Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Coaches' scouting intel on top-5 teams
By Travis Haney
How do you beat Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide? Run right at them, according to one coach.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- We had planned to travel here, to Florida’s capital city, even before Florida State’s mauling of Clemson on Saturday. Given that result, it’s only fitting to base this dispatch from the home of the nation’s hottest team.
In the course of 60 minutes (30 minutes, really), the Seminoles went from a promising team to a top contender on the same level as Alabama and Oregon. They’re the nation’s elite.
“That was something, wasn’t it?” one coach told me this week, referring to FSU’s 51-14 rout of the then-No. 3 Tigers. “I think they’re going to play for the national title.”
Here’s a look at how coaches from around the country assess the Seminoles, as well as Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and Missouri (a surprise SEC entrant). They offer insight into how the top five teams in the BCS standings beat opponents and how they can possibly be beaten.
Next three games: Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State
How they beat you: “It’s not like they change what they do,” one coach said. “They want to run and be physical on offense and do the same on defense, owning the lines of scrimmage.” Added another: “We looked at how much time they spend on the ground. They’re never there. There’s a different level of physicality. It’s a talented team, obviously, but they also give great effort. It’s one thing to have skilled players, but they’re well-coached. That’s the great separator with teams.”
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for how they use their hands,” a third coach said. “They do every small thing on every play.” Another added: “They have so much damn depth.”
How you beat them: “You run right at them,” one coach said. “They don’t have that run-stopping nose tackle like they’ve had in the past. If you get anything going at all [on the ground], that will give you one-on-one chances [in the passing game] and you have to hit a few. They haven’t liked their corners for a couple of years, from what I’ve heard.”
“I thought Virginia Tech did a good job of playing with them at their game,” a second coach said. “If not for the return game, they were right with them.” Added another: “Look at the games they’ve lost the last few years. Let’s be honest. They have to have an off day. It has happened, so you have to hope you don’t get their best shot on that day.”
Next three games: North Carolina State, Miami, at Wake Forest
How they beat you: “Let’s see. You have a solid power run game, a mobile, intelligent quarterback [Jameis Winston], a guy who’s built like a defensive lineman playing receiver [Kelvin Benjamin], a tight end you can line up anywhere [Nick O'Leary]. And that’s just the offense.”
“[Winston] looks like the real deal,” another coach said. “They just have a different look with him. The offense seems to have opened up. There’s a comfort there.” Added a third coach: “They want to play a lot like Alabama. They’re big up front on both sides of the ball. Their secondary might be as good as anyone’s in the country. They’re loaded everywhere and they’re all playing like they’re pissed off. I don’t know if they are, but that’s how they play.”
How you beat them: “They never got into it, but I’m guessing Clemson’s plan was to try to stop the run and really force Winston to win a game with his arm, force the game to him,” said one coach. “I guess that doesn’t guarantee a win, but it’s what you have to do, make them one-dimensional and see if you can turn him over.” Said another coach: “This is the worst time to ask that question because they looked unbeatable at Clemson. I say try to run the ball against them. I like their DBs. They’re fast, long and can run. But if you can run the ball, it gives you a chance.”
Next three games: UCLA, at Stanford, Utah
How they beat you: “They’re just different. When you watch them on tape, it’s like you’re watching it on fast forward,” one coach said. “Their speed is just incredible, like nobody in the country. And the defense is where they’re really different than they have been. The offense has been good for a while, but their defense -- and the speed of their defense -- is what has really changed. I think they’ll win the national championship.”
How you beat them: “It has to be a team like Alabama, with big, strong lines on both sides of the ball,” one coach said. “When you look at [Oregon’s] offensive line, they aren’t that big. It’s going to take a team that can really push them around, get them out of rhythm.” A team like Stanford, perhaps? “I don’t think [Stanford has] enough speed on the back end,” the coach continued. “I think Alabama [does].”
Said another coach: “You have to match their speed up front, and you need to have team speed in the linebackers and secondary. I think Alabama would be a great matchup because of the great strides they’ve made at their skill positions. Plus, you need a team that can possess the ball and not have many three-and-outs. You’ve got to win on third downs and have size, like Alabama has size.”
Next three games: Penn State, at Purdue, at Illinois
How they beat you: “They have added some speed [this season],” one coach said. “Their lines are OK, both offensive and defensive lines. But there’s some speed at running back and obviously the quarterback.”
How you beat them: “I think a lot of teams can beat them, personally,” said one coach. “I think Oregon would beat them by three touchdowns. That’s just my opinion, but I don’t think they’re in the same ballpark as Oregon. I don’t think they’re anywhere near a lot of teams in the country. I thought Wisconsin would beat them. How close was that game?” (The Buckeyes beat the Badgers 31-24.)
Next three games: South Carolina, Tennessee, at Kentucky
How they beat you: “That’s just a good football team,” one coach said. “Gary [Pinkel] is a good coach. He’s been doing this a long time. He’s got experienced football players. He’s got juniors and seniors and they’re hard-nosed kids. The three defensive ends they have are legitimate guys that can control the game.” Added another: “This isn’t some fluke. There’s a lot of talent out there. I know they don’t have their quarterback right now [with James Franklin injured], but they’ve got everyone else.” Said another: “I think a kid that doesn’t get talked about that much is No. 48 in the middle [fifth-year senior linebacker Andrew Wilson]. He plays hard, he really gets to the ball.”
How you beat them: “I think you have to kind of nickel-and-dime them down the field, but they get tougher and stronger near the end zone,” said one coach. “You’ve got to stay tough down there and punch it in, anyway. The margin for error is low.” Added another coach: “I don’t get why people think Missouri is some kind of soft team from the Big 12. They’re as physical as anyone in the league. Look at the receivers, the defensive line. To beat them, you have to match that -- or run by them.”