(Image: Orlando Sentinel)
This is a RPO breakdown from our Twitter follower Paul Sellers, follow him @MrPaulSellers. Over the past 4 years, Willie Taggart’s offenses have averaged 38.8 points per game, good for 4th in the FBS. His red zone touchdown percentage over that time has never finished worse than 20th. Willie Taggart did not forget how to coach offense when he moved back to Florida. The installation of a new offense will take time and require some patience. This is also not, I repeat not, an article criticizing the FSU players. Francois in particular is playing his heart out, trying to get buy in from his teammates. He is out there hanging in the pocket, getting hit and throwing blocks wanting to win. The new offense will also take him time, and most importantly practice, to get right.
Better Reads and Better Blocking
Taggart is installing an offense geared towards a read-based offense. This means that on some plays the QB must decide whether he or the running back will take the ball, usually called a read-option. On other plays he has to decide first whether it will be a run or a pass, and then if a run, again who keeps the ball. This second type of play is the RPO (run-pass-option) and is typified by the QB needing to decide after the snap whether it will be a passing play or a run play. This is sometimes confused, even by commentators, with play-action which is a fake run which was always going to be a pass.
One of the most common RPOs we’ve seen from Taggart so far involves a bubble screen where a wide receiver is available behind the line of scrimmage to catch the ball and Francois has three choices to throw there, give the ball to the running back, or keep it for himself. One of these plays that has been widely criticized following the game against Samford came with 7:37 left in the 2nd quarter on third and one.
Here FSU is lined up with three wide receivers to the near side of the field and one running back next to Francois. This “read” should occur almost entirely before the ball is snapped. Even though the play is drawn up as a RPO, the numbers are so lopsided; the decision should likely come pre-snap. At the start of the play there are seven Samford players in the box near the line of scrimmage. This means there is no numbers advantage for FSU on the screen to the wide receiver with the safety high but able to crash down possibly to disrupt the play.
At the time the ball is snapped, the numbers become even more favorable. The Samford outside linebacker on the near side has moved wide and close to the line. The run option on this play is going straight up the middle. With both Samford linebackers close to the line and wide, the middle should be open for Akers.
It is sometimes difficult to know whether a quarterback has full discretion on a RPO play. Sometimes a coach will tell his QB which option to take ahead of time. It is possible that happened here. Francois never even faked much of a hand off to Akers and so had pretty clearly decided to throw it pre-snap. However, Walt Bell did mention an RPO on third and one where Francois had made the wrong read and lost an opportunity at a big gain so I’m pretty sure Francois had to make a pre-snap decision here and simply made the wrong one.
On this play, had the ball been handed off rather than kept and thrown, the space is certainly there for Akers to get the first down and much more. Jauan Williams at left guard has made a good block and Akers has two lead blockers to account for one linebacker in the middle of the field and a gaping hole for the first down and possibly a touchdown. Instead true freshman receiver Warren Thompson misses his block and Matthews is tacked for a loss.
This was a good play call which could have worked a couple of ways. Even with the screen thrown to Matthews, FSU still likely gets the first down if Thompson makes his block. This is not to excuse the coaches. Thompson is a freshman who needs to be coached up to make that block. Thompson has the size to execute and will absolutely get better as the year progresses. Francois needs to be coached up too and based on the reports from practice this week, making these types of reads has been a major emphasis. Regardless, it is not a bad design or representative of a broken offensive system and while more coaching needs to occur, we’re still only two weeks into the Taggart Era. It is something that will get better with patience from the fans and practice from the players.
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