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Beyond the Numbers: How FSU can learn and improve on the run game

What can the Seminoles do better?

NCAA Football: Miami at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

While Florida State had a dominant run game for parts of the 2021 season, they still have room for growth.

In order to build on what they developed last year this team will need more injury luck especially along the offensive line. The ‘Noles were able to be very efficient behind an injury riddled line and have multiple dynamic players who stress defensive coordinators.

I took a deep dive into why this team was able to produce such an effective run game and why there should be optimism that the bar can be raised again.

Offensive Line

Key Additions

  • C Kayden Lyles (Wisconsin transfer)
  • RT Bless Harris (Lamar Transfer)

Key Losses

  • RG Devontay Love-Taylor

While the Seminoles finished last season with one of the most efficient run games in the ACC the team did not do that by dominating the trenches. In 2021 the Seminoles ranked dead last in the ACC with an average run block grade of 52.2 (per PFF), which also ranked 120th of 130 FBS teams.

When looking into why they struggled - five of their six worst run graded games came in their first five games (Notre Dame, Jacksonville State, Wake Forest, Louisville, and Syracuse).

FSU game by game PFF grading from 2021
via PFF

Only once did they have the same starting line in that stretch and only two players (Gibbons, Love-Taylor) played every single offensive snap.

From the perspective of the offensive line, consistency is the key for success in 2022. They lost Devontay Love-Taylor to the NFL, but gained Kayden Lyles and Bless Harris in the transfer portal (who can both start).

With all of the injuries and bad luck this team had along the offensive line things should improve even if they have some bad luck. 2021 was truly an outlier season and even with the failed pursuit of Amarius Mims they should be able to sustain around an average run block grade.

Given where this team was in the trenches last fall any improvement should be good for the efficiency of the run. But there is real optimism that they will improve with addition by subtraction.


Key Additions:

  • AJ Duffy (High School recruit)

Key Losses:

  • McKenzie Milton

The ‘Noles had two very different quarterbacks that affected the run very differently.

With Jordan Travis starting under center the team averaged just over 5 yards per carry - while in the four games McKenzie Milton was the starter they averaged 4.1 yards per carry.

Milton ran for as much as 600 yards in a season at UCF. But at FSU he was taking sacks and just was not able to escape the pocket in the same way. He was also in more danger playing behind poor pass protection with more consistent better pass rushers in the ACC coming after him.

In 2020 Travis was not a true dual threat quarterback in that part of his development, that year he finished with 68% of his rushing attempts and yards coming on designed runs (rather than yards from scrambling).

Last season as the (sorta) full time starter he finished top-5 in both yards from scrambles and attempts in the FBS. His development as a passer is a huge part of this, the more efficient he becomes aerially the more dangerous he becomes as a rusher.

While he has always been effective in causing stress for coordinators in the run game, marrying that part of his game with his development as a passer was evident especially in the final stretch of the last season.

One area he does need to improve is his ball security as he finished the season with 7 fumbles. This may be a correctable issue and could even be a bit of an outlier given in 2020 he finished with 2 less rushing attempts but only fumbled 3 times.

Running backs

Key Additions:

  • Trey Benson (Oregon transfer)

Key Losses:

  • Jashaun Corbin

In 2021 this team had dominant in stretches finishing the season with seven of their twelve games rushing 200 yards or more.

Beyond Travis - the Seminoles led the way on the ground with a one-two punch of Jashaun Corbin as the number one back and Treshaun Ward as the number two (‘change of pace’) back.

Corbin is now headed to the pros as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants. Last season the ‘Noles were reliant on him as he had more rushing attempts in every game than any other back.

Going into the spring it was clear that Ward would have an opportunity to take over the role of the lead back with Lawrance Toafili as that potential change of pace receiving back.

But what even the Seminoles staff may have not expected was that Trey Benson would break out in the way he did and look so comfortable returning from injury.

Benson transferred after a lackluster freshman year at Oregon. He was getting some opportunities early in the spring but really showcased his ability in the final weeks of spring practice and the spring game.

Benson finished the spring game with 7 carries for 77 yards and had multiple explosive plays like the one below.

On this play he showed his ability to make defenders miss - but where Benson succeeds the most is being able to accelerate once he is in space and then he explodes off the edge.

Benson showed a lot but this team also has stability in the backfield and experience with Ward, and Toafili along with nice depth from guys like DJ Williams and CJ Campbell.

On a game to game basis Mike Norvell will have the ability to tailor his run attack to the opponent and will not just lean on one of these backs as they all fit into the puzzle.