I addressed it in my piece analyzing the Florida State offense’s performance against Wake Forest: yet another poor start, something that has been more of a rule than an exception for the ‘Noles this year. Seminole Head Coach Jimbo Fisher did as well after FSU’s 17-6 homecoming win over the Demon Deacons on Saturday, as did running back Dalvin Cook.
But their responses, though sharing some similarities, nevertheless betray some intriguing disparities as well. Cook was asked about quarterback Deondre Francois heating up as games progress, and immediately placed the burden of starting faster upon the entirety of the offense:
It’s not Deondre at all— it’s the whole offense. We’ve gotta protect better. I’ve gotta run the ball better, to put him in better situations. It ain’t just Deondre, so we’ve gotta be better as a whole offense and put ourselves in better situations. We’ve gotta go execute whatever play he calls. It’s a group effort— we’ve gotta do better as a group.
But while Cook took the opportunity to address what is obviously an issue (FSU is averaging 8.6 points in the first half against five power-five opponents this season), Fisher initially deflected: “You go back, the first half, Ole Miss, we did a little bit.” Okay—he’s not wrong. The ‘Noles did score 13 against the Rebels in the first half of that game. It’s far from a head-turning sum, but it’s also the most points Florida State has scored against a power-five opponent before halftime this year, in five chances.
What’s more intriguing, however, is the approach Fisher then went on to talk about the starts the ‘Nole offense has generated:
We haven't had a three-and-out until today. Today is the first three-and-out. You at least want to change field position. Charleston Southern, we scored. What was the third game? Louisville, we moved it and scored the next two. Who was the fourth? South Florida, [we] did it.”
North Carolina, we actually went down and had three field goals. You say you didn't score, but you kick three field goals and score nine points in the first quarter, it's still a good deal.
Last week at Miami, we missed the cut. If Dalvin hits the first third-and-one, it's a touchdown. It's a walk-in, and he just missed the cut. Second drive, we're moving it, and he dropped the ball on the empty play that set us back, and then we scored. This week, three-and-out. They busted our tail.
Fisher’s remarks beg the question: is not going three-and-out really a benchmark of success? And when there is success, is it actually a compliment to cite it coming against the only two non-P5 teams Florida State has faced?
Also, ignoring Fisher’s questionable decisions of opting for long field-goal attempts early in games, is it good enough for a unit as talented as FSU’s, featuring the nation’s best running back, to be claiming missed field-goal opportunities as positive results?
Ultimately, Fisher’s remarks cohere with those of Cook: this is a team issue, and one that must be addressed as such:
It's not [that] you've got to finish drives, but it's just part of it. You've got to get better at it. Got to work on it. We script them, do everything, come out with energy. Got to play better. On defense, remember, they were starting slow, now they're starting good. We've just got to keep going. Just keep playing and coaching and doing what we're doing.
We play well and play bad. It's good teams you're playing. We're playing some good people too. North Carolina, you kick three field goals, is it that bad? Miami, if you make a cut -- I mean, it's not drastic. It's just you've got to execute what you're doing. Do what we do.
Coaches are known creatures of habit, and any ‘Nole fan knows how fond Fisher is of stressing the process. However, regardless of how it may have worked in the past, the routine currently in place of producing points early in games simply isn’t working. And all equivocation aside, the scoreboard shows it.