FSU Football: Aerial attack presents major challenge for Auburn defense

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Stopping Kelvin Benjamin will be Auburn’s biggest challenge. ( Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

Florida State’s offensive strength is Auburn’s defensive weakness

The most asked question concerning next Monday’s BCS National Championship is how will Florida State slow down Tre Mason and the rushing attack for Auburn? The Tigers have run over opponents in the final half of the season including Missouri most recently in the SEC Championship. The toughest challenge for the title game however, will likely fall on the shoulders on the Auburn secondary.

With Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback, Florida State arguably has the nation’s best trio of wide receivers in senior Kenny Shaw, junior Rashad Greene and redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin. Add a talented trio of backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield and one of the nation’s best tight ends in Nick O’Leary and FSU stands to give the Auburn secondary fits.

Playing the pass and winning defensive struggles have not been a strong suit for the Tigers this season. In 13 games, Auburn has given up at least 35 points on four occasions and allowed a pair of teams — Texas A&M and Missouri — to break 40. Good SEC quarterbacks like James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and A.J. McCarron have all torched the Auburn secondary and Winston may be better than all of them.

Mettenberger averaged better than 10 yards-per-pass attempt as LSU handed Auburn its only loss while Manziel put up 454 yards and four touchdowns passing in a 45-41 Auburn win. Murray also eclipsed the 400-yard mark for Georgia in a 43-38 loss to the Tigers while Franklin passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC Championship. In the regular season finale, McCarron passed for 277 yards and three scores which included a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper.

Of all of Florida State’s talented pass-catchers, the biggest match-up nightmare looks to be Kelvin Benjamin. Brother of Cleveland Browns’ receiver Travis Benjamin, the 6’5″, 230-pound sophomore has really come on of late. Benjamin has scored a touchdown in each of his last five games with a total of nine in that span including five in the last two games. Benjamin is also FSU’s biggest deep threat averaging better than 19 yards-per-catch.

While the Auburn secondary has struggled all year long, big, physical receivers like Benjamin have given the Tigers the most fits. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans had 11 receptions for 287 yards and four touchdowns against Auburn while Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham finished with 144 yards receiving and a pair of scores in the SEC title game.

Of the five defensive backs that start for Auburn, only senior Ryan Smith, at 6’2″, reaches the height of six-foot tall. Greene and Shaw are each 6’0″ while O’Leary, the tight end, is listed at 6’3″ for FSU.

While most of the speculation surrounding next Monday’s title game triggers around how the Florida State defense will slow down Gus Malzahn’s spread rushing attack, the biggest advantage for an offense over a defense looks to be the Seminoles’ passing attack against the Auburn secondary. Though the Tigers have managed to make it to Pasadena with a strong ground game, Florida State is yielding the fewest points in the country and if Auburn is to win a second national championship in four years, it will need to find a way to make stops.

As good as Tre Mason has been running the football in the second half of the season, Florida State has been as good throwing the ball all season long. While Mason looks to pound away at a Florida State defense that is allowing the fewest points in the country, unless his secondary can find a way to get stops, it may not matter.

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