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Is the FSU offensive line over-thinking it?

The 'Nole OL has committed a litany of penalties recently. Is the offensive front in its own head?

Brock Ruble, Wilson Bell, Corey Martinez, Kareem Are, and Rod Johnson
Brock Ruble, Wilson Bell, Corey Martinez, Kareem Are, and Rod Johnson

Fans of Florida State football are well aware of a disturbing new trend among 'Nole offensive linemen. To borrow from golf terminology, the OL seems to have "the yips,"; a tendency to repeatedly err, for no explainable reason. It's been especially apparent in the Seminoles' last two games-- one being an impressive win over Louisville, the other a last-second loss at Georgia Tech.

In the first of those games, against the Cardinals, FSU was called for seven false starts, five of which came against the offensive line. The struggle continued, against Tech, as the 'Nole OL authored another three false starts, in addition to some motion penalties that saw Florida State squander its lead and ultimately lose in Atlanta. One game can constitute an aberration-- two, consecutively, equate to a rather troubling propensity.

How bad has it been for FSU up front over the last two contests? Head coach Jimbo Fisher couldn't recall a similar situation:

I had one one time in the SEC Championship game we had like six or seven. But it was so loud for one game and not for two. You know what I'm saying? Not for two like that. But just press them. I think that's just guys trying too hard, caring too much.

And I know that sounds crazy. It's not. They want to do so well and show you. It's like you ever see when your kids come home and they figure something out that you've been on them for so long. Dad, I want to show you. No, wait a minute, I've got something else to do. No, dad, I want to show you right now. In a weird way they want to show you that they're doing things the right way, and that's part of it. Got to grow, and hopefully we'll get past that.

So, Fisher's been there before, and he was again after the loss to Tech. One word stuck out particularly in his post-game comments: poise.

Said Fisher: "Sometimes, you worry about winning too much. It's not about winning-- it's about the process of playing, and playing well, being the best you can be."

Fisher brought up poise five times in his post-game comments following the loss to GT, which begs an important question-- one that I posed to Fisher the other day: how does one teach poise, since it's something that can't be physically modeled? His response:

Just constant preparation. When you're prepared, you know what to do. Here's the other thing, knowing you know, and I don't mean they lost poise as far as they broke down. They were wanting to do it so bad. Sometimes you want to do something so bad. Sometimes, for instance, if you like to hit a golf shot, sometimes you swing extra hard. That's the one you shank the farthest, and just having the confidence to know that I can do it and have been doing it. But just wanting good things to happen too bad and not relaxing and letting it happen in the procedure. Not just you get a rep and that happens, and hey, I won't do that again. Sometimes you have to go through those experiences, unfortunately.

Fisher's response set me back a bit, as I'd already had a golf metaphor in my mind prior to posing the question. Jimbo talked about the notion of wanting to do too well, to over-swing, which any golfer will tell you doesn't end well.

Moving forward, one has to wonder just how much this offensive line is living in its own head. To extend the golf metaphor, and introduce my own links analogy, is the OL so overly concerned with the result of the shot, as opposed to just keeping its collective head down and executing, making solid contact, and letting the results take care of themselves?

Let's take this golf metaphor a bit further. When do you hit it the best? When you're not thinking about it, not thinking about what you're doing, or how. When do you shank it? When you're standing over the ball and thinking "don't slice, don't slice, don't slice." Exit ball, stage right. It's the golf equivalent of getting into a three-point stance and thinking "don't screw up, don't false start." If you think either, and play scared, bad things tend to happen.

As on the tee, so in the trenches: the best outcomes are typically brought about from ceasing to think, and, as Fisher has articulated, just playing. This will be something to watch on the Florida State offensive line against Syracuse: is the OL firing out with confidence on run plays? Is it rapidly getting into position on pass protection? Or is it hesitant, concerned about making a mistake, now that gaffs have plagued the front for two straight weeks, including Florida State's first ACC loss since 2012?

The last two Saturdays have congealed to form these questions. The next one, against Syracuse, may very well answer them. But they certainly better be answered by the time FSU travels north to play at Clemson.