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Offensive observations from Florida State’s loss to Notre Dame

Very encouraging play, just couldn’t keep up.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Arizona State vs Florida State Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State Seminoles football looked to try to build some momentum against a talented and physical Notre Dame squad. FSU was coming off its first win of the season, and finally looked like they had found an identity and quarterback for this season.

But as Kirk Herbstreit said on College Gameday this morning, this season isn’t about wins for head coach Mike Norvell and this Seminoles team. It’s about rebuilding a program and its culture.

So when it comes to this game vs the Irish, as we’re doing every week this season, we’re trying to find improvement we can point to. Progress isn’t always linear, but if you look close enough you can usually find it. In this game it wasn’t that hard. FSU’s offense really did some good things, established the run, and put up points against a tough and physical Notre Dame team. There are legitimate questions about how long Travis can keep this up, but it’s clear he’s your quarterback right now, as long as he’s healthy. Again — the score didn’t matter as much as showing improvement, and on that front they absolutely succeeded.

First Half

On FSU’s first offensive possession, the ’Noles started on the Irish’s 32-yard line. Need touchdowns on short fields, but only notched a field goal. As a big underdog, Mike Norvell arguably should have gone for it on fourth. Good kick by Ryan Fitzgerald however.

Using Lawrance Toafili as wideout, which gets him and La’Damian Webb on the field at the same time. Rolling pocket, which freezes defenders due to Travis’ running ability. Good throw on the move. Robert Scott beat, FSU ends up punting.

Using toss read against numbers in the box, which gets ball outside into space. Consistent lost yardage on second down creating third and longs, which is not where this offense can succeed. RG and C can’t double correctly to climb to backer, who shoots gap.

Two of FSU’s first four drives started on short field off of ND turnovers (fumbles). Using Travis’ legs, gets a keeper touchdown on toss read (good read by Travis to keep). That makes three touchdowns on that play in last two games. Offense looks like it is gaining confidence. Ten points off of two turnovers.

On next drive, FSU moved the ball well, crossed the 50-yard line, then Travis hits Tamorrion Terry on a double move for huge touchdown. Explosive plays can keep you in the game. Continues to build momentum. Gives FSU 17-14 lead at end of first quarter. Offense looks much further along than ’Noles defense. Notre Dame’s defense heavily plays man coverage.

Giving up too many negative plays, can’t stay ahead of the sticks consistently. Not good enough or consistently explosive enough to make up for it, so have to play clean. How do they respond to adversity? Back-to-back penalties on OL; Dontae Lucas too far downfield, then freshman Scott gets false start. Ends up again in 3rd and 17.

Defense can’t get a stop so offense gets the ball down 28-17 with less than five minutes in the first half. How do they respond? The answer is very encouraging for the future of this unit. FSU repeatedly trying to hit a shot play to Terry over last couple drives. Run game having success, especially as first half wore on. Offense is playing hard, giving effort. Honestly ran down ND’s throat to end this first half. Travis hard count actually got an offsides. Nice rhythm throw down near goal line, just a little high for Terry, who could have maybe still caught it. Can’t punch it in, but Fitzgerald makes sure it’s not a wasted effort. 28-20 with 1:17 left in half. Offense now executing full drives.

FSU with 7.6 yards per pass in the first half, and an awesome 5 yards per rush against a physical ND team. A ton of possessions for both teams in the first half.

Second Half

Running some stuff they set up earlier, like a Travis keep, or counter QB sweep. Another touchdown on the toss read to Webb in the red zone. ’Noles march right down the field for another touchdown. Two point conversion failed, arguably too early to go there on your first drive of the third quarter. An XP would make it a one-possession game.

Seeing more counters built off of stuff FSU has established. Throwing bubble then faking it for a handoff. 5+ toss read plays; hard to defend. Getting into too many passing downs. Strength of this offense is the ground game.

Great 4th down conversion early in fourth quarter. Travis showing good pocket presence, athleticism. Accuracy is inconsistent. Second 4th down conversion on same drive, both in obvious passing downs. Ran QB power also. Travis is gassed at this point in the game. Throws interception on the goal line trying to hit flat, had Terry open on fade in the corner of the end zone.

An apparent injury to Travis’ throwing hand resulted in James Blackman coming into the game late in the fourth quarter in garbage time. It’s worth noting that FSU did not reach garbage time until some point in the fourth quarter in a game they were 21-point underdogs. In the end, FSU’s offense just couldn’t keep up, but it was easily their best showing of the season and it came against likely the best defense they’ve seen so far.

Offensive notes and observations:

  • Quarterback: First career start for Travis. Read-option offense fits Travis, who is a better passer on the move than he is in the pocket. Really great, shifty runner. Could be a little more patient when running behind blockers. Consistently good reads, especially on toss read play. Great read and throw on double move for big touchdown to Terry. Bad miss on a third down as ND was blitzing, but had great pre-snap blitz recognition. Great dime in 2nd half on RPO, but hit on Toafili knocks ball out. Great job consistently avoiding rush. Imprecise accuracy missed a touchdown in 4th quarter, but great pocket presence. Injured hand in fourth quarter.

FSU’s offense finished with 8.5 yards per pass before garbage time, as well as 162 yards on the ground, good for 4.3 yards per rush. Unfortunately though, they went just 2/13 on third down conversions. Travis had 200 yards passing and nearly 100 yards rushing.

  • Offensive line: Early procedural penalty, which has been an issue for OL this season. ND having success throughout game stunting (E/T) to get quick pressure on Travis. Robert Scott started at right tackle, Devontay Love-Taylor at LT (no Darius Washington). Scott struggling early, which is understandable. Mixed bag early blocking in the run game, but doing better than in pass protection. ND often sent five or six on third downs. Too many penalties. Opened up some huge holes on ground late in first half, had ton of success on ground overall. Had some good group pass protection wins throughout though, but also some whiffs. Overall still not a good unit, but clearly making progress in run game.
  • Skill players: Corey Wren got first looks at kick return. Toafili in slot. Huge touchdown play by Tamorrion Terry, got behind corner and stacked him on a double move route, Travis gets it there. Toafili playing well. Warren Thompson back getting snaps. Webb and Toafili continuing to play well, running hard. Using Toafili as a receiver; however, Toafili did not get enough touches, with just four on the night before garbage time. Great effort by receivers in this game, but still some inconsistent route running and spacing. Terry catching passes with obvious and uncalled defensive pass interference.