When Willie Taggart took over as the head coach at Florida State, not many people expected the offense to struggle. Well, the offense didn’t struggle last year for the Seminoles. It completely collapsed. The FSU offensive line was hurt by injuries and the previous staff just refusing to recruit the position. The Noles had the worst offensive line in the country and it took the rest of the offense down with it. Taggart didn’t help things by setting the bar so high in year one but one has to wonder if he saw the roster and chemistry issues that he inherited.
One decision that Taggart gets to own himself is the decision to not play James Blackman last season. Deandre Francois was the starter and he struggled most of the season on the field while also being rumored to have issues as a leader off the field. Blackman won the job this year and he’s started the season hitting on nearly 70% of his passes. The offense showed a nice mix of quicker short throws to go with shots down the field against Boise State in their first game but I didn’t see it as much against UVA. Blackman is at his best on longer throws, in my opinion and the Noles have the receivers to get down the field.
One of the struggles for the FSU offense is the ineffectiveness of their quick screen game. Taggart has passed off the offense to Kendall Briles but the extremely wide splits from the receivers as well as the motion players turning into blockers has remained. The issue with both of these things is that it telegraphs the play and it takes forever for the ball to arrive to the receiver. That doesn’t even get into the issue of how short the field is for the receiver once they catch it. It becomes self defeating to an extent. I think that Briles will look to do more of what works with this offense and we will see more immediate level passes as well as throws down the field.
Cam Akers is one of the most physical running backs in the country and he is finally getting the blocking he needs to be effective. Akers was second to last in the country last season in yards before contact and the worst back in the country was his backup. Akers leads the ACC in rushing so far and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the year. The Noles have found more success running the ball so far but they also use Akers in the passing game pretty well. Louisville had some real issues stopping Notre Dame’s run game but they have executed very well over the last two weeks as guys seem to have fully bought into the system. Akers will have a big day if the defense regresses.
Florida State has some of the most talented receivers in the ACC but getting that talent to consistently produce has been an issue. Tamorrion Terry is the top receiver for FSU and he has developed his game a bit to be more useful on intermediate throws. Terry is a burner that scored on a long touchdown last year against Louisville. I expect the Noles to test the Louisville secondary with Terry as we haven’t seen anyone try to push the ball deep down the field yet.
The other receivers for FSU haven’t produced like you would expect. Keith Gavin is the opposite outside receiver and has great size. He just doesn’t ever seem to use it well. He is 6-3/212 but isn’t a consistent deep threat and isn’t strong with the football. D.J. Matthews is second on the team in catches but only averages six yards per catch. As the “space” player on this offense, you expect more from him. Ontaria Wilson is the guy that’s impressed me the most outside of Terry. Wilson has taken some snaps from Gavin and can do a little bit of everything. Tre McKitty is an athletic tight end in the same mold as the WKU tight end that had their long score last week.
The FSU offensive line has shown some real improvement this year but that’s not really saying much. The line was absolutely horrific last season and have elevated their game to serviceable so far this year. Akers has room to run the vast majority of the time but get hit in the backfield way too often. The line just seems to be very passive in the way they block. Guys don’t fire off the ball and they get beat to the spot a lot. There are also still a good amount of blown assignments in pass protection. But overall, the offense is working better because the line is playing better.
Louisville has to find a way to get FSU into long third downs. FSU has been terrible at converting any third downs but Blackman presses in those situations and his mechanics get sloppy. It’s also the situation that Louisville has done well in. Bryan Brown can go with a number of different looks and blitzes and this line hasn’t shown that it can hold up against a good pass rush.