This was a bit of a rubber game for the Florida State special teams in 2017, at least in what is still a very young three-game season for the Seminoles. A terrible game against Alabama, followed by a good one vs. NC State. So how would the results play out against Wake Forest? Well, FSU won. And the returns were, quite literally, mostly encouraging, and so was the rest of the play.
Derwin James fielded the game’s opening kickoff a yard deep and returned it all the way for what appeared to be a touchdown. But Jacques Patrick was called for an illegal block in the back (the announcement of the call being on Fred Jones looks to have been dubiously assigned). There are really two ways to look at this. James did well in showing patience while working back to and through the wedge after fielding the ball on one side of the end zone. And he had a gaping hole, once it opened, thanks to some nice blocking. So, he didn’t really need Patrick’s block in the back. But it happened, and it got flagged, so you can also ding FSU here for a mental mistake.
But then in the second quarter, after the ’Noles fell behind 12-3, Keith Gavin took a kickoff back 81 yards to set up FSU’s first touchdown of the game. Considering that James already had another big kickoff return to his credit this season, that’s three through three games— not bad at all for a return team that had gone quite stale since 2013.
Ricky Aguayo continues to look like he may have figured something out with regard to place-kicking, as he made all four of his field-goal attempts, including a career-long 51-yarder. The fact that Aguayo even got to kick that one was of note in and of itself, as late last season, FSU had started turning to Logan Tyler for longer attempts.
Speaking of Tyler, he booted six punts for an average of 39.3 yards per punt. His average YPP is severely bogged down by a 10-yard punt (that was reduced to five after a penalty). Other than that, he kicked quite well, hitting a pair over 50 yards and another couple that stuck Wake Forest inside its own 20.
FSU did, however, allow a 29-yard punt return. Tyler has enough on his plate with punting and kickoffs— he shouldn’t have to be making tackles, too, as he did on that play. And there were other errors as well, primarily stemming from a lack of preparation on the sideline. Twice, FSU had to burn a timeout prior to a special teams play, and on another occasion, following the break between the first and second quarters, the Seminoles were penalized.
Those mental mistakes must be eliminated; if this game re-empahisized anything, it’s just how critical those timeouts can be to have in one’s pocket during close games. Speaking of close games, no, that was not Nate Andrews back to field a punt in the fourth quarter. That was shifty true freshman D.J. Matthews. Regular returner Tarvarus McFadden did return to his post thereafter, and it could be that he just needed a play off for an equipment adjustment or something. Or perhaps it was because he fumbled (and recovered) a return earlier in the quarter. But it should raise eyebrows that Jimbo Fisher was confident enough to put Matthews back there, late in a tight contest. We might just be seeing more of the latter in the near future.