The Florida State offense is incredibly electric this year. Many factors are contributing this, the improved play from the wide receivers, and obviously the play of redshirt freshman phenomenon Jameis Winston, but the offensive line should not be overlooked for their stellar play so far this season.
The pass blocking is what has been vastly improved this year. The line is giving Florida State's receivers a ridiculous amount of time to get open, and they keep the pocket very clean for Jameis Winston, giving him plenty of time to make the correct read on his throws. There has been some criticism on the offensive line in this play, but the reality is that 1) every offensive line receives too much criticism because most only notice when it screws up and 2) Jameis Winston tends to hold on to the ball for quite a bit. The line is often giving him a good 5-7 seconds to get a play off, which is pretty ridiculous.
First thing, the line is monstrous in terms of size. The average weight of Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Bryan Stork, Tre' Jackson, and Bobby Hart is 317 pounds. So you know, really big. Jimbo Fisher had also said earlier on in the season that he thinks this is the best offensive line he has had at Florida State, and that might be true. You also hear loads of praise coming from Jameis Winston, the receivers, and the running backs about the offensive line's play.
The overall growth of this line over the last few years is tremendous. We can trace this back to the Champs Sports Bowl when FSU was forced to start 4 freshman on the line due to injuries, attrition and recruiting misses. Those freshman included Hart, Matias, Jackson, and Austin Barron. 3 of those players are now full starters with Barron being a key backup for Center Bryan Stork. After a bad first half, the line came out in the second half and brought their A game, especially in pass protection, giving an injured EJ Manuel enough time to make some good passes (and some sensational catches by Rashad Greene) to help the Noles defeat Notre Dame 18-14. Immediately after the season, Cameron Erving switched from Defensive Tackle to Offensive Tackle. This line has in a sense grown up together, and become a very cohesive and dependable unit.
The improved play can be attributed to many things. Bobby Hart was not a starter last year, backing up freakish athlete Menelik Watson at the right tackle position. Many questioned his maturity and work ethic before the season began, but Hart has really turned it around and is having a very nice season, exceeding expectations.
The guard combo of Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias has been quite good this year, when healthy. They are absolute maulers on the line, creating holes for the likes of Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, and Karlos Williams. Their play has been a big factor for why Devonta Freeman is now on pace to be the first 1000 yard rusher for Florida State in, well, a really long time.
Center Bryan Stork, the senior leader of this line has been playing very well this season too, despite battling a couple of injuries. Austin Barron and Sterling Lovelady have gotten some quality snaps in from Stork's absences. I always personally thought that Stork was an above average player but he's really playing well this year.
Last but not least is left tackle Cameron Erving. Erving had a career game against Clemson's stud defensive end Vic Beasley, he absolutely shut him down in Florida State's dismantling of the Tigers. I got to catch up with Cameron after Florida State's 49-17 win over NC State, a game in which the Noles put up 35 points in the first quarter, which was a larger number than how many yards NC State had gained in the first quarter (32).
I asked him if there was anything different about his preparation against NC State, especially coming off one of the best games of his career against Clemson:
"No, you can't change the way you prepare for the game because then you change the way you play. Prepare the same way, practice hard, and you practice well you play well."
When I asked him about the evolution of the line and his teammates over the last year and a half he had this to say:
"We've collectively been getting better, just trying to working on the small things. Coming off an emotional win like Clemson, sometimes it does get hard to prepare yourself for the next team, but the pain from loss against NC State last year, that was fuel for our preparation. It wasn't revenge or anger, just the pain we felt. We just do everything together, everybody tries to do their job. My interviews are starting to sound the same every day, it's all the same. Everyone just needs to work together, play hard, do their jobs, and we'll be successful."
It seems like one of the main themes with team is working on all the small things to get better as a whole. I'm assuming this is part of the "process" that Jimbo Fisher is always referring to, but it is obviously working very well.
I also caught up with Devonta Freeman to ask him about the play of the offensive line.
On their progression since the Champs Sports Bowl:
Their progression is tremendous, I think they're the best O-Line in the country. I've seen where they started from and it was rough for them at first, but it's rough for every freshman at first. It was rough for me when I first got here. Because we got thrown into the fire at a young age the game has slowed down so much and it's causing us to dominate. Them getting thrown in when they were freshman is a big reason why they're dominating now.
This offensive line is one of the best that has been fielded at Florida State in a really long time and has contributed heavily to the Noles' 7-0 start.