It always starts up front. But given how much has concluded in the wake of today’s 41-14 Florida State loss to Florida — a five-game winning streak over the Gators, 36-consecutive bowl appearances, and 41-straight winning seasons — sometimes it can all end up front as well.
The Seminole offense was basically a non-factor for much of this game, and the offensive line was once again the primary reason why. UF made its game plan clear early: it would attempt to control the FSU front with the bare minimum of defenders, drop the rest into coverage, and all but eliminate the possibility of explosive plays for the ’Noles. It’s a wise strategy, since the Florida State offensive line can only seem to string together a few decent plays in a row.
And it worked, as Florida was able to get pressure while bringing just four and sometimes three defenders and without blitzing. The whole line was bad right from the opening kickoff, which the Seminoles elected to receive. But starting right tackle Jauan Williams was a standard bearer for the ineffective, so much so that he was yanked after just two series (each of which ended after three plays and a punt). But how inept is the FSU OL? His replacement, the player deemed the better option, Brady Scott, was called for a pair of false starts in his first series, and three in the first half.
Still, Florida State was able to scheme some stuff open early. With the game scoreless in the first quarter, the double-pass through D.J. Matthews (yes, the one from the Miami game) looked to have been executed perfectly. The initial throw from Deondre Francois to Matthews was inarguably backward, and Matthews tossed a perfect ball downfield to Gabe Nabers, who was open. And then Nabers fell down. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Down 10-0 in the second quarter, FSU looked to have finally hit one of the explosive plays we told you it would need to compete with UF. Cam Akers took a pass from Francois 70 yards for a score, but a useless illegal shift on Florida State nullified the result. False starts, illegal shifts, illegal formations, and units running onto the field without enough — or with too many — players: this was still happening throughout the season’s 12th game. That’s inexcusable.
After six possessions, Francois was 2-6 for 5 yards through the air. You can’t be that one-dimensional against a defense as talented as Florida’s. But FSU finally scored on a slick drive later in the first half. Francois used his legs well on a third and 10 to keep the drive alive, prior to hooking up with Naseir Upshur and Nyqwan Murray for nice gains. Akers then caught another TD pass, one that would stand. It was a fantastic grab on a post on which Akers used one hand and his helmet to secure the score, making the deficit just 13-7 at halftime.
Interestingly enough, the Seminoles’ only other touchdown drive, in the second half, was also facilitated by a big running play from 12. When you can’t create any physical leverage up front, you’ve got to use numerical leverage; it’s funny how FSU actually moved the ball and scored when that happened. Well, maybe funny isn’t the right word.
FSU continued to lose up front in the second half, and as time waned and the Seminoles’ need to throw became more and more apparent, UF was able to pin its ears back. In a fitting end to FSU’s season, Francois was leveled time and again, throwing two picks while also turning the ball over on a strip sack (he was sacked five times). Converting just 1-14 third down chances, Florida State authored seven three-and-out “drives,” an effective recipe for a gassed defense, especially when your average starting field position is your own 19 yard line.
Make no mistake about it: while the score was close into the third quarter, that was more a product of the UF offense not converting on chances. The performance of the FSU offense was simply unsustainable for any team hoping to stay on the field with a ranked opponent.