Florida State treated its conference opener against Wake Forest as a glorified scrimmage en route to a 31-0 win. The Seminoles' passing game had struggled in recent weeks due to a combination of poor pass protection, inexperienced receivers, and an injured Christian Ponder. The Noles knew they needed to find a third receiving threat to compliment Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling. To do that FSU passed, passed, and passed some more. It seemed like an odd decision considering the ease with which FSU could run the ball on Wake Forest. But FSU needed the work in the passing game and so did Wake Forest. That knowledge made for an interesting game in which FSU was determined to pass and the Deacons played to stop the pass and not the run. Florida State moved the ball, but it didn't score as much as it should have due to the focus entirely on the pass.
Note: Veteran reporter Ira Schoeffel agrees with the "passing scrimmage" assessment:
Yes. 100 %. RT @CoryHeck: @IraSchoffel Do you think Jimbo is treating WF like an exhibition and is working on the passing game for practice?
More evidence that FSU treated this as a scrimmage was the incredible 47 passing plays called against just 31 run plays.
This shouldn't be a surprise, however, as I said this would happen in the preview:
I expect FSU to treat this game as a good power pitcher does a Spring Training game. That is, the pitcher knows he has a good fastball that will work whenever he wants to throw it, but he is going to throw a lot of sliders even if the batter knows they are coming because he knows he needs to work on it. In this case, Florida State knows that Wake can't stop its running game. Wake Forest likely knows it can't stop Florida State's running game. So I think FSU will work on its passing game, even if Wake Forest knows the 'Noles plan to work on their passing game. That means Wake will be playing the pass. This will make it more difficult for FSU to throw, but it will be good work for Christian Ponder and the young receivers like Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith. Additionally, Kyle Wilber will be a good matchup for left tackle Henry Orelus, who is replacing the injured Andrew Datko. Because Wake likely realizes FSU wants to work on its passing game, Wake will have some success by flooding the passing zones and bringing odd pressures.
Throwing the ball against a defense that knew the pass was coming didn't produce many points, but it did provide valuable reps for Florida State's young receivers. Christian Ponder didn't have great chemistry with young receivers Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith, but they were targeted 10 times and hauled in 7 passes. Haulstead caught five balls for 44 yards and two touchdowns. FSU is hopeful that he has emerged as the number three receiving threat it desperately needs.
Christian Ponder looked average after battling a deep-tricep bruise and not throwing until Thursday. He floated some balls but also made some nice throws while going 23-36 for 241 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions. Florida State completed balls to 10 receivers on the day. Ponder did develop some more confidence in his young options and didn't throw any balls that could have been intercepted.
A major concern for Florida State, however, is at left tackle. Starter Andrew Datko missed his second-consecutive game with his left shoulder issues. Replacement Henry Orelus, a freshman, played poorly in pass protection allowing three sacks, including one that caused a fumble by Christian Ponder in the redzone. He was pulled at halftime and replaced with another freshman, Garrett Faircloth. Faircloth didn't perform much better. FSU needs to hope that Andrew Datko gets back in time for the Miami game on October 9th. If not, Florida State must help out its young left tackle against better opponents.
The Noles offense gained 486 yards on 78 plays, including 25 first downs.
Inside, check out the defensive performance!
Here's the non-garbage time drive chart:
The defense, however, was tremendous. FSU had not earned an ACC shutout since 2006. The Noles forced 7 three-and outs. The Demon Deacons didn't pass midfield until the fourth quarter. Wake Forest gained only 185 yards on 59 plays. Florida State's defense allowed the offense to focus on specific plays and not solely on scoring.
The 'Noles baby defensive line (7 of 8 players are sophomores or freshmen) dominated physically. But more encouraging for FSU fans was the excellent discipline shown by a group that had been anything but in recent years. Nose guard Jacobbi McDaniel made a tremendous play to bat a ball in the air and then intercept it. The defensive ends kept contain on the edges when called to do so, and funneled the play when needed.
The linebackers pursued with good leverage for most of the day. Kendal Smith, Nigel Bradham, and Mister Alexander all made nice plays. Alexander knocked out Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price.
Florida State notched 6 sacks and 12 tackles for loss while allowing minimal big plays.
The secondary played very well. Coverage was tight on an excellent group of receivers. Corner Mike Harris forced a fumble on Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohannon.
Here's the drive charts from non-garbage time:
|Total||435||302||64||69%||4.7||0 of 7 (0%)||0% (0 of 7)|
|Total||708||120||46||17%||2.6||6 of 9 (66%)||0% (0 of 9)|
The game was poorly attended and Wake Forest returned 9,500 tickets, which helped contribute to the lack of fans at the game.
Florida State next plays at 2-1 Virginia at Noon on Raycom.