When addressing the media this season, there has been a common theme from Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher: Inches.
Heading into this weekend, each of FSU’s losses except for its season-opening loss to Alabama came down to just a few plays. The Seminoles could have been 5-1 and could just as easily have been sitting at 0-6.
Friday changed that.
FSU was throttled in all phases by Boston College in its 35-3 loss in what is, in my opinion, the worst loss of the Jimbo Fisher era.
This marked the first time since Fisher took over the helm of the program in 2010 that FSU failed to score a touchdown, managing just 3.8 yards per play and 2.2 yards per rush.
For the Seminoles on Friday, the inexperience was real. With James Blackman at quarterback and Cam Akers at running back in the starting lineup, it marked the first time since freshman became eligible in 1972 that FSU has used true freshman at each of the two positions in the starting lineup.
The problem for the Seminoles was that the offense, which has been one of the nation’s most inconsistent this season, very much looked like it was being led by a pair of true freshmen.
Akers, making his first start at FSU, looked less comfortable in his increased role against the Eagles. After taking his first carry of the game for 13 yards, Akers’ final 17 carries of the game went for a combined 29 yards. His step back looked tied to the fact that he felt the need to try and break every carry for a touchdown, a lesson that he appeared to learn as the change-of-pace back behind Jacques Patrick earlier this season. Friday felt like a significant step in the wrong direction in Akers’ most utilized game of his brief career at FSU.
Patrick’s absence was missed in the run game, but may have been equally missed in pass protection. Even without star defensive end Harold Landry, whose 16.5 sacks in 2016 were the most nationally, Boston College got pressure on Blackman consistently throughout Friday’s game. Some of this can be attributed to FSU’s offensive line play, which was hardly at its best, and poor blocking from the tight ends and running backs at times.
But, a good portion can also be put on Blackman. The true freshman was guilty on many occasions of holding onto the ball for far too long, leading to missed big plays to wide open receivers as well as turnovers and should-be turnovers. Over the last four games, Blackman has now committed eight turnovers.
Admittedly, Blackman has been helped very little by a depleted wide receiving corps over that same time period. With Keith Gavin and George Campbell both out once again against BC, that left the Seminoles with two scholarship wideouts with significant playing experience in Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray.
Tate, playing through an injury he suffered late in last week’s Louisville game, was a non-factor, finishing with a season low 12 receiving yards on two catches. Murray was a big play wideout, wrangling in 102 yards on three catches, but, on a play-by-play basis, he was nowhere to be found on a night where he was desperately needed to be a go-to target.
The wide receiver situation was so bad that former five-star wide receiver recruit Ermon Lane, who was moved from wideout to safety a season ago, was moved back to wide receiver this week, finishing the loss with one catch for nine yards.
Although Akers and Blackman deserve their fair share of the blame for the Seminoles’ abysmal offensive showing on Friday, conservative play calling played as much a role as their lack of execution in setting the youngsters up for failure in third down situations. FSU finished the loss converting on just 4 of 14 third downs (28.6%). This is in large part due to the team’s average distance to go on third down of seven yards. Lengthy third downs are never a recipe for success, but this holds especially true when relying on true freshmen.
The first half had the Seminoles firmly behind the eight ball, trailing 21-3 at the break. With the outcome very much still up in the air, a continuation of a new and terrible trend for FSU carried on in the third quarter. Fisher, an offensive guru lauded as one of the best in the nation at halftime adjustments, saw his team outplayed out of halftime once again. With the Eagles outscoring FSU 14-0 in the third quarter, the Seminoles have now been outscored by a margin of 59-9 in third quarters this season.
At this point, the likelihood of FSU extending its 35-year postseason streak is on life support. The Seminoles may need to win out against a tricky slate which includes a tricky Syracuse team next week, Florida, and, oh yeah, the defending national champions, Clemson.
With those opposing defenses on the horizon, the possibility that FSU may go an entire season without scoring 30+ points against an FBS foe must be acknowledged.
What a scary thought that is.