Florida used a late red-zone stop and a clock-killing drive to hold off Florida State for a 14-10 victory in my first game of NCAA Football 14. And I really enjoyed the game, despite barely doing anything on offense.
One of the new great things about this iteration in the NCAA Football series is the ease of running the option. With your reads called out on the screen — at least on Varsity difficulty, which I used for both offense and defense — it is very tempting to try to run the option as much as possible, and with QB No. 6 (Jeff Driskel) and RB No. 24 (Matt Jones) in the backfield, it makes sense to do that with Florida, too. The problem? You may think you're good at reading keys, but only practice will actually get you there.
So I muddled along with the option and the passing game early, throwing a pick on third down of the first drive of the game, and relying on my stout defense, which gummed up FSU's downhill running, to keep me in the game. After a scoreless first quarter, I missed a 53-yard field goal wide right with Austin Hardin on the first play of the second quarter. But on the next drive, Jaylen Watkins got Florida on the board with a fumble return for a touchdown in the second, and I followed that up with a nice drive in the final 30 seconds of the first half that featured a bomb Andre Debose went up and got and a touchdown pass that a running Driskel fired in to a slanting Debose. With a 14-0 lead at halftime and a very good half of defense against Jameis Winston's offense, I was feeling pretty good about cruising to a win.
Alas, Florida State made some adjustments. Winston went 3-for-3 for 53 yards on the first drive of the second half, and James Wilder, on for an injured Devonta Freeman, punched in a six-yard touchdown run that helped the Seminoles cut my lead to 14-7.
I found Debose again on the first play of the next drive for a 15-yarder that got me near midfield, then used Kelvin Taylor and Jones to get into FSU territory. But my drive stalled when Colin Thompson dropped a pass that would have gotten a first down and I fired the ball into triple coverage for an incompletion on third down.
Down a touchdown with little more than six minutes to go in the game, Florida State began the most important drive of the contest from its own 20, and methodically worked it down the field. A couple of option keepers by Winston got the 'Noles 20 yards in short order, but good open field tackles, including one big hit by Antonio Morrison, set up a third and one near midfield. FSU converted it with a Freeman run up the middle. Another set of good tackles set up another third and one, but Winston totally fooled me on an option keeper from the shotgun and picked up nine yards to move the sticks, then ran for 10 yards on another option keeper on the next play.
But quick pressure up the middle from Leon Orr resulted in a sack on the first play of the drive in the red zone, and fantastic coverage on third down produced a Neiron Ball sack that pushed the 'Noles out of the red zone. They decided to kick the field goal, and converted, making it 14-10 with a little over two minutes left, but their really interesting decision was kicking deep on the kickoff. Though FSU had all three timeouts, it gave me a chance to run out the clock on the ground.
Which I did.
A successful option keeper with Driskel got me a first down on the drive's first play. Consecutive runs up the middle with Jones netted 13 and 12 yards on the next two, and fully drained Florida State's timeouts. From there, it was just a matter of snapping the ball until triple zeroes.
I really enjoyed this first game, and I'll definitely be trying the option and trying to defend it more in subsequent games, because it feels as fun and challenging on both sides of the ball as it's ever been, and in a way that corresponds to why the option is so often used and so difficult to defend in college football. I didn't throw nearly as much as I would usually throw, but I usually play with longer quarters; still, Driskel's got very good arm strength, and I feel like I made a couple of good throws and a few awful decisions, with no mistake on the field not coming from my use of the sticks.
One complaint I do already have: The crowd in The Swamp chanted "Oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh" for "Seven Nation Army," something I have never heard at a Florida football game, and chanted "Let's go, Gators!" at the end of the game, when "It's GREAT! To BE! A FLOR-I-DA GAT-OR!" would be the obvious chant. I get that using "Seven Nation Army" does match how some crowds behave, but it feels inauthentic and ruins the atmosphere at The Swamp for Gators fans to be among those roaring over that riff.
I'll obviously be playing more NCAA Football 14 over this week, and I'll be sure to drop more observations and gripes here and in the comments as I do. I wanna hear your feedback, too, so have at it down below.
Florida 14, Florida State 10
- It was strange that Orr was not only starting at DT, but one of the impact players on defense. He did have two sacks and get named Florida's defensive player of the game, but, with all due respect to Orr, it would seem that Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard, who I didn't even notice on the field, would have a better chance of being impact players.
- Debose was the offensive player of the game for Florida, with three catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
- Winston (10-for-13, 107 yards, and 11 carries for 19 yards that counts several sacks he took against him) were FSU's players of the game.
- The Swamp has the Gator Head at midfield, the italicized Fs at the 25-yard lines and the new "THIS IS... THE SWAMP" and "THIS IS... GATOR COUNTRY" signage on the stadium walls. Last year's version still had the old block F at midfield and the old font on the walls.
- Florida's Gator Head is up-to-date, too, with the darker green underside of the mouth. That also wasn't part of last year's game, which still had the old Gator Head.
Army 17, Stanford 7
- It is not all that hard to beat a good team (Stanford's ranked No. 3 in the game) with a bad team on Varsity. I kept the ball on the ground with Army's option offense and kept Stanford's offense mostly on the sidelines.
- Making the right reads in the option remains very satisfying, especially if you break long runs and touchdowns.
- Getting off blocks on defense is quite hard, which is, I think, a good thing: There's very little cheap shooting of gaps that allowed me to stuff runners behind the line, and it permits players to drop back and/or read the blockers.
- I have had one penalty from both teams over two games. Granted, it's on Varsity, but still: Penalties happen pretty often in college football.
- I ran a fake field goal in the final minutes in the hopes of getting a touchdown lead instead of a six-point lead, and it worked very well. It also felt awesome.
- "Zombie Nation" sounds way better than "Seven Nation Army."
South Carolina 31, Baylor 17
- I was Baylor, and played both offense and defense on Heisman. Playing defense on Heisman is really, really hard, especially when it comes to covering the read option. I got fooled badly a couple of times. Of course, that might have just been about playing with Baylor.
- I also had a pick-six with a linebacker in the flats, so those happen.
- This game was closer than the score indicates: I passed up a field goal down 17-0 in the first half and failed to score, gave up a touchdown in the last minute, and had another chance to score after that. But I also threw two killer interceptions.
- My offensive touchdown came on an 80-yard pass play to a guy on a go route, and Jadeveon Clowney rushed wide, trying to get around my left tackle on the play. He moved faster than I've ever seen a non all-99'd defender move in these games, and, when he engaged the tackle, literally pushed him into me. I was terrified.
- I also connected on a long pass play that I thought I overthrew by user catching it and getting one foot down. Nice thing to know is possible if your receiver is fast enough to beat a defender by a half-step.
- I absolutely thumped a 50-yard field goal with Baylor's kicker, who had a Kick Power of 93. I bet 60-yard field goals are possible.
- South Carolina a) ran an effective fake punt against me and b) ran the same play twice in a row, throwing it to the same receiver. A little bit of Spurrier exists in Fake Spurrier.
Andy Hutchins writes for Deadspin and is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.