Editor’s note: This is the story I was writing in the press box before Deondre Francois went down with an apparent left knee injury, left the field on a cart, leg in an immobilizer, and left FSU fans waiting to find out just how far to adjust expectations downward.
Florida State should want Bama again.
This is a damn good football team. Rarely would I write this after a loss, but they showed a lot tonight. It’s FSU’s second-best team under Jimbo Fisher.
The defense is ridiculously good. It is holding Alabama to a success rate of less than 25 percent.
Derwin James appears back to his former self, and you can see his impact on every play, as Florida State is daring the Tide to throw with the use of its “point front,” while freeing up James and Brian Burns to play in space. And they are keeping Matthew Thomas to the open side, minimizing the requirement for him to make too many reads or fits, after missing weeks of practice with an ineligibility issue.
FSU has special athletes at each level of the defense, and the Noles’ defensive staff put them position to succeed in the greatest way possible.
And some of the players who are not considered stars also played very well. Tackle Demarcus Christmas might finally be living up to his potential at the three-technique spot. I did not see a single loaf from Josh Sweat. Reserve safety Ermon Lane only made one glaring error in replacing Trey Marshall.
This is a national championship level defense, if the results of one game are to be believed.
People will claim that Alabama’s offense is not good, but that is simply not true. It’s not pretty, but it is almost always very effective. No team had held Alabama under 4.5 yards/play since 2014 LSU, 37 games ago. FSU did that.
“Teams don’t beat our offensive line up like that, man,” an Alabama fan friend of mine texted me.
Their effort has also been extremely impressive considering how many times the Seminoles’ defense was put in terrible spots thanks to the atrocious special teams. I expected the defense to get demoralized and quit. It did not.
Alabama’s average starting field position was the 45.5-yard line. Florida State’s was the 23.3. Over 13 drives, that adds up to 289 “hidden yards” of field position. Let’s compare that to the yards each team gained.
- 289: Hidden yards of field position for Alabama
- 269: Yards gained by Alabama’s offense
- 250: Yards gained by Florida State’s offense
So Alabama had more yards in hidden yards than either the Tide or FSU had on offense.
That was caused by special teams and was the deciding factor in the game. If FSU was an NFL team, it would have fired its special teams coordinator before he could have stepped foot on the charter flight home. (That won’t happen, by the way. Absent misconduct, college coaches are almost never let go during the season, and Jimbo FIsher has never fired an assistant in his eight seasons in Tallahassee).
You can read more about the special teams blunders here. A blocked punt, a blocked field goal, a fumbled kickoff, two special teams penalties, a timeout taken to avoid another, and yet another narrowly avoided. FSU was badly outcoached in this area and Jimbo Fisher should be embarrassed. If FSU could have had passable special teams play in this game, it very well might have beaten Alabama.
The offense played OK. It wasn’t amazing, but Alabama’s defense is absolutely ridiculous. Deondre Francois showed some progress, considering the curve required for grading a performance against Alabama. He is maybe a couple throws better per game than he was last year. He is not a superstar, was not last year, and it’s unfair to place those unjustified expectations upon him. He struggled with holding the ball too long and taking too long to diagnose the defense at times, but still looked improved. And importantly, he had fewer completely uncatchable passes. Giving these receivers a chance to make a play on the ball is a big deal. He also had several nice scrambles, both to gain rushing yards and to buy extra time to throw. Two interceptions against Alabama is not a terrible outing, and it seemed obvious Francois was pressing after the special teams meltdowns.
I am surprised that FSU didn’t run Francois a bit more, but it did try to run him some, and the threat of his legs was used a bit. In hindsight, I wonder if Jimbo Fisher will look back and wish he could have done a bit more to create better run blocking angles by running the QB.
The offensive line protected much better than I expected it would. Alec Eberle is not a star, but he did make noticeable improvement after the double hip surgeries. The tackles, for the most part, were not abused.
The receivers showed some ability, too. If he stays healthy, eligible, and keeps working hard, Keith Gavin is going to make a lot of money in the NFL. FSU targeted him seven times and he had seven catches. Auden Tate did what he was recruited to do: show up in the red zone. Even George Campbell caught a ball. But they also disappeared at times, and consistency, not talent, is and remains the No. 1 issue with this group.
Jacques Patrick might not be a great threat to run against Alabama, but he did have several good blitz pickups (and probably one bad miss). Cam Akers showed the burst that made him arguably the No. 1 RB in the country in the recruiting class of 2017.
This offense showed some promise, but it did not create enough explosive plays. Alabama is simply too good to have multiple 10+ play drives against it. Florida State’s longest plays were 38, 24, 21, 15, and 15 yards. That won’t get it done. Big plays beat Alabama.
All summer I’ve worried that the ACC’s reputation was out ahead of its skis.
While the ACC was the best in 2016, the reason it was the best was the quarterbacks who have now graduated and gone on to the NFL.
UNC lost at home to Cal. N.C. State lost to South Carolina thanks to some ridiculously bad special teams plays (sound familiar), despite outgaining the Gamecocks roughly 500-250. Louisville struggled with Purdue. Pitt was taken to overtime by FCS Youngstown State.
Given how bad the ACC was yesterday, it looks like FSU will need to go 11-1 and win the ACC to reach the playoffs. 10-2 was, at one point, a possible but improbable avenue to reach the playoffs, but with the way the league is looking, that route seems quite unlikely.
It’s not crazy to believe the Seminoles can win 11 straight. Florida was the only Power 5 team to not gain 200 yards of offense yesterday, being physically dominated by a Michigan team full of freshmen. Miami didn’t exactly dominate Bethune Cookman. The trip to Clemson remains the toughest game on the schedule.
This is a good looking team, with the offense and defense playing the Tide to a virtual draw (4.2 yards/play to 4.5 allowed), absent the special teams disasters.
And if they do run the table, they might get another shot at the Tide.