If I told you that Florida State’s Deondre Francois had over 300 yards passing, Travis Rudolph posted a career high of 238 receiving yards, and Dalvin Cook went above 100 rushing yards, at home against Wake Forest, how many points would you guess the FSU offense put on the board? North of 40? Not even close. Due to problems across the board, the ‘Noles struggled to an underwhelming 17-6 win over the Demon Deacons on homecoming in Tallahassee.
Francois was clearly playing through some shoulder effects after the shots he took last week at Miami, as he was noticeably grimacing after harder throws during pregame warmups. If it was painful for him to throw, it was equally painful for Seminole fans to watch the offensive production, or lack thereof, as the ‘Noles once again stumbled out of the gate.
Wake Forest’s patient, assignment-sounds defense requires the opposition to execute long, methodical drives, and FSU was rarely consistent enough to sustain that kind of success. Florida State mounted just one drive that lasted more than four minutes, and that’s really something, considering how slowly each of these teams operated with the ball, as the Seminoles again avoided going tempo. Frankly, you have to wonder if the ‘Noles were content to get out of this one with a win, while withholding any wrinkles they didn’t want their next opponent, Clemson, to see.
The ‘Noles must have seen something they liked on the edge, as that’s where most of the early runs were directed, but the Deacs’ front seven routinely got the better of the garnet and gold up front. Francois was hit consistently, losing a fumble as well as throwing an interception. And while Jimbo Fisher conceded that there were blocking mistakes by the line, tight ends, and backs, Francois has some ownership to take in the hits he absorbs and the three times he was sacked.
While he performs well when rolled out, especially after play action, Francois has struggled to develop a real feel for the pocket. For a mobile quarterback, he’s too often overly stationary when in the pocket, not feeling pressure and frequently waiting way too long to unload the ball. Sure, 319 passing yards sounds good, but when you subtract the 58 that came on a Hail Mary to end the first half, that total sinks to 261, a paltry 7.05 yards-per-attempt average, and FSU finished just 4-12 on third down.
Similarly, Cook’s 115 yards on the ground look impressive at first glance, but they were largely a product of volume and his 25 carries, as Wake capped his longest run at just 18 yards. Two of Cook’s totes resulted in lost fumbles, and he missed a series after being shaken up with what appeared to be an upper-body injury of some sort that Fisher downplayed. Jacques Patrick picked up 15 yards on just two carries in Cook’s absence, and his limited role in the offense, especially after showing out against South Florida, remains somewhat of a mystery.
With regard to the receivers, Rudolph’s big day, amassed via his first-ever double-digit reception game (he had 13), was a nice sign for the ‘Noles, as Rudolph had been a rather forgotten player recently. His respective catch totals against Louisville, South Florida, North Carolina, and Miami: two, one, one, and two.
But while getting Rudolph back in the mix is a step in the right direction, FSU and Francois must involve a variety of targets, especially since Bobo Wilson was carted off the field against Wake Forest with a foot injury. Florida State’s second-leading reciever on the day? Kermit Whitfield, with three catches for 18 yards. That lack of balance won’t cut it against more talented teams.
There’s continued reason for optimism with regard to the potential of WR Auden Tate, who snagged another touchdown, this one on a high skinny post that was reminiscent of Kelvin Benjamin. Tate now has eight catches on the year, and four have been for scores. And while Fisher has done well to utilize him in the red zone, he doesn’t have to be used only in the red zone— his targets need to increase.
Speaking of getting more looks, the FSU tight ends were rather underused vs. the Deacs, as Ryan Izzo recorded just a single catch for nine yards. Mavin Saunders saw ample time, and the ‘Noles need to continue to get both him and Izzo targets, especially to keep opponents honest when Florida State is in 12 personnel. On multiple occasions, TEs releasing on backside drags appeared to be open vs. Wake.
Whichever Seminoles are contributing in the passing game, it may need to be less through the screen game, as the ‘Noles continue to struggle to execute screens, regardless of what kind. Tunnel screens, perimeter WR screens, it doesn’t matter— FSU finds at least one thing to botch with regularity, be it ball placement, blocking, spacing, timing, or, seemingly at times, all of the above. Regardless of how well these may be executed in practice, the Seminoles either need to see better results on Saturdays, or scrap these from the playbook.
Yes, 442 yards of offense is nothing to sneeze at. But FSU has to get after it quicker. It’s not scored a first-quarter point in the last three games and in five contests against power-five opposition this season, the ‘Noles are averaging just 8.6 points in the first half. That may not mean a slow start against Clemson— it could result in an insurmountable disadvantage.