, Art Briles and possibly even Chip Kelly. Meyer, for all his innovation, is still rooted very much in some old school concepts that occasionaly hold him back. Malzahn doesn’t seem to be – even when he professes so. He may preach God and Family, but this guy is as progressive in his thinking as I have ever seen in a  football coach. We are talking Pop Warner, Francis Schmidt, Sid Gillman “Outside the Box”  stuff.
 
Fisher is rooted in the Pro Offense and old school fundamental football like Saban, but remember, he’s an Offensive coach. Saban is not. And that’s not the only difference. Fisher may not care for all the talk of scheme and spread, but he’s a master schemer on offense, whether he admits it or not. His game plan against Clemson was intricate and his play calling masterful. A lot of work went into it – just like Saban’s obsessive planning – but definitely with a greater emphasis on passing game variety and balance. Fisher loves to throw the ball. Nick would be happy to pound it all day if he could. 
 
There’s more.
 
Fisher uses a tremendous amount of substitution on both sides of the ball. Saban believes in Depth, but doesn’t situational substitute like Fisher. Off the field his TEAM is dictated by love and passion, not fear. This is the talk among all the players, including their star QB, James Winston. Saban has this philosophy as well (where do you think Jimbo got it from?), but just not to the extent of Fisher. Fisher also learned the skill of hiring  great assistants from Saban, but even his assistants take it a step further as noted below. 
 
Jeremy Pruitt
Screen shot 4FSU’s Defensive Coordinator is Nick Saban’s former DB Coach, Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt is a tinkerer who seems to have taken Saban’s schemes and elevated them a notch. Aggressive Deception with a lot of Pre and Post Snap movement. Nick’s defense is dictated by a mix of blitzing packages with Huge LBs and Strong DBs in tight man coverage. Pruitt’s system seems heavy on the mix of coverages, rather than complicated blitzes, with smaller, but speedier LBs and a back 7 that is absolutely all over the field, both pre and post snap. More downfield Land Mines than Saban.
 
In fact, much of the Clemson turnovers were caused by FSU’s Passive Aggressive Land Mine Defense deluding QB Taj Boyd into thinking there was Space or Time where there was none. This led to big plays and turnovers. One play in particular – the interception by Lemarcus Joyner(Check it out) –  emphasized this brilliantly. Joyner showed blitz, raced to the flat then to the deep out and picked it off. Another time a FSU Sophmore CB baited the veteran Boyd into throwing to a supposedly open WR.
 
This is great conceptual teaching of fundamentals by the Defensive Staff and truly leading edge PS concepts on Defense – not just built on punching people in the jaw.
 
Power Spread vs Spread Power
The more I researched Fisher’s team the more I saw PS concepts throughout – both on and off the field. Not surprising since Saban was leaning this way with his Deceptive Aggressive Defenses and the way he managed his entire football team. The one core ingredient with all great coaches is understanding of TEAM. Ideas on creating a TEAM atmosphere are changing, though. Saban and Meyer were progressive, but Fisher and Malzahn are pushing the envelope further. Now the question is not as much Spread or Pro, but the ideology in which a Team is going about implementing the Power Spread. 
 
All teams have elements of Power Spread today. On the field the biggest division I am now seeing is starting from a Spread Set, a Pro Set or a Bunched Set. From there ALL teams spread the field on a majority of play designs and pre snap motion. So really, is this the idea of Power Spread vs Spread Power? Is the more complicated Spread Power of FSU able to overcome the simple versatility of the pure Power Spread?
 
Malzahn’s Offense may look more complicated, but it really isn’t. It’s meant to look that way. For FSU’s offenses and defenses to work thre must be great execution and minimal mistakes. This is not the case with Malzahn’s offenses. The thing is – if a team has the best recruiting, the most coached up fundamentals, the smartest kids, the most positive leadership and energy, then this team will win..always – no matter what the schemes or philosophies. Ideas are rendered a mute point. But I challenge any Michigan State or Florida State to go out and try to do this year in, year out. It’s even catching up to the great Nick Saban.
 
In today’s age of incredible athletes, it’s too hard to constantly win all the recruiting battles and get all your kids to play better than all the other brilliant athletes across the country and execute flawlessly year after year. The pressure is enormous in that scenario. The Power Spread allows for mistakes. It’s fun and it’s free from fear. A big turnover like Philly Brown in the Orange Bowl is not looked at with panic, but with excitement at the turnover the defense is about to create because the scheme dictates it. Fun, Free and Aggressive. It can’t be stopped.  
 
 

SO WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE?

Talent – FSU Hands Down
I am not trying to be rude here, but FSU has a lot more talent than Auburn and possibly more leadership. Plain and simple.
 
I could go through each position on both sides of the ball, but it’s not necessary. For details on matchups there is a slew of info available to study.
 
Auburn has had some really good recruiting in recent years and they had a lot of experience back this year so its not surprising they had a decent year. FSU is someonewhat shocking, as they lost a load of talent and experience from last year’s top team. The thing is, FSU has had probably the best recruiting, after Alabama, since the turn of the decade. This accumulation of great HS players is really paying off this year. Their speed and ability is not surprising, given their recruit ratings coming into College. The level of intelligence and leadership on the field – on both sides of the ball – is astounding to me. Especially considering that FSU lost a ton of assistants this past off season, including both Coordinators. To gell that quickly with new players and coaches is truly amazing and I honestly don’t have an answer for that one except to say that Fisher really knows what he’s doing and knows his coaches.
 
9914945-largeJames Winston
The one player that symbolizes this incredible year for FSU is their Heisman Trophy winning QB.  James Winston is an unusual Redshirt Freshman, to the point of actually being somewhat strange. Just see some of his pregame speeches. Then the off field accusations. I don’t know what to make of this guy, but he’s an amazing talent and even more so as a leader. I haven’t seen leadership like this, from a first year starter, since Mo Clarett. Cam Newton and Johnny Football were leaders as well, but had the incredible PS schemes in which to play. Not so for Mo or Winston. In fact, if anything, Fisher’s requires a lot of skill. It mixes in a lot of looks, personnel and schematics. There’s also a lot of Pre and Post Snap movement, many times using a Spread Power Theme, where the sets are bunched, then spread after the snap. A redshirt freshman handling this like a seasoned pro is quite remarkable.
 
What’s more remarkable is Winston’s attitude. After you watch his speeches, check out his interviews. Asked about “Nerves” after the Clemson game he said that there is no such word in his vocabulary. It doesn’t feel like simple rhetoric like so many players and coaches in the past. He believes it! Plus, the Love. That’s all he talks about – the love. Of Teammates, Family, Coaches, everywhere. Then check out this nice article on him when he was in HS. He says that he doesn’t want to be a the stereotypical black quarterback that runs more than throws. He wants to prove he’s smart enough to sit in the pocket and dissect defenses. So far, so good, though Power Spread Football is the ultimate in intelligent Football and goes far beyond the race of a player and whether he runs or not from the QB position. It even goes beyond the traditional labeling of positions. But Winston certainly has a lot of Power Spread attitude in what he says and how he plays.
 
Teams in Transition
Both teams dealt with big changes in the off season, making this National Championship even more improbable. FSU lost players and assistants. Auburn it’s head coach and staff. Thankfully each team had certain advantages that saw them through. Auburn had a wealth of experience and talent returning. Plus their new head coach was recently their genius Offensive Coordinator and now had some experience at the college level as a head coach. FSU still had Fisher and he has rebuilt FSU in his image. He had talent and coaches in the wings and moved quickly. 
 
Still, it’s hard to believe that both of these teams in transition could go this far. In the end, the special creativity and innovation of Malzahn and Winston brought this to fruition. For as much credit as Fisher deserves, his type of offense needs top notch execution – especially from the QB position. For Winston to do this as a RS Freshman is beyond belief.
 
As for Malzahn, what more needs to be said. I blast his accolades more than anyone, except maybe Kurt. I ranted on in 2010 that it was Malzahn who made Newton, not the other way around. I took abuse for that, but the truth is that Malzahn can turn average players into stars because of his brilliant PS schemes, so what do you think would happen with a talent like Newton. I KNEW that Auburn would be a top team this year because of him. But even I underestimated this prodigy. Wow. National Title after last year’s debacle. Incredible. 
 
Jeremy Pruitt deserves an honorable mention. He is smart and creative. Learned under the Master. Entered a program on the rise under Fisher. Inherited a highly talented Defense under another top DC in Mark Stoops. STILL…. HOW THE HECK DID HE GET THE PLAYERS TO BUY IN SO QUICKLY!?? Watch the Clemson game. Heck, watch any game. You will see communication, pre snap shifts, post snap movements that are absolutely as cohesive as you will see. And all the while – the schemes are very aggressive! This Defense had 4 returning starters!?? Buckeye fans – compare the quality of scheme on this D. This is high end stuff. I just don’t understand how it came together so quickly for FSU. Possibly the other coaches who stayed in the program and Fisher. 
 
 

PREDICTION

Well, I’m not sure I can make one. Definitely not the score. I could see absolutely ANYTHING happening. 
 
I know that most fans would think that Winston can’t screw up, but he can. He was a lot closer to errors in the Clemson game than it looked. But most likely, he will again play well, because his attitude, leadership and role on the team is so solid right now. Of course, his talent is tops as well. I expect maybe more errors from him than normal. Then it will be a matter if he can be clutch as FSU really hasn’t been challenged this year. 
 
While Auburn’s talent isn’t even on the same page, Malzahn’s PS Offense can score 50 on anyone. But, if this inexperienced team, coming off a losing season, plays with too much excitement or nerves, then this thing could go downhill quick against a well oiled team like FSU. 
 
Pruitt has been up to the task all year long. Even against the brilliant Chad Morris Offense of Clemson. Malzahn is a whole other beast. I really have no idea on this one. Watch and learn…
 
Auburn wins if…
Pruitt’s pre snap movement and deceptive aggression backfires and FSU uses their speed to constantly be running in the wrong direction. This can easily happen against Malzahn.
The game is close at the wire. A Redshirt Freshman, never in this position before, I have trouble believing won’t make the crucial error to lose the game.
 
FSU wins if…
Their Talent and Execution is just too much. Auburn will aggressively work to create big plays on D, but if they are a split second too slow or spend a second too long in “read&react” instead of “attack”, then Winston and co will burn them. I love that big WR Benjamin. He could have a coming out party. 
 
Winston proves clutch enough in the 3rd Quarter to keep a double digit lead until the end. Or possibly, he blows my mind again, and pulls out a game winning TD as a Redshirt Freshman. I remember Mo Clarett pretty much won OSU’s NT vs Miami by taking back the ball after a bad interception in the end zone by Craig Krenzel. It can happen with these “once in a lifetime” type of players.
 
I pick…
FSU. I have seen it too much where a team is just so together and executing at such a high level that scheme doesn’t matter. (see MSU). Especially with a great one like Winston. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if Auburn wins, but it seems like a lot to overcome and they may just get blown out due to the pressure of the situation. That’s when the fundamentals and talent come into play even more.
 
Now if everyone wants to say to me “How can you pick against your Power Spread master??”, I can simply say it’s not the end of the line. Power Spread Football, year in year out, is the best way to go. All teams actually are headed in that direction to some degree. Now it’s even spreading in the NFL. It’s going to continue to spread and if the turning point isn’t this year then I will bet you any money it’s next. And the year after that, and the year after that. The only question now is HOW it will spread not IF.  Power Spread? Spread Power?  Both? Or something else on the horizon…?
 
~PS
 

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