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Offensive observations from Florida State’s blowout loss to Miami

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Another chance. More self-inflicted errors.

adiaz@miamiherald.com

Florida State Seminoles’ football didn’t have Mike Norvell, their head coach and playcaller against Miami. In stepped offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who would try to give a maligned unit a restart against a surging Miami squad. Unfortunately, the product was more of the same.

Early on in the contest, it was clear Dillingham wanted to get quarterback Jordan Travis involved in the offense, but it surprisingly wasn’t under center, at least initially. Quarterback James Blackman again got the starting nod. Their opening script was aggressive, attacking Miami on the edge and right up the middle, using Travis on jet sweeps and shovel passes. It also made liberal use of tempo. However, we did see Travis under center later in the drive, in a package we’ll dub the Traviscat. Florida State marched downfield and was initially going for it on fourth down inside the five-yard line, but a critical false start mistake by Baveon Johnson forced FSU to settle for a field goal.

While the idea of starting true freshman Chubba Purdy, fresh off a broken collarbone, was always a pipe dream for this game, it’s safe to say FSU does have a 2-QB system now with Blackman and Travis. The argument is whether Travis should be in the backfield with Blackman instead of operating through the Traviscat, considering Travis’ limitations as a passer.

FSU’s opening scripted drive had the same crispness and tempo of their opening drive against Georgia Tech. The question would be, would FSU keep it up against Miami like they didn’t against the Yellow Jackets? Or would they again regress to poor execution and unforced errors?

By the time the ’Noles took the field for their second drive, they were already down by two scores. In a perfect scenario to show us what they’re made of we quickly got our answer, as the offense started with two negative plays on first and second down and then another false start, setting up a monstrous 3rd and 29 and a quick 3-and-out.

Going into their third drive down 21-3, every drive play was an opportunity to respond with competent execution. We didn’t get it. Despite being gifted good field position off a Miami muffed punt shortly afterwards, Travis threw an interception on a busted play in a desperate attempt to commit intentional grounding to avoid a loss of yardage.

The self-inflicted mistakes came so early and so quickly after the opening scripted drive it made it difficult to evaluate any one position, at least until a deeper review can be done. The main takeaways of a beatdown like this is that the players simply aren’t there. The offense really hasn’t been installed, and the players can’t execute what has been installed. They don’t trust or believe in each other. Once they don’t have a practiced script, the entire unit falls apart. They can’t execute. Instead of staying ahead of the chains, they always look like they’re caught in a tangled web of them. Every drive feels like it will ultimately find its way to 3rd and 20 or a turnover.

Blackman wasn’t the sole main culprit behind FSU’s offensive issues, but he’s certainly one of them. The same errors were there and contributed to the offensive woes. Inconsistency. He struggled to anticipate routes, create off broken plays, and generally held on to the ball too long. He took a bad sack midway through the second quarter where he had a hot route open behind a blitz. You’d be forgiven for thinking a fourth-year quarterback should be better than this. Perhaps Travis will be handed the full reins against Jacksonville State, or perhaps we will see Purdy; we’ll have to wait and see. It’s worth noting that Travis’ ability as a passer still isn’t enough and Purdy wasn’t an early enrollee.

On the other hand, what FSU has now clearly isn’t enough. With less than four minutes until halftime FSU had 40 yards passing and 38 yards rushing and the score was 35-3, and Tamorrion Terry didn’t have a reception. Effectively, garbage time. There was no reason to believe going into this game that Miami’s defense was elite.

Out of halftime, we got more indications this staff can coach. FSU tried lots more RPOs and nub formations (trips receivers to one side and a running look to the other with a tight end inline), as well as 10-personnel (one running back, no tight ends) double stack WR formations. There were additional drops and penalties, including a frustration personal foul by Terry, but they were eventually able to score on a 12-yard reception by tight end Cameron McDonald. It was markedly simpler offensively — screens and RPOs — and noticeably more young talent on the field. It carried over to their second drive, and FSU finally appeared to find success moving the ball. However, Blackman stared down a double-slant concept to Warren Thompson, which caused a tip-drill interception in the end zone.

After that, as the fourth quarter got underway and with the score 45-10, we got our first look at true freshman Tate Rodemaker as well as a full on youth movement. On a 3rd and 10 Tate did a good job extending the play and finding McDonald for a first down. But one play later, as noted by Kirk Herbstreit, Rodemaker stared down his receiver, telegraphing a pass that was overthrown and intercepted. Rodemaker and Lawrance Toafili were featured again the following drive, but were forced to punt. In the fourth quarter we saw Ja’Khi Douglas, Kentron Poitier, and more. Blackman finished 16/26 for just 120 yards and one touchdown and one interception.

All three quarterbacks we saw threw an interception, and Terry finished without a reception.

Regardless of what happened in the second half, the story of this game was told by halfway through the second quarter. What’s truly disheartening is this is largely the same product we’ve seen over the past several seasons over multiple coaching staffs. That pretty much says all you need to know about what’s wrong with this program, much less this offense. There’s a legitimate question of whether Norvell losing his inaugural Spring will doom his tenure, but it shouldn’t. This roster needs to be turned over, and it’s unfortunately a slow process. It may not matter who is under center this season, as starting 0-2 dooms any hopes. But it’s clear that rebuilding the offensive line, finding a quarterback, and adding speed to the offense is a good place to start.