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Offensive observations from FSU’s dramatic loss to Virginia

The Seminoles fall just short in Charlottesville.

Florida State v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

FSU fell to Virginia 31-24 Saturday night as running back Cam Akers was stopped short inside the five-yard line as time expired. The Seminoles were arguably hosed by the referees, who allowed two to three extra seconds to roll off the game-clock after a first down had them knocking on the door. Unable to line up with enough time to spike it FSU quick-called a run to Akers, who was swallowed by a solid Cavalier defense and that was that.

Despite Akers being the cornerstone of the offense in the first two weeks, FSU relied on Blackman’s arm early. Blackman responded with inconsistent and erratic play all night, often late or off-target on his throws, with some poor reads. At times he looked confused by what the Cavalier defense was doing.

Despite early big catches by Tamorrion Terry and Tre’Shaun Harrison, Blackman and the offense struggled to stay out of passing down situations like third and long, namely a few 3rd-and-16s. Still, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles used tempo to great effect in helping to hide the deficiencies of the offensive line. In fact, Blackman started 1/6 for 28 yards, but then found a groove, going 4/5 for 61 yards and a touchdown, finding Gabe Nabers as FSU went up 7-3.

FSU finally tried to establish the run, to varying success. What worked all night was jet motion action, both in the running and passing game. As FSU tested the sidelines wide, the jet motion helped make the Cavalier defenders flow to the edge, opening up the middle of the field. That’s exactly how Florida State scored their second touchdown of the night, as Blackman found Akers for six in the second quarter. It also worked on big plays to Tre’ McKitty and Khalan Laborn. Almost all of the big plays on the night stemmed from the jet-motion action.

Speaking of, McKitty was another bright spot, often blocking well and finding holes in the zone, helping the Seminoles to explode for big yardage. McKitty finished as FSU’s second-leading receiver with 70 yards on four receptions.

Still, drops plagued a talented receiving corp, as did repeated miscommunications between them and Blackman. Further, Terry is a threat outside every time he’s out in a route, his blocking out on the edge leaves something to be desired.

Blackman would rebound, however, as he and FSU used good pocket movement to extend plays. Blackman found Helton for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, capping off an 8-play 75-yard drive where Blackman went 4/4 for 47 yards.

But Blackman’s issues reared its head late in the game, where on third down he failed to set his feet and dirted a throw to a wide-open McKitty. With just six minutes left in the game and nursing a one-point lead, FSU did not call Akers’ number once.

Virginia and quarterback Bryce Perkins took advantage of the Seminole offense’s dysfunction and ’Nole defense being gassed. The Cavaliers scored three straight touchdown drives, putting FSU behind 31-24 with less than two minutes in regulation. Time and time again we have seen FSU wilt late, and tonight was no exception.

On FSU’s ensuing drive the ’Noles benefitted from no less than 60 yards of penalties against the Cavaliers. Blackman had Terry wide open for a walk-in touchdown but badly overthrew him. On a 4th and 5 Blackman again missed but FSU was bailed out by a roughing the passer call. Defensive pass interference was called after that, giving FSU another first down at the 15-yard line. Unfortunately, as FSU forced a first-and-goal the clock inexplicably ran down 2-3 extra seconds, and instead of spiking the ball FSU elected to run a play. Blackman handed the ball off to Akers, who was tackled short in a play that might remain a shadow of Warrick Dunn being called short against Virginia back in 1995.

Still, there are positives and silver linings to take away from this game. James Blackman tied Bill Cappelman for consecutive games with 3+ touchdowns, a record set in 1968. Blackman has now thrown 3+ touchdowns in five consecutive games. Blackman finished 22-37 for 234 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Akers had 78 yards on 18 carries, good for a 4.3 yard average. Ricky Aguayo tied his career-long 53-yard field goal. FSU also entered the game 91st in the country in third-down conversions at just 35 percent, but managed to convert 7/16 this game, or 43 percent.

They have started strong early and faded in the second quarter and into second half. While at one point in the second quarter FSU had 4.5 yards per play and Virginia had 5.8, the offense rebounded to 5.5 yards per play to the Cavaliers’ 5.2. Still, they faded late under pressure, finishing at just 5.0 yards per play, albeit against a solid Cavalier defense by S&P+. In the end, the FSU faithful will be left wondering about what-if.