So that was stressful.
The Florida State Semnoles were able to squeak out a win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 26-19 Saturday in what was, truthfully, not a great game. Wake Forest did outplay the Seminoles in several key areas, but they weren’t better in the only thing that matters: the final score. So what are some things we learned about the ‘Noles after this game, and how should we expect them to play in the future.
The Offensive Line Play was Just Flat Out Bad.
As a former offensive lineman, I’m always a little more partial to the big guys up front. The FSU offensive line has taken the brunt of the criticism for FSU’s struggles basically since 2015, some of it warranted and some of it not. Against Alabama and North Carolina State, a lot of the blame for the losses were aimed at the offensive line, perhaps unfairly. Both teams featured stout defensive front-7s, and overall the O-line played decently, although they did have a few letdowns.
This week though, it is really hard to defend the o-line again. Wake Forest absolutely dominated at the point of attack, and the Deacon defense had a school-record 18(!!) tackles for loss. While the run blocking at some points was good, and Jacques Patrick absolutely had a good game on the ground, the pass blocking was poor and unless Johnathan Vickers was in at fullback, the rush blocking wasn’t good. After Derrick Kelly, who has actually been a bright spot on the line this season, went down injured, his replacement, Josh Ball, did not play well. Alec Ellerbe, probably the most experienced player on the offense, also played poorly, allowing Wake Forest to constantly get pressure up the middle. James Blackman definitely had a rough game, but he was in no way helped by the offensive line. Wake Forest is a good defense, but they are not as good NC State or Alabama, and 5 sacks are simply unacceptable. This offensive line is very talented and no doubt works hard, but something must change if the ‘Noles want to turn their season around.
Blackman Struggled but was Clutch
So James Blackman had a true-freshman-like game against Wake. He threw for 121 yards and a touchdown, but those numbers are misleading. Blackman only had 81 yards passing until his final throw to Auden Tate. Most of those came off screenplays to Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick, which exploited Wake’s over-aggressive defense. That being said, Blackman had a game many people would expect from a true freshman. It didn’t help that he was constantly under pressure from the Demon Deacon defense, or that his receivers were particularly well covered.
The young QB had a rough game for sure, but when it came down to the final minutes, he came in clutch. Blackman threw a beautiful pass to Keith Gavin on a third and long to set up for the game-tying field goal, then on the next drive, threw a beautiful long pass to Auden Tate for the game-winning score. Tate, who even with a separated shoulder was able to make the grab, was only able to make the catch because of Blackman, who, despite his shortcomings, is definitely good at throwing the deep ball. He will definitely need to improve his knowledge of the offense to succeed for the rest of the season, but even with his struggles, still impressed for a true freshman.
Defense was Inconsistent but Still Looked Good
Wake Forest had several chances to land knockout blows to FSU throughout the game, particularly in the second quarter. The ‘Noles gave Wake the ball in or near the redzone twice, and yet the Deacs were only able to knock in two field goals. I wrote in the game preview that John Wolford was a good QB, and he proved that most of the day against the ‘Noles. Wolford threw for 271 yards and a pick but also ran for a touchdown. Florida State did a decent job containing the Wake run game, including containing Wolford on designated runs. But while receiver Greg Dortch did have 10 receptions for 110 yards, the rest of the Deacons didn’t hurt FSU too bad. The defense had two sacks and came up big several times in the fourth quarter, stopping Wake on key drives that allowed the FSU offense to eventually win the game. This isn’t to say the defense was perfect, they were definitely inconsistent and the Wake Forest offense was able to put together some decent drives. But without the clutch play of the defense, there is no way FSU comes close to winning the game.
Coaching is Still an Issue.
This isn’t a criticism of head coach Jimbo Fisher. While Jimbo can be too conservative during games, even on his worst day he’s one of the top coaches in the country. Fans calling for Fisher to be replaced are in the definite minority and are, quite frankly, idiots.
However, the same cannot be said for his assistant coaches. Rick Trickett has been the offensive line coach for 10 years, and while for several years the o-line was one of the strongest points on the team, it has fallen in decline since the ‘Noles playoff appearance in 2014. Trickett should not be let go, he’s still a very good coach, and his players are still very talented, maybe something needs to change in order for the o-line to improve. Other coaches, like Lawrence Dawsey, are good coaches but just have not been getting things done lately. Special teams is another area on the team that still needs work, and that has not improved with the same coaches in place. After this season regardless of the outcome, Coach Fisher must make some changes on his staff in order for the Seminoles to succeed.
Special Teams are Improving
So Logan Tyler had a 10-yard punt in the second quarter, which was less-than-stellar. But besides that, the special teams actually played well. Tyler was never blocked, kicker Ricky Aguayo was 4/4 on kicks, including a career-long 51 yarder, and the ‘Noles had several big returns. Keith Gain nearly took one to the house in the fourth quarter, giving FSU good field position. This goes along with Derwin James housing the opening kickoff, only for it to be called back. There still are issues with special teams no doubt, but that segment of the team played well and didn’t cost the ‘Noles the game, which is all fans can ask for.
There’s a lot to take away from this game, but all-in-all FSU did pick up their first win of the season. With Miami coming up this next weekend, look out for a preview for the game on armchairallamericans.com