After a successful run last year, we’ve ventured back into the college game to analyze this year’s BCS National Championship. The BCS’s swan song gave us one of its best games as the Florida State Seminoles narrowly edged the Auburn Tigers 34-31 to notch their first national championship since 1999.
It was a slow start for Florida State as Auburn jumped out to a 21-3 lead behind strong Tigers defense and some uncharacteristic inaccuracy and carelessness from Heisman quarterback Jameis Winston. The Seminoles bounced back, however, with a fake punt that extended a second quarter drive that eventually led to a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-10 heading into the half. Florida State cut the lead to 21-13 by the start of the fourth quarter before one of the more epic quarters in college football’s history ensued.
Like a championship fight, the teams traded blows as a captivated audience saw a number of history-making plays that continued to get topped until the final whistle. It started at the 4:31 mark of the fourth quarter when speedster Levonte Whitfield took a kick return back 100 yards for a touchdown to give Florida State their first lead of the day at 27-24. Auburn came back strong, however, with an 8-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by an outstanding 37-yard touchdown run by Heisman finalist Tre Mason.
With Mason’s run destined to be the game’s last memory, Winston came out for one last shot. Wide receiver Rashad Greene turned a 5-yard pass into a 49-yard gain that put FSU into the red zone and set up the epic finish. A pass interference penalty placed the Seminoles at the 2-yard line and with only 13 seconds to go in the game, Winston lofted a jump ball to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who hauled it in for the touchdown and the championship.
As college football heads to their tournament format a year from now, the BCS gave fans once last treat on its way out.
Here’s a look at the top performances from the final BCS National Championship with complete player grades and snap counts on Page 2.
* Note: This is only a one-game sample. At PFF, we pride ourselves on analyzing every single snap of the NFL season which amounts to over 1,000 plays for some players. The grades for this game should be kept in perspective as they are the equivalent of 1/16th of an NFL season. For example, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett posted a +9.8 grade on opening day in 2012 before stumbling to a -15.4 grade for the year. The grades for this game are just a fun look into the world of college football and by no means are a proper representation of a player’s college production and/or draft status.
Florida State – Three Performances of Note
Jernigan Dominates Up Front
It was fairly obvious from the get-go that defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was the best player on the Florida State defense, despite shots of him looking winded on the sideline at the end of the game. He played 63 of the 82 defensive snaps, graded at +5.9 overall on the night. He was virtually unblockable one-on-one in the running game as he dominated center Reese Dismukes and right guard Chad Slade on his way to a +5.8 grade against the run.
With Auburn running their usual power running game from the shotgun, Jernigan was a menace inside, whether two-gapping against Dismukes, or working across gaps, he managed to get in on six stops on the evening. While he didn’t do much as a pass rusher on his 23 attempts, he did get a hit on quarterback Nick Marshall. Don’t be fooled by Auburn’s high rushing totals, Jernigan had his way with the Auburn interior, and it was a good way to go out if it was indeed his last college game before heading to the NFL Draft.
Jameis Looks Human
In a world driven by social media, it’s hard to keep up with the ebbs and flows of player perception as with one bad pass a player can drop from future hall of famer to bust in the public’s eyes. For Winston, he was so exceptional this season, and Florida State found themselves in so few crunch-time situations, that analysts wanted to see how he would handle the pressure of a big game and less-than-ideal conditions. We got to see both on Monday as he started out slow and had to fight to dig Florida State out of their 17-point deficit.
Winston was clearly off his game at the outset as he threw dangerously into coverage multiple times, and was quite fortunate to come away without any interceptions on the night. Things escalated early in the second quarter when he airmailed back-to-back throws on his way to a three-and-out and then lost a fumble on his very next drive. With yet another three-and-out looming, a gutsy fake punt conversion prolonged Florida State’s drive and Winston took advantage with a nifty 21-yard run that set up a 3-yard Devonta Freeman touchdown run to put the Seminoles within 11 points heading into the half.
While the second-half certainly wasn’t perfect, it was much more Winston-like as he took advantage of the coverage with shorter passes and showed off his arm and accuracy when he zipped in a seam route to WR Kelvin Benjamin in the middle of the third quarter. As for the game-winning drive, it wasn’t necessarily epic quarterback play, but the 49-yard pass to Greene was a well-thrown pass between defenders, though Greene did most of the work with 44 yards after the catch.
Perhaps most importantly on the final drive, Winston looked much more comfortable distributing the ball to his receivers, having permanently shed the deer-in-the-headlights look that debuted and lasted about a quarter-and-a-half of play. Winston topped it off with a perfectly placed game-winner to Benjamin who used his 6-foot-5 frame to ensure the championship for the Seminoles.
Overall, it was impressive to see Winston bounce back from a rough start and when you add it all up, his performance evened out to a -0.4 grade for the night.
Mixed Reviews Up Front, Part 1
There were a lot of positives and negatives for Florida State up front, starting with right tackle Bobby Hart. It was fairly obvious throughout the broadcast that he couldn’t handle DE Dee Ford off the edge and the numbers certainly back it up. Hart gave up a sack and eight hurries on the night, most at the hands of Ford, on his way to a -6.6 grade in pass protection. He did redeem himself as a run blocker somewhat, grading at +1.6.
The rest of the offensive line didn’t have any major issues in pass protection with center Bryan Stork and RG Tre’ Jackson both perfect on the night. They were also the top run blockers for the unit, grading at +3.5 and +2.6, respectively. Stork was particularly stout inside, rarely getting beat and showing well whether asked to seal, reach, or climb the second level. On the left side, LG Josue Matias and LT Cameron Erving both graded at -1.4 in the run game and each committed a penalty on their way to -2.4 and -1.5 respective grades overall.
Auburn – Three Performances of Note
Ford Excels off the Edge
Just as Jernigan was clearly the best player for Florida State, Ford was the obvious top choice for Auburn. It certainly felt like he was in the backfield the entire night and the numbers back it up. He dominated off the edge, picking up two sacks and eight hurries on only 30 rush attempts, good for a pass rush grade of +6.8.
He had his way with Hart, mostly beating him with speed off the edge, but also getting inside him a couple times, as he did for his sack at the 3:54 mark of the third quarter. Ford benefitted from scheme at times as he got inside Hart on one stunt, but with the RG tracking the defensive tackle on the twist, Hart was left with a lot of ground to cover with little chance of slowing Ford down on the way to the quarterback.
Overall, it was an impressive effort for Ford who notched 43 percent of Auburn’s 23 total pressures on the night.
Mason Lives up to Heisman Hype
While Mason certainly wasn’t an unknown commodity coming into the season, his jump into the national spotlight was one of the season’s biggest stories and he backed it up on the biggest stage. He finished with 195 yards on 37 carries and his would-be game-winning touchdown was 13 seconds away from becoming one of the most iconic runs in college football history.
Mason broke free to the outside and turned a good run into a great one by juking freshman safety Jalen Ramsey in the open field on his way to the go-ahead score. Mason showed great quickness in the open field, forcing a number of tacklers to miss, and he made the most of Auburn’s run-heavy scheme, even when plays weren’t blocked well.
Whether it was bursting to the outside when the middle was clogged, or showing enough patience for holes to open up inside, Mason played an impressive overall game on his way to finishing at +4.5 for the day, including +3.6 as a runner
Mixed Reviews Up Front, Part 2
Much of the hype on the Auburn offensive line surrounds LT Greg Robinson (+2.8) who recently stated his intentions to declare for the NFL draft. He had his ups and downs throughout the evening, including some outstanding battles with DE Mario Edwards. Robinson got the better of Edwards a number of times in the running game, particularly when asked to collapse the back side on Auburn’s patented zone plays.
Edwards, though, didn’t go quietly and certainly had the upper hand on a number of plays during the game. As for pass protection, Robinson was only charged with one QB hit on a blown assignment in the first quarter, but he also got flagged for a holding penalty when Edwards got to his outside shoulder. This was one of the most fun matchups of the evening.
As for the rest of the line, Dismukes (-5.1) and Slade (-4.2) had their struggles, mostly in the run game where they graded at -6.6 and -5.8, respectively. Perhaps the most impressive lineman for Auburn was redshirt freshman LG Alex Kozan who finished at +2.8 overall. He showed well in the running game whether asked to get out in front in the power scheme or when Auburn decided to run behind him. Rounding out the front-five was RT Avery Young whose perfect day in pass protection was marred by a -1.3 grade as a run blocker. While Auburn picked up 232 yards on the ground, they had much more success when getting to the edge as Florida State controlled the middle for the most part.
– Edwards played all 82 snaps in the game, the only defensive lineman for either team to do so (if DE/OLB Christian Jones is being considered a linebacker).
– Auburn rotated 11 different defensive linemen, led by DE Nosa Eguae’s 50 snaps.
– Florida State LB Telvin Smith finished with 15 solo tackles on the night, including seven run stops.
PFF Game Ball
With a couple strong performances from which to choose, the game ball will get split between Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan (+5.9) and Auburn DE Dee Ford (+6.8). Each player dominated in their own ways as Jernigan made plays on a number of runs that came his way while Ford was unblockable off the edge the entire night.
Click to Page 2 for player grades and snap counts…
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