With the 2011 season in the books and a top 5 recruiting class signed and sealed, it's time to take a look at what the Florida State Seminoles were able to accomplish. There were some high hopes going into the 2011 season. For some fans, 10-12 regular season wins were expected. While there was reason to hope for something special, injuries and off the field circumstances would have FSU struggling to put together a solid season.
Inside a collection of short game reviews, numbers, player superlatives, and what it means going in to next season.
Florida State opened up with a couple of warm up games. However, these two contests provided reason to be concerned with the offensive line play. Florida State was not going to have an offensive line that was the strength of the team like 2009/10. Rodney Hudson was a special player for FSU and replacing him would not be easy. And while not as talented, center Ryan McMahon knew his assignments, and was adept at calling out adjustments at the line pre-snap. Two veterans that would need to be leaned on would not come close to finishing the season. David Spurlock, after suffering multiple concussions the previous year, would never be the same player. Andrew Datko's shoulder surgery didn't take. That would leave one veteran player on the line from 2010 in Zebrie Sanders. Despite the sloppiness and lack of running game, FSU easily dispatched LA-MON and Charleston Southern, earning the first shut out of the year and beating both by a combined score of 96-10.
After the warm up games, it was time to welcome the Oklahoma Sooners to the Doak. Florida State would need its best from the offense and defense. After giving up an early touchdown drive, it was more than apparent that this was not going to be the shellacking that happened against OU in 2010. Instead, FSU and college football fans across the country were treated to one of the most physical, hard hitting games of the year. Unfortunately, the 'Noles would b dealt the worst of the blows. EJ Manuel, scrambling for extra yardage, would come down hard on his shoulder. The impact would result in an injury that would hamper Manuel for the rest of the year. After losing a team leader in EJ, Florida State still played hard. Back up QB Clint Trickett would deliver a hope and a prayer that was caught by true FR Rashad Greene to tie the game at 13. The Doak lost it's collective mind. But in the end, without EJ and any threat of a running game, OU was able to come up with a few more plays than FSU and take the 23-13 win.
The next two games would send the FSU faithful reeling. Two losses by two identical scores. It's hard to say that the Clemson loss was acceptable, but after the hard hitting, injuring producing, emotion draining game that happened the prior week, it was at a minimum understandable. For the Clemson game, penalties, earned or not, would keep the Tigers on the field and extend drives. It also helped that Clemson QB Taj Boyd played one of his best games of the year and consistently made difficult throws. Despite gutsy play from stand in Clint Trickett, The 'Noles were handed its second straight loss. Also worth mentioning that this was probably the poorest defensive performance from Florida State on the year.
Fans were confident the slide would end against Wake Forest. Instead, another 35-30 loss. EJ Manuel was told he was going to be the starter, but come game day, he wasn't. Clint was asked to come in on the road and recreate what he did in Death Valley. Instead, the offense started the game completely disjointed. Down in the first half, Jimbo Fisher decided the 'emergency' situation did indeed arrive and put in EJ. Florida State never put it together and Wake Forest, feeding off of 5 turnovers, was able to pull the upset. Florida State, 2-3. Not exactly the record fans expected.
Finally, a confidence builder. Florida State would reach .500 football in a win against Duke. In fact, the Duke game would spark a 5 game win streak. In the first 4 of those 5 wins, FSU would annihilate the spread, running backs, quarterbacks, and earn its second shutout against NC State. What does annihilation look like? FSU - 154, Opponents - 39. Florida state would give up just 252 yards rushing. The defense was dominant and the offense fed off of their play. The defense constantly created short fields and started getting turnovers. Exactly the two things an offense needs from a defense to look elite.
Next up, a hated rival...ACC refs. Oh, and the Miami Hurricanes also came to Tallahassee. This was perhaps one of the strangest games in the series of the rivalry. Florida State, despite mustering only 78 yards of offense, went into the half up on Miami 17-7. Special teams were key to opening up the lead against the 'Canes. Shawn Powell, deep in 'Nole territory, blasted a punt that UM returner/WR Travis Benjamin misplayed as it sailed over his head. LB Telvin Smith would recover the muff setting up an FSU score. Just before the half, Greg Reid would take a one hopper punt that hit him right in the hands all the way for a score. While the 'Nole offense struggled, the defense and special teams picked up the slack. In the 4th quarter, FSU was sitting on a comfortable lead. However, UM put together a late scoring drive making it close. On their next drive, the 'Nole defense stiffened and Nigel Bradham delivered one of the best hits of the year. Everette Dawkins would intercept the pass that was intended for Miami's LaRon Byrd after it was separated, violently, by Bradham. Game over. Well, not quite. Apparently, ACC refs don't like hard hitting. Not only did they find that Bradham's hit was illegal, they found that it was enough to eject him from the game. Florida State fans and the games announcers relayed their displeasure with the call. Miami would go on to score and try the onside kick. Nick O'Leary, showing some impressive hops and strong hands, would squash Miami's last gasp effort by pulling down the ensuing onside kick and put an end to a strange, frustrating game.
What can go wrong playing a team like Virginia sandwiched between your two biggest rivals? Well, apparently a lot. Florida State just needed a field goal to put the game away up 13-7 in the 4th quarter. However, the offensive struggles finally cost Florida State a game, snapping the 5 game win streak. The defense gave up a late touchdown and Florida State, lost this game, twice. A strange call from Fisher had the 'Noles run out of time on a pass to the sidelines. Game over. However, the play was reviewed and Florida State was given a shot at a field goal. Florida State watched it's second home loss of the season as Dustin Hopkin's FG attempt sailed wide. The fan base (me, really) did not deal with the loss well.
Florida State had one last shot to salvage the the season. While many of the goals were off the table, one was still left and it was one of the most important: win the state championship. While this was another ugly game for FSU, it proved to be even worse for the hated Gators. Florida State snagged pick after pick and capitalized early. The game was put away in the second half for good when Terrance Parks came up with the play of his career with a pick 6. The Florida State offense was unable to muster 100 yards. However, the defense was so completely dominate, FSU was able to get out of the swamp with a 14 point win.
Winning cures all and even with the victory over the Gators, the Virginia loss was still a hot button issue with the fans headed into bowl season. For a while, it appeared FSU would have a shot at another SEC school. Instead the heavens (ie, chick-fil-a people who snubbed us because apparently they don't like sell outs) decided to give us something even better. Florida State would get to face the team too good to be in a conference, the one and only Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This game was vintage EJ and summed up the Florida State season quite well. Florida State's offense struggled at no surprise to many and the defense continued right where it left off in the swamp. However, at some point in the second quarter something started to click. Continuing in the 3rd and crescendoing in the 4th, the FSU offense was able to put together enough plays to score 18 unanswered points (would have been twenty if they chose to kick the xps instead of go for 2 twice). An FSU o-line consisting of 4 freshman grew up in front of a 'Nole dominated, record Champs Sports Bowl crowd. Seniors Nigel Bradham and Bert Reed would come up huge with a turnover and TD respectively. Rashad Greene showed why he has what it takes to be one of the best in 'Nole history with his 99 yard 1TD performance...in the second half.
Despite a ridiculous amount of adversity and injuries, Florida State put together a solid 9 win season, including wins over rivals UF and UM. While it wasn't what many hoped for or expected, in retrospect, it was a testament to the talent and quality coaching staff that make up this program. Certainly, the running game wasn't spectacular, but true freshman Devonta Freeman showed why 'Nole Nation should expect big things from him in 2012. EJ Manuel will need to be healthy going into the season for him to have the kind of success he would like to achieve. While he has been a great 'Nole, he could be one of the best if he has a functional o-line and a running game to compliment his passing game. Indeed, going into next season, the biggest question will be the aforementioned o-line. FSU signed two JUCO o-lineman (Menelik Watson, yeah, he big) that will compete for starting playing time and possess the potential to provide immediate improvement. There will need to be a significant improvement if Florida State is to come close to fan's expectations going into 2012. While 2011 could be considered a disappointment, the pieces are all there, especially on the defense, for what could be a special 2012. It will be EJ Manuel's last chance to leave his mark as a Florida State Seminole. With some better luck and some improved play, he just may be remembered as one of the best to ever wear the garnet and gold.
Some Interesting Numbers*
21: Total number of points FSU lost 4 games by. That is painful, though Texas A&M lost 5 of their 6 games by a total of 17 points. OUCH.
47: Total number of points FSU lost 4 games by in 2010.
1000: There were only two teams to allow less than 1000 rushing yards in the 12 game regular season. Those would be FSU and Alabama. Just to get some perspective, Maryland gave up over 1000 yards in a 4 game stretch.
12: Number of TDs Mike Glennon threw after being shut down and shutout by FSU. The Pack had a bad year, but Glennon showed why he could prove to be a pain in the coming years.
3: EJ Manuel is now 3-0 in bowl games with wins over West Virginia, South Carolina, and Notre Dame. Not too shabby.
41: Number of sacks FSU registered. Good for 6th in the country.
40: Number of sacks FSU's MASH o-line gave up. Good for 112 in the country. This needs to be fixed, badly.
86: Tackles by SR Nigel Bradham. Bradham lead the team in tackles for 3 years in a row. Next closest this year was Mike Harris at 58.
84,392: The record crowd on hand to see FSU play the Sooners.
579: Rushing yards for true FR Devonta Freeman. Not bad at all for only 10 attempts per game. Add onto that 111 yards receiving and Freeman had a great freshman year.
596: Receiving yards for true FR Reshard Greene. Despite only playing in 9 games, Greene led the team in receiving yards and receiving TDs with 7. He would also add 44 yards rushing.
30: Tackles by true FR Timmy Jernigan.
159.5: That would be the difference in yards allowed per game from the 2009 defense and the 2011 defense.
104: The difference from FSU's total defense ranking in 2009 (108th) to total defense ranking in 2011 (4th). I understand that the last two entries are not adjusted for garbage time, but just, wow.
4.16: Yards per play that FSU's defense allowed. Only two teams were better on the year. LSU at 4.08 and Alabama at a ridiculous 3.32.
Player of the Year: The entire defensive line. Seriously, FSU would not have had the year if not for a dominant performance on defense, and it all started with the big men in the trenches.
Freshman of the Year: Tim Jernigan. Easily could go to Greene or Freeman but Jernigan saw his time greatly increase when Jacobbi McDaniel went down with an injury in the Duke game. He answered the call and was one of the star players on the defensive front. Again, true freshman.
Biggest Surprise Player of the Year: Cam Erving. Thought to be a solid player in another year or so, Cam showed that he was ready for meaningful snaps and made the best of them.
Best Clutch Performance: Rashad Greene against Notre Dame. His 99 yard/1TD catch, 2nd half performance sparked the 'Noles to a win over the Irish. Can't wait until he gets to have an entire, healthy season. Honorable mention to the 4 freshman on the o-line that got it together in the second half.
Hardest Hitter: The one and only LaMarcus Joyner. When he sent the BC QB flying 8 yards out of bounds. Yeah. Not only did he deliver the hits, he was always around the ball, ready to clean up a play. Bradham gets honorable mention for, well, everyone knows why.
Player That Will be Missed the Most: Tie for Nigel Bradham and Shawn Powell. Bradham proved that even elite players need solid coaching. The second half of the year Bradham really came on and became that player a lot of 'Nole fans were hoping for. Oh what could have been... Shawn Powell punted Miami into submission and was arguably the best punter in the country (take that you lame Ray Guy people). His powerful boots and consistent play helped make FSU's special teams one of the nation's elite. Honorable mention to Zebrie Sanders and Mike Harris.
*Thanks to cfbstats.com. If you haven't seen that website, go there. Now.
**I completely made these up and decided the winners myself. Let us know in the comment section if you have better winners/categories.