The first ever College Football playoff game, the semifinal between Oregon, the Pac-12 champions and Florida State, the ACC championship and defending national champions, will be played at the Rose Bowl, showcasing the best and fastest offense in the nation and the last two Heisman winners, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
The Ducks run the ball well. Very well. How well? They are 22nd in the nation with 237.3 yards per game, but they probably would be a bit more run oriented if it wasn’t for their excellent quarterback. Mariota himself has gone for 669 yards this season. The team’s leading rusher, Royce Freeman, is one yard shy of 1300 yards and has scored 16 rushing touchdowns in 2014. Florida State are bad against the run, and that should show against a team 5th in the nation in yards per carry.
The Seminoles haven’t faced a lot of great running teams this season. Overall, they’ve given up 160.1 yards per game (56th in the nation), but it has something to do with poor competition they’ve been facing in the ACC most of this season. When they’ve faced teams that are ranked in the top half of the rushing stats nationally, the Seminoles give up an incredible 227 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry.
Another issue for the Seminoles is putting pressure on Mariota and the Ducks. The textbook says that you need to block the edges against Oregon and pressure Mariota as much as possible. But this year has seen a drop off in Florida State’s pass rush. Mariota has thrown over 300 passes without getting intercepted when seeing a pass rush of four players or less. Florida State do that 67% of the time, and 27 of his passing touchdowns have come when not getting blitzed.
But this doesn’t mean the Seminoles are out for the count. They aren’t undefeated for nothing, and they’re still the defending national champions, with Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman winner as the quarterback. Winston is 26-0 as a starter and his QBR in the second half this season, when the Seminoles start actually playing, is fourth in the nation according to ESPN at 88.1. Florida State are the best second half team in the nation, outscoring power 5 teams by 8.6 points in the second half and giving up just 125 points compared with Oregon’s 151.
Both teams had injury issues this season. Oregon are getting their offensive line back where it should have been when this season began. Florida State have had a lot of injuries on defense. Speaking of injuries, the Ducks will be missing Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the All-American cornerback, which means Winston will be testing redshirt freshman Chris Seisay, although as a group, Oregon might be the one with the better defense.
Size vs speed is a big part of the equation here. The Seminoles are huge in the trenches, but there’s probably not a single team in the nation with the kind of speed Oregon has at pretty much every position, not to mention the pace they try and set. Teams in the Pac-12 have learned to fake injuries as if this is soccer in order to slow them down, but that usually doesn’t work. Florida State haven’t faced anything like this all year, and struggled mightily against the triple option of Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game.
Florida State don’t lose, but how much longer can they pull off massive escapes? They’ve been bad in almost every first half this season. Jameis Winston is the inferior quarterback in a matchup for the first time in his college career (and probably the last). Oregon are peaking at the right time (although it’s been a while since their last game) with a huge win over Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game. They look like the better team, in a stadium they know very well. But Florida State just keep on winning, no matter how bad they might look for sometimes three quarters of a game. That’s hard equation to figure out.