Plays for when Dalvin Cook is struggling

Florida State’s rush offense led by Dalvin Cook was very good this year. The problem was the rushing attack started and ended with Cook. So when Cook was struggling, the offense as a whole struggled. Jacques Patrick enjoyed a decent rookie campaign, but only carried the ball 63 times compared to Cook’s 229 carries. In fact, Florida State running backs not named Dalvin Cook had 132 carries, almost 100 less than Cook. As the season wore on, it was clear that Head Coach Jimbo Fisher wanted Cook to be the workhorse and with good reason. Cook could change the game on any given carry, like so:

The feed Dalvin Cook the ball strategy worked for most games, but there were a few when it wasn’t as efficient. And when Cook was off his game or hurt, the Florida State offense stalled. This was extremely evident in the bowl game against Houston, and early on against Florida. So if Dalvin Cook is having a bad game or is hurt next year, what should the Seminoles do? Here are a few solutions:

Make a wide receiver a rushing threat

Florida State has some wide receivers who are very good in open space. Most notably Kermit Whitfield, whose track speed was on full display this year. A player similar to Whitfield is Kansas City Chiefs’ player De’Anthony Thomas. Like FSU, the Chiefs have an elite talent at running back in Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs enjoy opening holes for Charles to run through, and here’s how they do it using Thomas:

On this play, Thomas comes in motion from the slot (where Whitfield usually lines up) and receives a hand off from quarterback Alex Smith. Not only does this confuse the linebackers, but it also establishes the edge. What that means is the defensive ends will be more likely to position themselves outside the offensive tackles. Once this is established, running holes in the middle open up much easier, like so:

Notice how Thomas goes in motion again, and then watch the linebackers drift to the outside. Additionally, look how wide the two defensive ends line up. Using Whitfield to establish the edge can provide huge running lanes in the middle. The offensive line also has a much easier job, as both the right guard and right tackle ignore the defensive end and get to the second level. When two offensive linemen and a tight end are all blocking linebackers, it usually means the running back is getting to the safeties. There are not too many safeties in college football that can tackle Dalvin Cook in open space. Another point to be made is that in that on the jet sweep to Thomas (first .gif), he has a one on one with a slot corner. While it is more of a set up play, it could easily go for a big gain, especially with Whitfield’s speed.

Use more spread offense counter schemes

If a team is shutting down Dalvin Cook, more than likely they are keying in on him. The box is more than likely loaded with 7 or 8 defenders, and they are over pursuing every time Cook threatens to touch the ball. The easy answer here would be to use play action or throw a screen pass. A better way to take advantage of a defense over pursuing is by running counters. Watch how Tom Herman and Urban Meyer used counter to open up holes for Ezekiel Elliot in last year’s national championship game:

This is a very clever play call for several reasons. The first is it makes the backside linebacker take a step in the wrong direction because of quarterback Cardale Jones and Elliot’s initial movements. The motion also This allows enough time for the right guard to get off the double team and block the linebacker so he cannot make the play. In addition, both the right guard and tight end pull to essentially become lead blockers. The guard gets matched up against a cornerback, and the tight end blocks the play-side linebacker. In both cases, the size advantage goes to Ohio State and in effect a hole is opened up. A nice block from the receiver downfield puts Elliot in a one on one situation with the safety. Again, Dalvin Cook against a safety is a very favorable match up for Florida State. In fact this play was so successful Ohio State ran it again:

This time, Oregon brought an outside linebacker on a blitz who over-pursues and gets to far up-field. This allows the guard to get an easy block on the outside, and the tight end does a beautiful job of squaring his shoulders to eliminate the linebacker. The backside linebacker steps the wrong way yet again, allowing adequate time for the play-side guard to get to the second level and block him. Counters like these can take advantage of aggressive defenses, and doesn’t necessarily require great blocking.

Utilize the read option

If Deondre Francois or Malik Henry wins the starting quarterback job next year, running read options would do wonders for opening up running lanes. Read options do so many things, but the most important is it slows down the defensive end’s rush. This allows for more time in the pocket, easier runs off tackle, and makes the offensive tackles’ lives much easier. In addition, it can lead to trick plays. There’s no way a defense would expect Coach Fisher to call this play:

I can already see Ermon Lane faking a block and running downfield untouched. When Florida State’s offense stalls next year, its going to be interesting what the play calls will be. All of the above are valid options that could get the offense out of the slump. At some point, you need to call a gimmick play to catch the defense by surprise. Only time will tell if Coach Fisher will step outside his playbook.


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