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Why FSU will go as far as Cam Akers can run

The 2018 season was a frustrating affair for every stakeholder of the Florida State football program. After winning only five games, FSU missed a bowl game for the first time in 1,000 years (rough estimate); the Seminoles, behind a woeful offensive line, finished 97th in the FBS in offensive S&P-plus. This was far from the debut season Willie Taggart envisioned.

Florida State allowed an average of three sacks per game (second worst in the ACC), and finished the season ranked 75th in adjusted sack rate. (FSU has allowed 3.8 sacks per game, so far, in 2019.)

Complicating matters, Cam Akers — the team’s best player — simply couldn’t get going. Behind Florida State’s line, Akers saw his yards per carry average drop — from 5.3 as a freshman, to 4.4 as a sophomore. On offense, Florida State ranked 125th nationally in stuff rate — the percent of carries stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.

As the 2019 season approached, one of the central questions surrounding Florida State centered on the team’s star back: Could this team, with a new offensive coordinator, get Cam Akers going?

 

Track Back

During the 2017 season, Akers posted an opportunity rate of 42.3 percent. A year later, that dropped to under 38 percent. (Opportunity rate measures how well an offensive line “does its job” for a ball carrier. It’s the percentage of carries that go for at least five yards.)

In 2017, as a freshman, Akers recorded 29 carries of 10 or more yards (15 percent of his total carries), fifth most in the ACC. That dropped to 16 carries of 10+ yards in 2018 (10 percent of his total carries). Of course, opponents couldn’t always hold him in check.

However, if Florida State were to turn things around in 2019, Akers needed more room to breathe. So far, through five games, FSU has looked incredibly shaky; the offensive line still has issues, too.

Akers, despite the issues and limitations, continues to produce.

After five games, Akers already has 18 carries of 10+ yards, which is No. 1 in the ACC and more than he had all of last season.

 

2019: Better to be busy than bored

With Florida State headed into a bye week — and Clemson waiting on the other side — Akers better get some rest. He’s been rather busy so far this season. Through the first five games, Akers has 582 rushing yards and seven touchdowns (No. 6 in the FBS) on 115 carries. That’s an average of 23 carries per game, which ranks third most in the FBS, and 116.4 yards per game, which ranks 12th in the FBS. (From within the ACC, he trails only A.J. Dillon — Boston College’s workhorse back — in both of those metrics.)

However, what’s so impressive with Akers’ output has been his ability to pick up chunks of yards after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, Akers ranks second nationally in total rushing yards after contact. Only Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State, the nation’s leading rusher, has more. Hubbard also has 13 more carries than Akers.

More to the point: 80 percent of Akers’ rushing yards this season have come after contact. Let that sink in.

Back on Saturday, Akers ran for 83 yards in the win over NC State — a crucial victory for FSU. According to PFF, 78 of those yards — close to 94 percent — came after contact.

Akers essentially put this game out of reach with about nine minutes to play, too. After FSU hurried to the line to go for it on 4th-and-1, Akers took advantage of an NC State defense that was unprepared and out of position for the play.

 

Keeping up with Dalvin — and beyond

Back in 2016, Dalvin Cook ran for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns on 288 carries, a program record. It was Cook’s second straight season with 1,600+ rushing yards and 19 touchdown carries. A year later, the FSU running back torch was handed to Cam Akers, though he got plenty of help from Jacques Patrick, too. During that 2016 season, Cook averaged 22.15 carries per game.

Again, Akers is right at 23 carries per game in 2019; he’s clearly the fulcrum pretty speedy offense. He could absolutely eclipse the 300-carry mark if things continue at this rate. (Maybe that’s not a great thing, though, to be honest!)

Over the last 20 seasons, only three ACC running backs have carried the ball 300 times in a season — all happen to be from Boston College: Dillon (2017), Andre Williams (2013) and Montel Harris (2009).

Going back to the 2000 season, only 19 FBS players have recorded 300 carries and 30 receptions in the same season, per Sports Reference. Some of the other names on that list are quite impressive: Christian McCaffrey, Le’Veon Bell, Steven Jackson, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy and Jay Ajayi. Not bad, eh?

It’s totally in the realm of possibilities for Akers to join this club this season, too.

 

Pass Game: Cam Akers

Regardless of who’s at quarterback, Akers is an important piece in Florida State’s pass game. (No duh.) Akers has 108 receiving yards on 15 catches so far this season — to go along with two touchdowns. Akers is currently one of two FBS players so far this season with 500+ yards rushing, five or more rushing touchdowns, 100+ yards receiving and at least one touchdown catch. (BC’s Dillon is the only other player with those numbers.)

According to StatBroadcast, Akers has been targeted 20 times in 2019. He was targeted 33 times all of last season. With 15 receptions now, this means Akers has a solid catch rate of 75 percent — a slight jump over 2018. Akers posted a 70 percent catch rate last season.

 

ACC: Loaded at RB

For all of the issues with ACC Football this season — and there are some troubling trends — the league is stacked at the running back position. Clemson’s Travis Etienne is a game-breaking stud; Dillon, who has three straight games with 150+ yards rushing, is the offense at Boston College. Down at Miami, DeeJay Dallas has produced at a high level, too. Javonte Williams and Jordan Mason have been sneaky good as well.

There are too many names to just list out; however, of this group, Akers could very well be the best. Akers likely has only eight more games left in his college career — give or take. How much ground Akers can cover over the next three months will be a sight to see; wherever he ends up, that will likely be as far as Florida State can go.

 

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