FSU linebackers looking for answers

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
10:56
AM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Their demise didn't come from the deep ball or a long run. Instead, the Seminoles were buried by a series of maddeningly short passes over the middle, small chunks of yardage that turned the game.

NC State ran crossing routes with its tight ends, running backs and slot receivers over and over again, and Florida State had no answer. In the second half, Mike Glennon completed 24 passes, but just one went for more than 15 yards. Add them all up though, and it was a recipe for beating the vaunted Florida State defense.

"Obviously we opened up a can of worms," Vince Williams said. "Now people think our linebackers can't cover."

Glennon threw for 218 yards in the second half, but rarely did he look downfield. He tested Florida State's linebacking corps, with 16 of his 30 completions going to running backs and tight ends.

The most effective play for the Wolfpack was the underneath crossing routes, which shifted linebackers out of position and left receivers open for short gains that, when combined with a missed tackle, turned into big problems for Florida State.

"They were getting what they could from us," Christian Jones said. "Most of the game, we covered them pretty well, but all those little yards add up."

From the outset of the season, there were concerns about how well Florida State's new-look linebackers would hold up in big situations. As it turned out, it was a bevy of little plays that proved to be their undoing.

Telvin Smith said no one is pointing fingers this week, but that as a unit, he knows the linebackers came up short. The crossing routes are worked on in practice, but Florida State failed to remain disciplined against them Saturday.

"One time, I messed up trying to go for the pick instead of securing the tackle," Smith said. "It's little plays like that that can make the bigger outcome different. Little things we could've done different."

The key to stopping the short crossing routes, Jimbo Fisher said, is for the linebackers and nickel corner to work together, building a wall in the middle of the field that prevents receivers from getting through.

Against NC State, linebackers were too often out of position, playing the vertical game rather than the horizontal. Fisher said FSU switched its zone coverages at times, but once NC State found something that worked, the Wolfpack bled Florida State's defense dry with it.

"It's like water in a dam," Fisher said. "Once it cracks, it can go a long ways."

It's not that Smith, Williams, Jones and nickelback Tyler Hunter didn't make any big plays. It's that they didn't make enough of the small ones.

That's the lingering frustration this week, but Williams said there will be an emphasis on fixing the problems NC State exposed.

"It's going to be for the coaches to coach it slightly different or come up with a better way to defend it, and it's going to be on us to take it and try to perfect what they're telling us to do," Williams said.

And for all the frustrations that followed the loss -- and, in particular, the linebackers' role in the defeat -- there's some cause for optimism and opportunities to build off those mistakes.

The linebackers are still just six games into their new roles, with Jones playing his first season on the weak side, Nick Moody in his first season on the strong side, and Hunter getting his first significant work at nickel.

While the end result wasn't what they'd hoped last week, Smith said he was actually pleased with the communication and reaction on the majority of the plays.

"NC State did a lot of shifting, and a lot of times, I was caught at the Sam position, or I was outside and Christian was inside," Smith said. "We had to play off each other and that just comes with the knowledge of each position. We've come a long way."

That's key, because FSU's linebackers expect to see those crossing patterns again, expect for opposing offensive coordinators to watch the tape of the NC State game and see opportunities.

But that means opportunities for the linebackers, too, and that's the message Williams has tried to sell this week.

"I see it as getting more opportunities to make more plays," Williams said. "Now people are going to be coming at us, so let's get some interceptions. We welcome it."

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