Florida State's defense knows Michigan's line poses sizable test

September 25, 1991|By Steve Ellis | Steve Ellis,Knight-Ridder

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Interesting package Chuck Amato received in the mail recently: a bottle of NyQuil.

"A friend from North Carolina sent it, so I could sleep at night," the Florida State defensive line coach said.

Thing is, Amato is sleeping well -- even though Michigan's offensive line averages 30 more pounds and is three inches taller than Florida State's starting defensive front.

"I don't have a problem falling asleep this week and my players don't," Amato said. "We might go up there and get killed. I know one thing, we'll play hard."

Then with a smile, he added, "We'll do OK."

If there is anything to give Amato nightmares, it would be all the questions about the size difference.

Even Amato's boss, Bobby Bowden, has questions.

"I'm concerned about [Michigan's size advantage], but there's nothing I can do about it," the FSU head coach said. "They have the ability to physically whip you.

"I'm not sure if we can play with them."

Amato has answered questions about his defensive line ever since the Miami game last season. In that 31-22 loss, Florida State succumbed to a talented running back, Stephen McGuire, and an offensive line that uses a similar blocking scheme to Michigan's.

"That was one game," Amato said. "We came back and played very good football up front the remainder of the season. What do these guys have to do?"

The Sporting News, in its preseason publication, ranked Michigan's offensive line as the nation's best.

"The tradition [at Michigan] is that the offensive line has to be dominant for the offense to move the ball," tackle Greg Skrepenak said.

"I've been watching these guys for two years and no one has been able to stop this offensive line," Ann Arbor News writer Jim Cnockaert said.

Against Notre Dame, the Wolverines used the final 6:20 without throwing the football. Twice, Michigan was in a third-and-long situation and converted on a run.

Michigan's offensive line, even without injured center Steve Everitt, averages 6 feet 5 and 294 pounds. Michigan's biggest lineman, 6-8, 325-pound Skrepenak, is 9 inches taller and weighs 75 more pounds than Chaney, FSU's smallest starting defensive lineman.

"They are bigger than us, but Western Michigan was bigger than us," Amato said. "So are a lot of people. BYU averaged 288 pounds. Let's remember, we've played against Florida, Penn State . . . and Auburn had a phenomenal offensive line [last season]. I don't remember us getting embarrassed by them."

The challenge isn't just size. It's also Michigan's blocking scheme.

"Zone blocking is a problem for everybody," Amato said. "Watch the pros; they can't stop it.

"It's the new thing in football. The linemen [including tight ends] all move this way or that way. They just go to an area, pick up whatever different color of uniform comes to [his area].

"When it's executed well, it's tough. Get the ball to a very good back. Let him get it deep and then look for a crack."

When the blockers properly execute, as they did against Notre Dame two weeks ago, Michigan's running backs can be in for a big day. Ricky Powers rushed for 164 yards on 38 carries against the Irish.

"The thing that concerns me as much as the offensive line is their back who runs the ball so well," said Bowden. "They might get ball control on us."

It won't be the defensive line's primary responsibility to tackle Powers. That task will rest with linebackers Marvin Jones, Kirk Carruthers and Ken Alexander.

"They have to be unselfish in this game," Amato said of his linemen. "They could not make a single tackle and play an excellent game.

"[The defensive lineman] has to fight to get his body in that gap. The back is looking to cut back, and we want to make him run east and west."

FSU coaches have a plan. Part of it is no more exciting than being fundamentally sound.

"The key is going to be execution," said Chaney. "Stay low. You have to do that to get leverage, to get the advantage. That's something we didn't do well against Miami.

"Our quickness will help in the pass rush and beating their big guys to the gaps."

While Michigan's no-huddle offense potentially could limit substitutions, Florida State coaches likely will rotate schemes as well as players to challenge a Michigan line that is reportedly well-conditioned.

"We've got to take an aggressive approach," said Amato, who consulted with Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz this week. "And we've got to take a positive approach.

"This is the integral part of the game. The burden is on them [FSU's defensive line], and Michigan is good.

"But our kids are going up there with tremendous confidence."

And with plenty of sleep, which may be surprising to some.

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