How will FSU contain Lamar Jackson?

Photo by Logan Stanford

This Saturday, Florida State faces the tough task of going up against Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson. If the Seminoles want to walk out of this game with a victory, they need to limit Jackson through the air and contain him on the ground.

The key word here is contain.

There is no way to completely stop Jackson on defense. A player of his caliber is able to pick up yards through the air and on the ground regardless of the defense that he faces. Jackson has great arm strength to stretch the field vertically and is well known for his ability to use his legs to gash defenses for big gains as well.

Florida State has to look no further then their matchup against Louisville last year to see the type of damage that Jackson can inflict. Although the Seminoles limited Jackson to 32 yards rushing, the then-freshman quarterback threw for 302 yards against Florida State’s secondary. The 302 passing yards were a season high for Jackson in 2015. It exemplified the fact that, while you can hope to contain him, you cannot totally stop Jackson from creating plays.

So what is the strategy this year for containing Lamar Jackson?

If Florida State wants to stop Louisville’s high-powered offense, then they will have to play very disciplined football in the secondary. They will be without Derwin James for the foreseeable future, the “quarterback”  of their defense who had the responsibility of relaying the plays from the sideline and getting everyone lined up. Without James in the lineup, Florida State needs to focus on staying disciplined and maintaining their coverages.

Louisville’s offenses focuses on getting defenses out of position. They managed to do this several times against Florida State last year and Lamar Jackson was able to recognize and take advantage of the mismatches. He had a couple of big throws in the game simply because wide receivers were running wide open.

While Jackson has good arm strength, he has not yet shown the capabilities to be a very accurate passer. His completion percentage last year was 54.7% and is sitting at 59.7% so far this season. Florida State will be able to put a lot of pressure on Jackson if they force him to make elite-caliber throws down the field. Chad Kelly was able to do this multiple times against the Seminoles, but it is not something that just any quarterback can do. Jackson has all the talent in the world, but his accuracy is something that Charles Kelly and the defensive coaching staff will definitely try to exploit in this game.

In certain situations, Florida State will also employ a “spy,” or a player tasked with man-to-man coverage on Jackson in the pocket. Their first choice for this task would have likely been Derwin James, but due to his injury they will likely turn to Matthew Thomas for this role. Thomas has great athleticism and was tasked with spying Chad Kelly multiple times in their season opener against Ole Miss. If Jackson gets free from the pocket and takes off on the ground, then Thomas may be the only player in the way of him and the end zone.

Speaking of the pass rush, Florida State will need to be very disciplined in the pass rush on Saturday. While fans are always in favor of more sacks, the more important task at hand will be keeping Jackson inside the pocket. If Jackson is allowed to scramble, then he is capable of taking it to the house. Last year, Florida State was very successful at limiting Jackson on the ground by staying disciplined in the rush. They weren’t wildly rushing at the quarterback and opening up big holes. Rather, they pushed the pocket back into the young quarterback and dared him to make the necessary throws to drive Louisville’s offense down the field.

Luckily for the Seminoles, they have an elite defensive line. DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat are two of the best defensive ends in college football. Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas in the interior are very strong players and are not easily moved. They are more than capable of containing the pocket and forcing Jackson to make the elite throws necessary to drive down the field.

Florida State also blitzed quite a bit in their matchup last year. This was likely done to put more pressure on the then-true freshman quarterback and force him to make mistakes. Fans will remember Derwin James’ massive hit on Jackson that caused a forced fumble.

While Jackson is certainly one of the best players in college football, he is still only a true sophomore who has less than 10 starts under his belt. Expect Florida State to bring the blitz multiple times in this game. This year, their blitz package, or “rabbit package,” will likely feature Josh Sweat and Jacob Pugh as edge rusher and DeMarcus Walker and Derrick Nnadi as interior rushers. The Seminoles were very successful using this package against Ole Miss and it contributed to Walker’s 4.5 sack performance in that game.

In all, their strategy for containing Lamar Jackson looks something like this: stay disciplined in the secondary, maintain rushing lanes and force the young quarterback to drive down the field using his arm. If Florida State can come out hot, like they did in the second half of the Ole Miss game when they shut down Chad Kelly and the pass game, then the Seminoles will be in a great position to come out with another victory.

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