The narrative out of Alabama’s camp is that Jalen Hurts is much improved as a passer. That may be true, but based on how Florida State’s defense is lining up, its message is clear: prove it.
FSU is lining up early on in what is known as “point front.” Bill Belichick calls it this. Nick Saban calls it this. Florida State calls it the same, and probably other teams as well.
“Point” in Saban/Belichick terminology tells the Linebacker to play a “Choke” technique on the Tight End while the Defensive End aligns outside of him in an 8 technique. The Linebacker is responsible for playing the C gap in the run game and will cover the Tight End in man-to-man coverage in the instance of a pass.
This defense is commonly played to stop an elite tight end. But Alabama lost superstar tight end O.J. Howard to the first round of the NFL draft, so why would FSU play this defense against a group of tight ends who, though talented, are unproven?
Two reasons. First, this defense gets an extra defender on the line of scrimmage to play the run.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, it frees up electric defensive end Brian Burns to work in space.
Burns was a sackmaster as a freshman, and though the skinny sophomore has put on weight, he is still just 230 pounds or so. That’s not a recipe to be taking on Alabama’s offensive tackles on a down-to-down basis. The more FSU can get him in space, the more he can use his speed to disrupt run plays on the edge and rush the passer.
I drew it up so you can see it better.
FSU is also using this alignment to get superstar safety Derwin James and Burns on the same side of the field, typically to the “field” (wide) side, where there is a lot of territory to patrol. Check out this look with James aligned as the nickelback, or as FSU calls it, the “star” position.
With James this close to the line of scrimmage, it gives him the opportunity to impact Alabama’s screen and short pass game. That is important given that Alabama threw more passes behind the line of scrimmage in 2016 than any team in college football since 2011. From this position, James can also blitz, impacting the pass and slow-developing running plays.
Every defensive alignment gives something up, of course, and in this case this look puts a lot of pressure on FSU’s corners to cover Alabama’s talented receivers in man coverage.
It could blow up in FSU’s face, but this is a risk all teams must take against Alabama. If defenses don’t load up against the run, the Tide will just keep it on the ground and not bother passing.