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Offensive observations from FSU football’s win over Samford

It was again a rough night for the offense.

NCAA Football: Samford at Florida State
Sep 8, 2018; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois (12) throws during the second half of play as the Florida State Seminoles host the Samford Bulldogs at Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State won 36-26. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State’s offense started where it left off in its loss to Virginia Tech, struggling to get anything going and often looking out of sorts and outmatched.

On its first three possessions, FSU ran 14 plays for 30 yards, a 2.14 yard average, and punted all three times. Running back Khalan Laborn injured his leg returning a kickoff to set up the Seminoles’ second drive of the night and had to be carted off. It felt like everything that could go wrong, did.

The offensive line also picked up where they left off, struggling to create any room in the running game. Despite a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Deondre Francois to wide receiver Tamorrion Terry on FSU’s fourth drive, Florida State’s first touchdown of the 2018 season, at the end of the first quarter, Florida State finished the quarter with seven rushes for 16 yards, a 2.3 yards per carry average, while Francois was 8/13 for 106 yards, an 8.2 yard average.

On FSU’s fifth drive in the second quarter they scored a touchdown again, on a good read and keeper by Francois as he walked into the end zone untouched. An extra point tacked on by kicker Ricky Aguayo made the score 16-14, Samford.

A turnover forced by the defense on an A.J. Westbrook interception gave the offense great field position near midfield but the offense couldn’t capitalize, having to punt again. They punted on their seventh drive too, their fifth of the first half.

On Florida State’s eighth drive Aguayo missed a 40 yard field goal. On the very next play Samford’s Roland Adams fumbled, and two plays later Francois connected with Terry again for another touchdown, this time a 17-yard strike with 1:44 remaining in the first half.

Going into halftime, Francois was 15/22 for 194 yards, an 8.8 yard average, with two touchdowns. While running back Jacques Patrick had a good 4.1 yard rushing average the running game couldn’t get anything going, collectively going 18 for 54 yards, a 3.0 yard average. Cam Akers also again struggled to get anything going, and was still pressing too much, like he did versus Virginia Tech, with just 16 yards on five rushes in the first half.

At halftime, FSU was out-gained in total yardage by Samford, 248 to 341, and in yards per play, 6.2 to 8.5.

In the second half, the offensive line continued to suffer injuries and rotate players as an already thin group got thinner. A hobbled Cole Minshew came out for Arthur Williams and Brad Scott filled in for an injured Derrick Kelly. The line soon changed again, with it left to right Kelly, Williams, Alec Eberle, the redshirt sophomore Baveon Johnson in at right guard, and redshirt freshman Brady Scott in at tackle. Scott would finish the game at left tackle.

Unfortunately, FSU could not get out of their own way virtually all night. Akers fumbled, the offense punted on their next two drives after that, and on Florida State’s fourteenth drive of the night Aguayo missed yet another field goal, this time a 42-yarder.

There were mistakes everywhere. Bad snaps, poor blocking, missed reads, and turnovers. But on FSU’s fifteenth drive of the night, Francois connected with tight end Tre’ McKitty for a five yard touchdown, capping off an 11 play, 82-yard drive. It was Florida State’s first lead of the night, of the 2018 season, and the go-ahead score, putting them ahead of Samford 27-26. Francois converted the two-point attempt on a pass to Nyqwan Murray, extending a three-point lead.

In all, FSU was 4/14 on third-down conversions and averaged an anemic 5.6 yards per play against an FCS opponent. However, after going 0-4 against Virginia Tech in the red zone FSU finished 3-3. Francois finished with 7.0 yards per attempt and 320 passing yards and no sacks, but the running game is still searching for answers, stumbling to 3.8 yards per rush on 35 carries.

Francois appeared to do a bit better on his reads after another week of practice, but with the struggles of the offensive line, rushing lanes were hard to impossible come by.

Offensive tackle Jauan Williams especially struggled early in the game and was pulled. The offensive line continues to be a sore spot for the offense, and limits everything Willie Taggart tries to do, and forces them to rely on Francois and the receivers to move the ball.

It appears certain there will be more changes to the unit as Taggart and staff try to find a combination that works.