Zero. Nada. Zilch. Those words usually aren't a positive thing when used to describe offensive play. But for Florida State's offensive line Saturday night, they sounded sweet.
That's because Florida State pitched a shutout of negative plays. The 'Noles had 42 rushes for 285 yards. That's impressive. What's more impressive, however, is that not a single run went for negative yards. Penetration was a rare occurrence, and Florida State's running backs were quite appreciative of the unimpeded backfield.
Jame Wilder, who received a game ball for his 12 rush, 106-yard performance, said that the line's improved play allowed him to run with more patience. He talked about being able to see the lane develop instead of feeling the need to immediately hit the play upfield.
The story was similar in pass protection as the line kept EJ Manuel, Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker clean. Pressure was rare, as Manuel noted that the only time in which he was pressured was on rollouts and naked bootlegs (pressure is assumed on these and they are not plays within the pocket).
Yes, it was Murray State. But assignments are assignments. Mental mistakes are mental mistakes. And Florida State's offensive line, at least on opening night, didn't have many. It looked much closer to the 2009-2010 groups that helped produce some of the better offenses in the country, than the 2011 unit that was the primary factor in the offense's plummet to 32nd nationally. Knowing who to block on each play is obviously an important part of playing offensive line, and for a very inexperienced group, the smoothness with which it went about its business was impressive.
But it wasn't just the starters. The reserves also came in for the latter 20 minutes and impressed, particularly in run blocking. The starters were not penalized, and the backups were penalized only once.
It appears that having a camp in which the offensive line is not dealing with a ridiculous amount of injuries paid off. What a concept. Offensive tackle Cameron Erving, who was not in a talkative mood after the game, noted that the chemistry between he and left guard Josue Matias keeps getting better. He said that they often don't even have to make a call to each other, but that they just know the adjustment and who they need to block. Combined career starts between those two before last night: 1.
It's important not to read too much into a win over Murray State. They are a good 1-AA team, but a 1-AA team nonetheless.
But, grading on the curve of sub-standard competition, the group definitely passed its first test. 13 more to go, if all goes right for the 'Noles.