FILM ROOM: FSU’s offense & importance of O’Leary

Jimbo Fisher’s offense is neither particularly complicated nor is his playbook terribly thick. They run enough to keep defenses honest using a couple of the same staples we do: Inside zone and Power O. Their big kicker and O-Line coach Rick Trickett’s specialty is the outside zone/stretch play, though. Outside Zone uses the same blocking rules as inside zone (covered, combo to play side, 2nd level), with the difference being the initial aim of the running back and what the offensive line is attemting to accomplish once they engage.


With outside zone, the offensive linemen are attempting to either get outside their target and seal him inside, or if they can’t reach to do that they will try to push him to the sideline. The running back is aiming to stretch to the outside hip of the tackle. From there he’ll read the front outside in and either take the edge if the offensive linemen make their seal, cut upfield through the B-gap, or cut back through the A-gap. Look for FSU to run this away from Dante Fowler as often as they can get away with. It will be up to our interior linemen to hold up the offensive line and keep them from reaching second level blocks on Antonio Morrison, Mike Taylor, Alex Anzalone, etc. and the playside end to get quick penetration to funnel the play back to them.

In the passing game, what makes FSU dangerous is that they combine multiple simple passing concepts designed to attack different defensive coverages into a single play. If their quarterback can identify the coverage shell through pre-snap keys and post-snap coverage rotation, he knows what his answer will be. Jameis does this better than any quarterback Jimbo has had.

What really makes these pass patterns so effective and multiple, though, are the option cut routes Jimbo Fisher gives Nick O’Leary at tight end.


What this pattern combines is a cover 2 beating smash route on the weak side with a good MOFC combo of fade/option on the strong side. O’Leary will press vertical and try to contact his defender and turn inside. From there he’ll read the coverage and break to where the void is. It’s tough to defend because O’Leary is very physical, moves well, and can catch the ball in traffic.  If you can’t cover him with a linebacker or safety alone (and few can), he’ll eat you alive 10-15 yards at a time. If you start trying to cover him with help, that’s when FSU burns you over the top with a post or go route to the same side against single coverage. I think he can be described best as the fulcrum of the FSU offense.

There are a variety of ways for the Gators to approach defending this, but personally I think Florida’s best strategy here is going to be to stick their most physical safety on O’Leary in quarters to his side with some help underneath from the outside linebackers/bucks and depend on Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor to defend man-to-man on an island against Rashad Green and company.  For receivers not named Amari Cooper, they’ve proven more than up to the task this year. This will also enable Florida to have enough numbers in the box to stop the run and get pressure with 4-5.

 Thoughts on the Coaching Search

 With the Will Muschamp era at Florida coming to an end, I can’t help but be saddened at the thought of a good man who clearly loves the University of Florida, does things the right way, and has a really bright football mind being sent packing. I’ll always be a fan of his and hope he succeeds in his future stops as long as he isn’t on the opposite sideline. That said, it is crystal clear a change was in order on a philosophical level.

This week, rather than breaking down film for an offense that was rather pedestrian and didn’t really present anything new against the Gamecocks or Eastern Kentucky, I figured a better idea was to examine what we should be looking for in a new head coach from a schematic perspective given our recruiting base.

As has been mentioned by many, what the state of Florida has in abundance are quick skill athletes.  What it does not have a ton of are large, overpowering, downhill offensive linemen, blocking tight ends, and fullback types. This type of personnel lends itself to a single back zone running style with spread personnel. To understand why this makes sense and what the further implications are of spreading personnel away from the formation.

At its core, the philosophy of spread football is to move guys away from the formation that can win 1-on-1 matchups in space.  If you spread someone out who can’t win 1-on-1, you’re basically placing a limit on your offense and allowing the defense to gain numbers back in the formation to stop the run. On the outside, you need someone that can press vertical and demand safety help over the top, but this is true whether an offense is spread or traditional I-formation. The real difference in the spread comes with slot receiver positions.

The true goal of the spread is to be able to force defenses to declare their intent and then attack their weakness. The way this is done is by being able to run the ball effectively while presenting 4 immediate vertical threats through a 2×2 or 3×1 formation. When you can do both, you force a defense to chose to play the run short on numbers, attempt to cover 4 vertical passing threats with 3 deep zone defenders, or play some version of pattern matching coverage with safeties up such as quarters or Saban’s Rip/Liz Match (below from Alabama 2008 playbook) which effectively turns into man to man against multiple vertical releases to one side of the field.


What these type of coverages hinge upon, though, are the highlighted SCF (Seam-Curl-Flat) players or the safeties and their ability to support both run and pass. The implication here is that your slot guys have to be good enough to consistently put these two-way defenders into run/pass conflict through either size and leverage or speed and quickness.

Back to our recruiting base, Florida has a higher number of these quick and fast skill players than perhaps any other state in the country. If you take these guys and spread them out enough from the formation through a combination of alignment and scheme, you give yourself options and force the defense in their very own Kobayashi Maru.  Over, and over, and over again.  Miss on these players or attempt to base your offense out of 2-back personnel and you’re putting the game on the back of your mobile but less big and powerful linemen and their ability to power block downhill against the very, very good defensive linemen in this conference.  That is not playing to your strengths, but forcing a square peg into a round hole, as we saw for the first 3 years of the Muschamp era.

My hope is that Jeremy Foley recognizes this first and probably most key of Will Muschamp’s mistakes and sets his sights on someone that doesn’t try to replicate what works well for everyone else, but recognizes what the strengths of our talent base are, can recruit skill athletes of high quality and in high quantities, and will fully commit to a spread philosophy from day 1. Whether it’s a singleback , QB under center attack with superior receiving threats and a developed passing game or a spread-to-run multiple option attack or something in between, the key component is putting superior athletes in space. If our next coach can do that, the rest will take care of itself.

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Tom Furland
Tom Furland holds a BSBA in Decision and Information Sciences and an MBA from the University of Florida and is still proud to say it is the only school he has ever applied to. A lifelong Gator fan and a long-time X’s and O’s junkie, Tom got his start with Gator Country back in 2008. Tom then moved on to the now-defunct Gator Gurus along with David “PD” Parker, where Tom quickly became known as one of the foremost technical experts in the Gator Football community. After taking some time away from writing to complete grad school, Tom is proud to be back at Gator Country and bringing you the best Gator-centric X’s and O’s on the web.


  1. I disagree with the premise that FSU will shy away from running at Dante Fowler. I think that’s one place they’ll want to run. One proven way to take away a pass rusher is to run right at him until he proves you can’t. O’Leary is a big problem. Louisville had a great linebacker, Burgess, that did a great job, but I don’t think UF has as good a linebacker and Neal is not great in coverage. Greene may be a notch below Cooper, but he is an elite receiver and UF , whether it’s Hargreaves or not, is not going to be able to stick a single guy on him. He’s too good. The best hope is to bracket him and take your chances with the younger receivers. They have shown a tendency to break off or run their routes incorrectly and drop balls, which have led to interceptions. FSU showed last year, when Benjamin set a record at Florida field, that they understand UF’s coverage schemes fairly well. It’s going to take a monumental effort to stop Winston, he’s the best quarterback in college football.

    • FSU will run stretch away from Fowler because A) it forces him to chase from the back side which will tire him out, and B) He plays the run very well when you run at him, getting quick penetration and forcing the ball back inside to his support players. They may run inside zone or power to his side, but they will struggle if they try to run stretch at him often.

      As far as Benjamin goes and FSU understanding our schemes, he got a lot of his yardage on jumpballs and broken tackles. that’s not so much understanding schemes as just getting out-athleted. Greene is good, but he’s no Benjamin or Cooper. Hargreaves can match up with him well. Tabor I believe can also. Where Greene gets his is on very late crossing routes and on routes behind coverage against lesser corners than we have on an island behind O’Leary.