Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings have spent their fair share of time around Tallahassee, Florida, and Eugene, Oregon, this season covering Florida State and Oregon. Leading up to the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, Shanker and Jennings will be analyzing pressing questions facing different matchups within the game. Any suggestions for questions? Tweet @JShankerESPN or @ChantelJennings with your suggestions.
We continue with the matchup between the Florida State offense and Oregon's defense.
1. Can Oregon be the first team to stop freshman running back Dalvin Cook?
Shanker: The Ducks’ coaching staff must wish they would have played Cook earlier in the season, when his snaps were being limited. Cook finished the season with 1,084 yards from scrimmage and more than half (592) have come since Nov. 15. The Oregon defense is better than people think, and the Seminoles’ rushing attack has been inconsistent, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the Ducks held Cook in check. To stop Cook, the Ducks cannot miss tackles. The true freshman Cook has a rare ability to make defenders completely whiff.
Jennings: As long as the Oregon defense continues its upward trajectory, then yes. In the Pac-12 championship game, the Ducks held Arizona to 111 rushing yards, more than 75 yards fewer than the Wildcats’ season average at that point. Arizona running back Nick Wilson, who had averaged 6.2 yards per rush coming in to that game, averaged 2 yards per rush against the Ducks. Now, the Oregon run defense hasn’t been stout all season, but it has looked good lately. I think Don Pellum is going to be able to keep the Ducks going strong there.
2. Can Oregon's pass rush expose the Florida State offensive line?
Jennings: This will be another interesting matchup because both Oregon’s pass rush and Florida State’s O-line have been spotty at times this season. However, in the last four games of the season, the Ducks held opposing quarterbacks to an average adjusted QBR of 34.9 and held quarterbacks to just a 35.3 percent completion rate on third-down passing attempts. Though the Ducks have only sacked opposing quarterbacks on 6.1 percent of passing plays (No. 61 nationally), they have allowed just 5.5 yards per pass attempt (17th nationally).
Shanker: The Seminoles’ offensive line was exposed often through the early portion of the season, but the unit jelled late in the season with the insertion of freshman Roderick Johnson at left tackle. Four of the five starters have posted season-high grades along the offensive line since Johnson took over for Cam Erving, who was moved to center. In August and September, the unit ranked 95th in sacks per game; in November it ranked 16th. However, Oregon could make Jameis Winston uncomfortable by coming off the edges. As good as Johnson has been, he is still a true freshman, and right tackle Bobby Hart has struggled at times. A couple of exotic blitzes off the edge could confuse the FSU offensive line and leave Winston vulnerable.
3. How will Jameis Winston fare if the Ducks take away wide receiver Rashad Greene?
Shanker: It’s no secret Winston has an affinity for throwing the ball to Greene, one of the country’s best receivers. It’s also no secret the rest of the young group of receivers has been largely inconsistent. The Ducks might let Ifo Ekpre-Olomu cover Greene one-on-one, which puts pressure on Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph. While both have played well at points, they’ve also disappeared at times. At times, opponents have been able to effectively take away tight end and Mackey Award winner Nick O’Leary, who was held without a catch in two games this season. What shouldn’t be forgotten is teams have tried to take away Greene all season and the senior still finished seventh nationally in yards and eighth in receptions.
Jennings: One of the areas in which the Oregon defense has been the most inconsistent is in giving up big plays, specifically big pass plays. Oregon has given up 56 plays of 20 or more yards, and 40 of those were pass plays. Chances are with how good the chemistry is between Winston and Greene, they’ll be able to pull of one or two big plays, but the Seminoles will need to make sure they cash in on those. During the past month the Ducks have improved greatly there as well, only giving up nine pass plays of 20 or more yards.