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Solving Florida State’s red zone woes: What has gone wrong?

Improvement is desperately needed in this crucial offensive facet.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The sample size remains small and the opposition has been stout defensively, but even that doesn’t excuse Florida State’s ineptness in finishing drives into the red zones with touchdowns.

Through two games, FSU has made eight trips into the red zone. Of those eight, six have ended in points, equating to points on 75% of drives. That by itself already puts FSU in a tie for 103rd in the FBS. When translating that to FSU’s percentage of red zones drives which have finished with touchdowns, that number falls off even further.

FSU has seen just two of its eight red zone trips end with seven points. That 25% mark is 128th out of 130 FBS teams.

This is a staggering shift from a season ago when the Seminoles finished red zone drives with points 96.5% of the time, best in the FBS. Additionally, FSU’s 77.2% touchdown percentage in 2016 was third-best among FBS teams in red zone trips.

What could go into this drastic change? It’s likely a number of factors working together. For one, the level of defensive talent the Seminoles have faced in their first two games has been exceptional. As upcoming games against the likes of Wake Forest and Duke come and go, expect these numbers to rise. Still, FSU’s difficult schedule last year did little to slow them down so this is likely not the entire reason.

Another major contributor is the replacement of experienced personnel off last year’s squad. FSU started this season replacing its leading rusher in program history, Dalvin Cook, as well as three major wide receivers who had served as multi-year starters for the ’Noles. Although Cook’s absence has been notable and surely hinders FSU’s red zone capabilities, the main receivers on this year’s roster possess body types and skill sets designed for greater red zone success.

Now, depending on how long Auden Tate, FSU’s most dependable wideout so far, is out of action with his shoulder injury, this may be more of a struggle. Still, Tate’s absence could be somewhat negated by the number of other big-bodied receivers FSU has used so far this season, sophomore Keith Gavin and unexpected breakout player George Campbell. FSU’s tight ends, who inexplicably had no catches in Saturday’s loss to NC State, can also aid true freshman quarterback James Blackman. Even FSU’s smallest wideout in the starting lineup, 5’11 Nyqwan Murray, has proven capable of going up and getting jump balls over bigger defenders (looking at you, former Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis).

The introduction of Blackman Saturday also assuredly played a role. The freshman did well all things considered, but struggled in some key situations inside the red zone, taking a drop off in production after Tate’s injury in particular.

Whatever theory you subscribe to or whatever factor you believe is the strongest, one thing is certain. FSU’s red zone efficiency must improve dramatically or 0-2 may only be the beginning of a heavily disappointing season for the Seminoles.