The month-long hype for the BCS National Championship Game between Auburn and Florida State is near its peak, and kickoff for the Game of Games draws near.
Auburn looks to continue the SEC’s streak of seven consecutive national titles, while Florida State attempts to bring its first championship since 1999-00 back to Tallahassee.
This matchup is one of the most intriguing of the entire 2013 college football season. The Seminoles are led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, while the Tigers bring a powerful rushing attack to Pasadena, CA.
Florida State presents numerous challenges for first-year coach Gus Malzahn’s club, as the Seminoles’ deep well of talent closely resembles that of an SEC powerhouse.
Following are five keys to an Auburn victory against Florida State:
1. Pressure Jameis Winston
Winston took the college football world by storm in 2013 with 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns. The redshirt freshman signal caller shredded ACC defenses with ease, and if Auburn is to have a chance on Monday night, the Tigers must pressure him relentlessly.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford has a quick first step, and he could serve as Winston’s kryptonite. If the Tigers can’t get pressure with their front four, they may be in for a long day. The Seminole receiving corps is talented and deep, and Auburn would be taking a huge risk by consistently blitzing their defensive backs in order to generate pressure.
2. Win the Turnover Battle
When two top-shelf teams collide it’s often the little things that separate the winner from the loser.
Momentum and field position are crucial factors in most championship-level contests, and Monday’s game will be no different. Auburn running back Tre Mason will receive the lion’s share of carries, and the Florida State defense will undoubtedly attempt to rip the ball out early and often. Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall must secure the football at all times in order to have a shot at victory.
In addition to keeping their mistakes to a bare minimum, the Tigers would greatly benefit from forcing some big turnovers of their own.
3. Effective Play Calling
Malzahn’s spread option was largely unstoppable in 2013, and it got even better as the season progressed. While Auburn’s offensive sets and formations are unique, it’s the play calling that makes the team’s offense a true juggernaut.
Malzahn’s playbook is surprisingly skinny, and Auburn typically runs about three to five plays out of its base offense. The timing of the head coach’s play calling is paramount to the Tigers’ success, as Malzahn works his offense into a rhythm by consistently dialing up the perfect plays at the most opportune times. He’ll have to continue with more of the same against Florida State.
4. Contain Kelvin Benjamin
Of all the offensive weapons at Winston’s disposal, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is the most physically imposing. At 6’5 and 234 pounds, Benjamin presents challenges for opposing cornerbacks by simply stepping onto the field. He enjoyed a stellar season in 2013, hauling in 50 passes for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Auburn allows 259.3 yards per game through the air, and the Tigers don’t boast a tall defensive backfield. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s secondary had tremendous difficulty this season in containing another towering receiver – Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. In a 45-41 loss to Auburn, the 6’5” Evans had 287 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The Tigers will likely have to double up on Benjamin with safety help, which makes pressuring Winston with the front four all the more essential.
5. Win the Battle Against Florida State’s Defensive Line
With vocal leader Reese Dismukes at center, and Greg Robinson at left tackle, Auburn has an exceptional offensive line.
The unit will be tested like never before this season against the superb Seminole defensive front. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has terrorized opposing offenses all year, and he’s registered 10.5 tackles for losses. The highly anticipated showdown between Jernigan and Dismukes will perhaps be the game’s most crucial individual matchup.
Complimenting Jernigan are defensive ends Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman. Both have been unblockable at times this season, and they’ll obviously be primed for a good performance on Monday night.
If Auburn can bear down and control the Seminole defensive line, it will take a huge step toward hoisting the crystal football.