Did we just witness a complete offensive game? No. But there were some nice signs here.
It wasn’t always pretty, but with a stellar defensive effort and enough output on offense, FSU put it together in front of the home crowd, beating NC State 31-13.
Let’s jump in to what we saw from the offense.
First, it was quite the surprise when FSU took the field for their first drive and it was Alex Hornibrook that trotted out instead of James Blackman, who was announced as the starter in the stadium prior to kickoff.
Earlier in the week, Willie Taggart said that, if healthy, Blackman would start. Well, despite practicing this week, Blackman is still a bit banged up from the knee injury he aggravated against Louisville. So, it was Hornibrook getting his first home start for the ’Noles.
The offense got off to an slow start, punting after their first five plays and having their second drive stall out despite nice tempo that had them on pace to run 90 plays in the game. They would settle for a field goal and then the struggle set in.
The offensive line got beat plenty in the early goings, with tons of pressure getting through to the quarterback. The NC State defensive line was playing better than expected, but the O-line was having their worst showing of the season.
The Seminoles rotated at guard, with Mike Arnold playing right and left guard at different points in the first half as the coaching staff looked for something that works. Success would prove hard to come by and the offense went three-and-out on three straight drives.
NC State was committed to stopping the run, stacking the box often and did well to cover everything underneath, making it hard to get the ball out quickly and daring Hornibrook to beat them deep.
After some miscues, the explosive plays would come. Hornibrook hit Tamorrion Terry on a slant that Trinidad housed for a 43-yard touchdown, followed by a 40-yard strike to Pokie Wilson for another score on the next drive.
FSU would head into the half averaging 5 yards per play, with most of their success coming through the air off chunk plays. The ’Noles were also successful when throwing on first down completing 7-11 passes on first.
The run game struggled to this point, with just 29 yards rushing between Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn, and a sack-adjusted average of 2.5 yards per attempt. It was ugly to start, but give the offense credit for answering the ugly with back-to-back scores.
The offensive line continued to struggle early in the second half, but were beginning to put it together. There were a few occasions when Hornibrook held onto the ball too long or flat out left a clean pocket. And of the 8 sacks he took on the night, around 4 of them were arguably on the quarterback.
The receivers were stellar in the second half, and really all game, with great plays from the likes of Pokie Wilson, Keyshawn Helton, and Tamorrion Terry, who caught a second touchdown in the third quarter.
We also got a look at some great play design, most notably a reverse flip to D.J. Matthews, who had the option to pitch to Cam Akers. The play went for a seven yard gain, but the design was fantastic and, if the ball was pitched, Akers might have broken it for even more.
Speaking of Akers, he ran hard all night (no surprise) and it paid off for him. After a horrible spot set up a 4th & 1, Akers got the first down and more, taking it to the end zone for a 41-yard score. It was a real ‘Ball don’t lie’ moment that ended up icing the game for the Seminoles:
That was really a "ball don't lie" deal. Bad spot by the refs, Briles is screaming for tempo for the 4th down, FSU hits it for about 40.— Bud Elliott (@BudElliott3) September 29, 2019
The offense finished the game with 72 plays run for 369 yards, coming out to 5.1 yards per play.
There were some frustrating penalties that need to be cleaned up, but the officiating crew was also flag happy.
Hornibrook ended up throwing the the ball 40 times, which isn’t necessarily ideal, but they took advantage of what the defense gave them. Even if he didn’t look the sharpest at times, he finished 29-40 for 316 yards and three touchdowns. And while they were a little lucky, the offense finished the game with no turnovers.
The win brings the ’Noles to 3-2 and is a great confidence booster heading into the bye week.