The Big Board: Facing the pressure

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The postgame venom from fans has largely been directed at Jimbo Fisher after Florida State's 17-16 loss to NC State, and the ire has largely been spurred by his conservative play calling in the game's waning moments.

But while fans wanted to see Fisher take a few final shots down the field, putting the dagger through the hearts of NC State, the onus for the conservative approach may have fallen more on the blocking up front.

"We could say we could throw it, but then you've got the possibility -- we'd had a few sacks in blitz that we hadn't picked up," Fisher said. "You're up six points, so do you take a chance on [EJ Manuel getting hit]? It goes back to philosophical things at the time and the flow of the game."

Indeed, Fisher was right to be concerned about Manuel's ability to sit in the pocket and make a play.

While Florida State's offensive line has shown marked improvement from a year ago -- particularly in the running game -- consistency in pass protection has been an ongoing concern.

Here's a game-by-game review of Manuel's passing attempts under duress:

(Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.)

There have been ups and downs, but through the first five games, Manuel was largely able to steer clear of constant pressure. Against NC State, however, the problems were widespread. He faced pressure on nearly 40 percent of his passing attempts -- which includes three desperation throws at the end when NC State had no reason to rush -- was sacked a season-high four times, and in turn, Florida State rarely threw the deep ball.

"They put a lot of pressure on our offense and we didn’t make them pay," Manuel said. "It’s not the reason we lost but it’s one of them."

There were plenty of explanations for the problems with pass protection.

For one, starting right tackle Menelik Watson missed the game with flu symptoms, and Daniel Glauser got the start in his place. Glauser also started against Wake Forest, and those two games accounted for seven of the 10 sacks FSU has allowed this year. It's perhaps not surprising then that Bobby Hart has taken first-team reps at right tackle during practice this week.

While the rest of the offensive line had a handful of mistakes, too, some of the onus falls on the backs and tight ends who failed to pick up blocks, and some of the onus falls on Manuel for failing to read the blitz and react accordingly.

Fisher said there was only one blitz that Manuel clearly read incorrectly, but there were other throws he failed to complete in the face of pressure -- including a screen to Chris Thompson, a pass to Nick O'Leary and a deep ball to Kelvin Benjamin.

"They were blitzing a whole lot, swarming the quarterback," Rashad Greene said. "Opportunities were there with what we wanted. We just couldn't get it executed."

Here's Manuel's numbers against the blitz from Saturday's game, broken down by half:

(Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.)

Manuel said he felt he played a "pretty good" game, admitting he missed on a few potentially big plays.

But when a defense that allowed nearly 1,200 yards in two games against Tennessee and Miami pitches a shutout in the second half, there's certainly more to it than a few mistakes by the offense.

In fact, compare Manuel's numbers vs. the blitz from the first five games of the season to his production Saturday, and there's a clear difference.

(Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.)

That last item is particularly noteworthy. Manuel had faced the blitz on 29 pass attempts (23 percent) in the first five games of the season and was sacked just three times. He faced it a whopping 16 times (48 percent) on Saturday, and was sacked four times.

NC State had a game plan -- go after Manuel with force -- and it worked. Other teams are certainly going to follow suit.

Fans weren't pleased with Fisher's answers during Monday's news conference, but his explanation is no less accurate. The problems were both widespread and slightly out of character. Blame falls on the offensive line, on the running backs, on the quarterback and, yes, on the play calling. But at the same time, the line had shown improvement, the backs had blocked well, and Manuel had looked sharp in the face of pressure prior to Saturday's game.

Whether finding solutions to a number of small problems is easier than fixing one huge problem remains to be seen, but the Seminoles are at least giving lip service to the idea this week.

Whether things change moving forward, however, will be the real answer to all those tough questions.

"We've got to figure a way to get it done, and I'm sure that teams will watch NC State and see what they did to us, and it'll open up a can of worms," center Bryan Stork said. "We're going to see more looks like that. Boston College runs a lot of stuff like that, too. I guess we'll be that much more ready for it."

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