NEWPORT BEACH, Calif -- We are three full days away from kickoff of the BCS Championship Game and Friday we finally got to see Jameis Winston, the Heisman winner. The Seminole offense which had a remarkable season was on hand as was the Auburn defense.
There is no doubt that the Tigers defense was the undercard and its ability to slow down Winston and the Seminoles offense may be the biggest challenge in the game. Florida State has scored 30 or more points in all 13 games this season. The Seminoles are just 28 points away from setting the all-time NCAA record for points in a season.
The Seminoles offense has featured a serious weapon the last month of the season in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The 6-foot-5 sophomore has seven of his fourteen touchdown receptions in the last three games. One wrinkle they have added is putting him in the slot against man-to-man. There is no doubt in my mind that Jimbo Fisher will get four or five "jump balls" to him in the game.
Winston can make all the throws, we know that, but he is especially sharp in the second quarter, where he leads the country with 18 touchdown passes. The offensive guys were much looser today than the defensive guys yesterday. Winston seemed to be the reason for that. The players all said his off-the-field issues brought the team closer together.
Stat: Florida State finished third in the country in passing touchdowns in the first half with 26.
Auburn has not been great statistically on defense, but when it counts the Tigers have gotten the job done.
The Tigers held teams to just a 23 percent conversion rate on third down in the fourth quarter this season. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson feels like pressure on Winston will be the key to the game. I would expect him to find out early if they can win the battle rushing just four guys and bringing heat later in the game.
Johnson said it’s because this is the third system in three years for the players. That has contributed to the inconsistency, but he said his defense knows how to "play in the moment." The defense is counting on the offense to start fast to keep it from playing uphill. Dee Ford also believes playing a lot of guys in the front keeps them fresh late in the game.
This and that
- FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was a graduate assistant for Auburn coach Ellis Johnson when he was at Alabama. Johnson praised Pruitt's work ethic and knowledge of the game.
- Auburn rotates 10-12 defensive linemen within a game and it helps keep them fresh. This is one reason why the Tigers were fourth in the SEC with 85 tackles for loss. They have a fast physical group that plays behind the line of scrimmage.
- FSU is a strong favorite in the game according to the boys in Las Vegas. The Noles have taken notice of the upsets in the BCS by UCF and Oklahoma. They believe they are focused on the task at hand, which is one game.
- I do get the sense that Auburn is tired of answering questions about being a "team of destiny." The players believe in a 60-minute game and I think they are using the underdog role as a motivating factor.
- Jimbo Fisher is the play caller at FSU and he has squared off six times against Ellis Johnson as a defensive coordinator. Johnson says Fisher is very good with in-game adjustments. Johnson runs a 4-2-5 scheme which is not something the Seminoles have seen a lot of this season.