Florida State fans cheering and tailgating outside the Rose Bowl on game day at the BCS Championship, in Pasadena, Ca., Monday, January 6, 2014. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
FSU is a heavy favorite entering the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn.
Here are three keys to victory for No. 1 FSU (13-0) to avoid the upset against No. 2 Auburn (12-1).
Reporting from Newport Beach, Ca., Sunday, January 5, 2014, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi and FSU writer Brendan Sonnone makes their predictions for Monday's BCS Championship game between FSU and Auburn in Pasadena. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Senti
1. Stick to power running attack
Whether it works right away or not, FSU needs to force the issue on the ground against Auburn.
LSU was able to take advantage of Auburn’s mediocre defensive front earlier in the year by using simple running plays out of the I-formation. The Tigers ran for 228 yards against Auburn and FSU will likely use a similar approach.
Auburn gives up 4.59 yards per carry, 86th nationally. The Seminoles are averaging 5.69 yards per carry and can control the game with a steady dose of Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams, while fullback Chad Abram leads the way.
A strong rushing attack will in turn take away opportunities for Auburn’s high-tempo offense and give FSU’s defense time to rest.
2. Win first and second down on defense
As dynamic as Auburn’s rushing attack is (335.69 YPG), the Tigers can struggle when they are taken out of a rhythm. What makes Auburn click is that its play calling is so eclectic. When the Tigers are in manageable downs, like 3rd and short, they can use their full playbook and beat teams with play-action passes down field.
On downs of 3rd and 3 or less, Auburn averages 8.67 yards per carry. On downs of 3rd and 4-6, Auburn averages 3.94 yards per carry. Conversely, FSU gives up 3.38 yards per carry on 3rd and 3 or less.
The Seminoles are more predicated on speed and are not great against power-running attacks. So making Auburn one dimensional and forcing the Tigers to throw the ball on third down is going to be a critical aspect of this game for FSU.
3. Convert in the red zone
The game could very well come down to this.
The Seminoles have the top red-zone offense in the country, putting up points 97.1 percent of the time once they cross into their opponents’ 20-yard line. On top of that, FSU leads the nation with 55 touchdowns in the red zone.
For as many weaknesses as Auburn’s defense has, this is a point of strength. The Tigers are 7th nationally in red-zone defense, surrendering scores just 70.83 percent of the time. This is why Auburn is allowing just 24 points per game despite allowing yards in bulk.
The key is for Jameis Winston to make sharp, decisive reads in this part of the field and make sure FSU makes the most of its scoring opportunities.