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Offensive observations from FSU’s comeback win over Louisville

Not perfect— but enough.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Important alterations to the Seminole offensive attack really began prior to toe meeting leather in Louisville on Saturday afternoon. We knew that Landon Dickerson, Florida State’s best offensive lineman, had been getting some burn in practice coming off an injury, but the level to which he’d contribute — if at all — was still up in the air. As it turned out, Dickerson got the start, just not where he began the season.

Dickerson, who’d begun 2018 as the starting right tackle, opened this one at left tackle, next to Cole Minshew. Alec Eberle again got the nod at center, the only player to start every game at the same OL spot this year for Florida State, while the right side was comprised of guard Mike Arnold and tackle Brady Scott.

Things weren't great early up front. Dickerson picked up a penalty prior to FSU’s first offensive snap, and Arnold failed to pick up a middle blitz on the final offensive play of that initial drive that ended with a three and out. Still, this was a drive that began inside the Florida State one— and opening drives simply aren't scripted to begin with your quarterback taking snaps in his own end zone.

Florida State’s offense then assumed the familiar position of playing from behind on its second possession, starting from its own 25 and down 7-0. This drive saw another slick jet sweep to freshman wideout Tre’Shawn Harrison, which went for the Seminoles’ second longest rush of the game, 10 yards. The speedster Harrison is beyond adept at getting the corner, but just as was the case after he showed flashes the other week, he was once again grounded after making a play. He received neither a touch nor a target the rest of the game, which seems rather perplexing.

Ditto that for D.J. Matthews, who was not targeted until the fourth quarter but then finished with a couple of grabs for 33 yards. These guys need more touches. Speaking of touches, Tamorrian Terry got one on that second drive, however, it glanced off both of his hands in the end zone and became yet another tally on the slate of missed opportunities for this offense. He was picked up on the next play, though, as FSU stepped up and perfectly executed a tunnel screen to Nyqwan Murray that tied the game at seven. “Perfectly executed a tunnel screen”: yes, we’re still talking about the Seminoles.

But speaking of stepping up, QB Deondre Francois simply must do a better job of climbing the pocket and just being more mobile therein. It certainly has not always been the case, but the FSU OL was solid, if not good, with pass protection on Saturday, not allowing a single sack. But there are myriad chances when 12 has the chance to extend plays longer, or find an open receiver if he adjusts properly in the pocket. He’s just not reacting well to pressure enough of the time. I would bring up the opportunities he has to run with the ball, but that just seems like nearly a lost cause at this point.

Moreover, Francois missed a number of throws early in this game— one of which came on a play that had Florida State fans complaining for all the wrong reasons. In the second quarter, the ’Noles had the ball around midfield when UL quite obviously jumped offside. Yes, you have every right to carp about the lack of a call. But the play went on, and when most players quit, thinking it’d be whistled dead, FSU WR Keith Gavin ran his route down the sideline, and was well clear of his defender. Francois lofted the ball up to him but overthrew what should have been an easy touchdown. What would you rather have: a five-yard offside call, or a big touchdown play? Francois has got to hit more of the easy throws, like the easy cross he missed to Noonie later in the quarter that would have extended another Florida State drive.

But let’s give credit where it’s due: Francois was much better in the second half. The third-quarter highlight came when great pass protection facilitated a 55-yard strike to Terry that cut the UL lead to 21-14. This was a fine recognition of a one-on-one matchup on the outside, and I’m totally content with taking that shot, especially when Terry gets behind the coverage.

Another second-half improvement came in finally getting the ball to tight end Tre’ McKitty, even if his first touch didn’t come until the fourth quarter. And later, Francois again recognized solo coverage on McKitty streaking down the sideline; while the coverage was sound, 12 gave 6 a chance to make a play in the end zone, and that’s just what he did. These are simple opportunities afforded FSU’s big, talented receivers, and regardless of coverage, provided it’s just single-coverage, this Florida State offense that is dependent upon explosive plays, should continue to seize upon these matchups.

Especially since the running game didn't do much of note, particularly with regard to big plays. The top two FSU rushes each came from receivers; no Seminole RB registered a double-digit rush. The big plays were there though, courtesy off the WRs through the air. None was bigger than the winning score, authored by a Francois-to-Murray crosser with 73 seconds that saw the ’Noles claim their first lead in ACC play this season. 8 shook of a tackle, turned on the jets, and got a great downfield block from Terry to trot into the end zone with the winning score. Francois finished 16-27 with four TD tosses and zero picks.

This one certainly had its warts. Florida State continues to struggle to get lined up properly, and that just can’t happen on any offense, let alone one that stresses working at tempo. Still, 6.4 yards per play is quite good. Not so good? 3-13 third-dow conversions against one of the worst third-down defenses in the country. But props to FSU for knowing when to go for it on fourth downs around midfield, and picking up 2-3.

A quick postscript: since these are offensive observations, I’d be remiss if I didn't mention FSU's uniform combinations—as they were truly offensive. Louisville sits on the banks of the mighty Ohio river. Chuck that garnet-and-black helmet in there and see if it floats. Here’s hoping the answer is no.