Florida State has all the makings of a team that can find success — but isn’t
The 2021 Florida State football team can run the ball and can defend the run. They can hit explosive plays and are the 13th best team in the country in explosive play differential, meaning they hit way more big plays than they give up. If I told you a team had those four things and asked you to guess whether that team was good or bad, you’d likely say good.
The issues lie in down-to-down efficiency and situational football. They’re terrible at them both. There are also effort issues, especially on defense. For two quarters against Notre Dame and for two quarters against Louisville, this team looked like it was at least average, much less had a solid foundation to build on. Unfortunately, for all the other quarters of football this season, the Seminoles have looked completely inept.
FSU is still one of just two Power 5 teams that are winless this season at 0-4 (Arizona being the other). But, FSU is 73rd in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings, ahead of ten other Power 5 teams (Vanderbilt, Kansas, Arizona, Illinois, South Carolina, Washington State, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke). Those ten other teams have a combined 13 wins. FSU has lost three games by a combined 14 points. They are 0-3 in one-score games, which over time are essentially coin flips.
FSU does some foundational things well. They’ve had a bit of bad luck. They are capable of looking competent but are unable to sustain it from quarter to quarter or week to week. And so it’s stuck in a limbo where it’s too good to go winless this season but somehow keeps finding ways to lose.
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to playcalling
I think the statement of play calling and needing to run the football more is a false one. Re-watching the game you have a beat-up OL, inadequate blocking from your TE room, and teams are just daring you to throw.
Criticizing play calling is a fool’s errand. Play in and play out you don’t know what is trying to be accomplished unless you have the all-22 film. You also don’t have the checks for each play available.
Smoke and mirrors was the name of the game this week running the ball. If I am to be critical of the offensive staff it is on three points: 1) you took too long to get to the smoke and mirrors with the run game, 2) you do not utilize personnel correctly with your run game, and 3) you are not using your passing game enough as an extension of your run game. We saw FSU get to RPO looks more in the second half but these backs are too talented and need to be utilized to stress linebackers more. There is a need for this offense to create space for the run game and you start doing that by getting the defense to respect something else.
With a need for offensive identity is the run game something you can rely on? I would say no at this stage. Your effectiveness has come built off of pass action from Milton. Maybe with a healthy and committed to run game Travis that would be different. However, Travis shows an inability to be available game to game and series to series.
With the offense constructed the way that is, the best way to build your offense is on the arm of Milton. You must utilize a quick passing game, with shot plays mixed in, and RPO series to help the run game out. Also, a big part of this equation is OL availability. To date, you’ve played one game with the starting offensive line available. That’s going to make it tough on any offense but especially one with a lack of playmakers.
Excusing coaching because of talent isn’t painting the whole picture
The problem is whatever position you want to take, you have evidence to legitimately support it. So the only conclusion is that everyone is at least partly right.
Is this roster talented? Not in comparison to peers, and even then, former four and five stars have failed to develop over the years of constant turnover. Is there some talent? Yes. Is this team more talented than last year’s team? Either way is arguable. This isn’t largely Mike Norvell’s team of players. Only five players that Norvell recruited out of high school saw the field against Louisville. Most of them aren’t ready yet. Yes, a lot of Norvell’s transfers are playing, but the portal is a lottery and an unfortunate necessity due to the state of the roster when he was hired.
But has this team always been coached well this season? No, definitely not. The game plan against Jacksonville State seems like a bad self-inflicted error. They are much worse than last year at scripted drives. There are legitimate questions about this staff’s personnel usage, both on offense and defense. And can’t you argue that effort and discipline are coaching issues?
This staff could be doing a better job with the talent they have, and they need to be held accountable for it, but the talent they have is a significant factor for being 0-4.