Most of the heat on the Florida State coaching staff has centered on defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. For the second time in three weeks on Saturday, Kelly’s defense allowed a long, game-winning drive as the Seminoles fell to 0-3 at home for the first time since 1974 with a 31-28 loss to Louisville.
While Kelly’s defense, which was expected to be one of the best units in the country, has not lived up to expectations, the FSU offense has been much worse. The Florida State offense ranks 13th in the ACC in total yards per game — ahead of only North Carolina – and dead last in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
Nationally, the Seminoles rank 102nd in total offense and 116th in scoring offense. Among Power 5 programs, only Tennessee and Illinois are scoring fewer points per game than FSU.
There are plenty of reasons for FSU’s woeful start on offense. Below, we examine five of them:
Although it sounds like an excuse, the injury big that Florida State has been hit with cannot be easily dismissed. The biggest of those of course, is the loss of quarterback Deondre Francois, who was injured in the fourth quarter of the season-opening 24-7 loss to Alabama.
The injury to Francois has forced the Seminoles to play a true freshman at quarterback in James Blackman. Blackman is the first true freshman to start at that position in 32 years. Unlike fellow freshman Bailey Hockman, Blackman didn’t enroll in the spring and has only been with the team since June.
Francois however, has not been the only one fighting through injury. The Seminoles recently learned that running back Jacques Patrick, the team’s second leading rusher and leader is yards per carry, will miss significant time with a knee injury. Auden Tate, the team’s leading receiver, has been playing through pain. Other scholarship receivers in George Campbell and Keith Gavin have also missed time. Campbell is out for the year.
On the offensive line, guard Landon Dickerson is done for the year. Derrick Kelly, who was the team’s starting left tackle to open the year, has been injured early in two games to not return. Kelly has also been forced to move inside to guard.
2. Youth at Quarterback, Lack of Depth at Wide Receiver
As mentioned before, FSU is playing a true freshman for the first time since 1985. With Blackman playing instead of Francois, head coach Jimbo Fisher has had to simplify the playbook and the true freshman may not be fully comfortable with his audibles just yet. Aside from that, the Seminoles are extremely thin at the pass-catching positions.
Entering the season, FSU had just seven scholarship wide receivers, including two true freshmen. That was before Da’Vante Phillips’ potentially permanent suspension. As mentioned before, both Campbell and Gavin have missed time. Tate has played injured. Junior Nyqwan Murray, the team’s leading returning receiver from last season, had shown significant regression until the last two weeks.
3. Conservative Play-Calling
As mentioned before, playing a true freshman at quarterback forces a head coach to curtail some of his offense. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the sole reason for the Seminoles being conservative offensively. Draws and screens on third-and-long deep inside your own territory are understandable, but at times this season, Fisher has called draws and settled for field goals on convertible third downs in opponents’ territory.
Early on in games, Fisher has been particularly conservative with Blackman, which sometimes prevents the Seminoles from being able to take early leads. In the case against Miami on Oct. 7, this approach prevented Blackman from being able to attack the Miami secondary, which was arguably the most vulnerable unit for the Hurricanes. Some turnovers and mistakes are to be expected with a freshman quarterback, but playing not to lose early has forced him to try to win games late.
4. Lack of Explosion
Despite having some big-time playmakers like Cam Akers and Auden Tate, Florida State hasn’t done a great job when it comes to hitting the big play. For the season, FSU has only six pass plays of over 30 yards and six rushes for more than 30 yards. When it comes to passing plays over 30 yards, only 11 teams nationally have fewer. Among ACC teams, only North Carolina, Boston College and Virginia have fewer big plays.
The lack of big plays forced FSU to be methodical this season, which forces the Seminoles to convert more third downs and forces a true freshman quarterback to make more plays. Florida State ranks just 94th nationally when it comes to converting third downs at 35.4 percent.
5. Inefficiency in the Red Zone
Last, but not least on the list for Florida State is the Seminoles’ failures to score points in the red zone. On the year, FSU has made 20 trips into the red zone and scored on 18 of those trips. Unfortunately for FSU, nine of those 18 scores have resulted in field goals. That means it is scoring touchdowns on just 45 percent of its trips, which ranks 118th in the country. For a team that has three ACC losses by a grand total of 13 points, that’s an absolute killer.