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Offensive observations from FSU’s beatdown of Wake Forest

The Seminoles did what they were supposed to do. Now it gets really interesting.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

If you just saw the final score of Florida State’s 38-17 victory against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, you might assume that it was smooth sailing for the Seminoles throughout. But that certainly was not the case for the ’Noles early on, especially on offense.

FSU began with a pair of three-and-out drives that combined for all of two yards. The ’Noles punted on their first three possessions, and in just that initial trio of drives, Deondre Francois missed a read, missed a throw, had a miscommunication with a receiver, and a pass dropped. Yes, your horrible-offensive-start bingo card filled up pretty quickly.

The offensive line — starting its seventh combination of players in as many games this season — was awful early. But the left-to-right combination of Derrick Kelly II, Cole Minshew, Alec Eberle, Mike Arnold, and Brady Scott tightened things up near the end of the first quarter, when they provided some decent time for Francois, and FSU was able to work more vertically than it had to that point. A 60-yard drive that took just 6 plays and 1:40 was capped by the first of two Cam Akers rushing scores. Akers, however, did not get the start, which went to Jacques Patrick. The former didn’t log a carry until Florida State’s third possession.

The ’Noles looked to have captured the lead on their next possession, when Keith Gavin broke free down the sideline following a reception. But he was stripped as he was about to finish the 49-yard play with a TD, and the ball bounded into the end zone, where Wake Forest recovered for a touchback. Why was he stripped? Because he was carrying the ball in his inside arm. You don’t really want players transferring the ball in traffic, but Gavin had plenty of time and space during his free run to get the ball in his outside arm.

But FSU got the ball right back on an interception, and three Patrick rushes later the quick nine-yard TD drive was done— as was Wake. Thanks to actually playing with a lead, the Seminoles were able to lean on their running game the way head coach Willie Taggart wants. They finished with an average yards-per-rush total of 4.6, the best they’ve posted so far this year. Patrick’s score occurred with Baveon Johsnon spelling Arnold at right guard, and Johnson remained in that spot to begin the second half, as Arnold was benched but did return. Also seeing time was Jauan Williams, who got in at right tackle after Brady Scott’s knee was rolled up. Williams immediately drew a holding call that nullified a spectacular diving TD grab by Tamorrion Terry, but Scott did return. The OL came within two yards of producing its first 100-yard rusher of the season; Akers finished with 98 yards while averaging 7.5 yards per run. His second TD, a 58-yard gallop right through the Deacons’ defense, was wonderfully set up by Taggart, who used jet action to keep Wake from crashing down. A key block from Minshew helped spring Akers.

Receiver Nyqwan Murray did reach the century mark, as his 131 yards (and a score) put him in triple digits for the second time in the last three games. Murray’s eight catches were a season high. Francois finished with 353 yards on 29-40 passing with a pair of scores, the other coming late when freshman Tre’Shaun Harrison showed some sick moves in eluding a couple would-be tacklers to find pay dirt for his first FSU score. But maybe the most important part of the passing game was what the ’Noles didn’t do: that would be throw an interception or allow a single sack.

The second half was largely garbage time, but the Seminoles did what you want in that scenario by getting guys some burn. 11 ’Noles caught passes, and FSU averaged a robust 6.9 yards per play. The Seminoles also improved on their stuff rate, the number of times they gained zero or negative yards. Wake Forest had six tackles for loss for just -14 yards. This is quite good, when you consider that they basically knew that Florida State was going to run the ball with a big lead.

The ’Nole offense did more than enough in this one, but it’s important to remember that the Deacs’ defense is terrible. There’s plenty to improve upon, aside from the oft-discussed OL health travails. High snaps continue to be an issue, to the point that Francois sometimes takes an anticipatory hop when the ball is being delivered. WRs are still struggling at times with where to line up before the snap. And Francois, for his own sake, has got to better at recognizing the rush and at least trying to avoid it. He may not have taken a sack, but he took plenty of shots. And while announcers love to laud his toughness, just standing there while a defender within your field of vision screams down on you is less intrepid than it is masochistic. And against Clemson next week, it could prove borderline suicidal.