This isn't really a new storyline here as coaches and former college players have called out FSU's wideouts as the main issue with the offense, but for the first time this year, Jimbo Fisher really let them have it (quotes from FSU SID):
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - For the first time in well over a month the Florida State football team had the opportunity to get some wet weather work in Wednesday as a shower descended on the field in the later stages of practice.
The weather, however, was the least of FSU coach Jimbo Fishers concerns at the end of what he described as "very average" day.
Fisher was most disappointed with the play of the receivers at the end of practice. "The other guys are doing a good job," Fisher said. "The other guys are focused. The defense played really good, the backs played good, the quarterbacks played good. The line played solid. "[The receivers] have got to make plays. You've got to get open; you've got to run routes. You've got to do what you've got to do."
If you talk with someone who knows the game well and is in the stands to see the performance of the receivers (which isn't possible on TV because of the tight angles), they will flat out laugh in your face if you put the majority of the blame on FSU's quarterback for FSU's regressed passing game. But it can be hard to tell the extent of the issue if you simply watch the game on TV and don't talk to someone who played at a high level and attended the game. Fans typically focus their anger at whatever TV angles allow them to see, which is clearly not the whole field.
While the Seminoles have featured a balanced offense throughout the season - they've amassed 1,659 rushing yards and 1,662 passing yards - the passing game is well off last season's 300-yard a game average. Fisher made it clear that the issue isn't solely on the shoulders of quarterback Christian Ponder.
"It's hard to zip a ball when you're not sure where somebody's going to be and throw with confidence," Fisher said. "You all keep pointing at (Ponder). If everybody practiced like (No.) 7 and played like 7, we wouldn't have any issues. The rest of them guys need to take his lead."
This is basically what we have said. Christian Ponder has little trust in his receivers, and for good reason.
Pressure is squarely on wide receiver coach Lawrence Dawsey here, but perspective is also warranted. FSU did lose a lot at the receiver position. UNC had similar struggles last year after losing a similar amount of catches and yards from the previous season. This year Carolina has improved tremendously, so there is hope for the 2011 season, which will be absolutely critical for new starter EJ Manuel. We thought FSU's receivers would take a step back, but not as big as this. Simple things like avoiding pre-snap penalties and knowing the proper route adjustment must be accomplished immediately, and in truth, FSU should probably play some of its younger receivers to prep for a big run in 2011 or 2012. But therein lies the rub- there's pressure to win now and particularly to be competitive with UF, who have six straight victories over the 'Noles.
That is not to say other elements of the offense have been perfect. Ponder has been banged up for much of the year, and hasn't been quite as sharp as he was last year. How much of that is due to knowing there is a good chance receivers will not be in the correct spot is unknown. The running backs have played better this year, though are not without fault, most notably Ty Jones being four feet out of position and running into the quarterback on the final play last Thursday. The offensive line had major pass protection issues early on, as it struggled with injuries. But the difference here is in the sheer number of mistakes being made by the quarterback, line, and backs, compared to the problems with the receivers. While the line, quarterback, and running backs seem to be progressing or at least holding serve, the inconsistency from the receiver position is maddening.
This is not the first we have heard of the coaches being unhappy with the receivers. There is a theory that in order to bring in some athleticism during a time in which FSU was not contending for top recruits under Bobby Bowden, FSU scrimped on intelligence, "coachability", and other football intangibles. That seems to have been remedied some with Fisher's first class, as the coaches think highly of rail-thin Kenny Shaw. Greg Dent may fit into the former category but he does have physical ability. And the most talented of them all, Christian Green, is waiting in the wings to debut this Spring as he recovers from a shoulder injury suffered during fall camp.
Florida State does not need 2010 Willie Haulstead to become 2009 Jarmon Fortson, but it really does need Taiwan Easterling or Bert Reed to replicate the Rod Owens of 2009- a dependable target running precise routes and making the correct breaks, even without great physical gifts.