After losing their first two contests and their starting quarterback for the year, FSU’s 2017 campaign is off to a rocky start
A year ago, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher led his Seminoles to their fifth straight double-digit win season, posting a mark of 10-3 and beating the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Fisher has yet to finish a season at FSU with less than nine wins, but that may change this year as his ballclub has stumbled out of the gates at 0-2. After losing sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois for the season due to injury in a Week 1 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Seminoles were upset last week by NC State, falling out of the AP Poll for the first time since 2011. Here are three reasons why the Seminoles will continue to struggle this year:
1. Quarterback Play
As a freshman last year, Francois led all freshman quarterbacks in passing yards, throwing for 3,350 yards and tossing 20 touchdowns. He wasn’t perfect though, as Francois threw seven interceptions and struggled throwing deep passes. On throws 20 or more yards downfield, Francois completed under 40% of his passes.
Despite these struggles, Francois flashed signs of stardom and showed that he was the signal caller of the future for the Seminoles. For example, in the season opener last season against 11th-ranked Ole Miss, Francois led the Seminoles to an incredible 45-34 comeback win after trailing by as many as 22 points. Francois also engineered two game-winning touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter against both NC State and Michigan in the Orange Bowl, throwing for a combined 552 yards and three touchdowns in those contests.
With Francois out for the season after injuring his patella tendon, Florida State turns to freshman quarterback James Blackman to guide the offense. Scout.com’s evaluation of Blackman included this statement:
“Blackman must continue to dive into the weight room to strengthen up his frame and pack on weight, but this standout out of Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central is a mobile signal-caller that flashes undeniable, natural arm talent under center. Blackman isn’t a blazer under center, but he can certainly evade pressure and extend plays out of the pocket.”
In the Week 4 loss to NC State, Blackman had a turnover near the goal line and struggled to capitalize in the red zone, only scoring one touchdown on seven trips inside the 20. In order for Florida State to rebound and become ACC contenders, they will have to capitalize near the goal line. Also, Blackman struggled early on and down the stretch, completing only one of his first four passes and three of his last 10. Blackman will have to start faster and finish stronger as the season goes on to keep the offense afloat.
2. Shaky Offensive Line Play
A season ago, one of Florida State’s major flaws was its poor offensive line play. Francois was pressured on over 30% of his dropbacks, a relatively high rate. Overall, the unit ranked 106th nationally in sacks allowed per game last year. Francois was known for taking a lot of big hits, as this clip shows:
So far this season, the offensive line is still struggling to protect the quarterback despite starting three upperclassmen. In the season opening loss to the Crimson Tide, Francois was pressured on 41% of his dropbacks, as the Tide finished with three sacks on the night. Every offensive lineman allowed at least one pressure, except for junior center Alec Eberle.
The game against NC State wasn’t much better. The Wolfpack defense racked up four sacks to go along with three quarterback hurries, causing havoc for Blackmon all game long. Also, the offensive line was penalized five times on Saturday. If the offensive line can’t protect Blackman, the freshman quarterback and the rest of the offense will struggle to move the ball effectively, as shown last year. When Francois was under pressure last year, the freshman quarterback only completed 39% of his passes and threw four interceptions. The Seminoles cannot afford to poorly protect their freshman quarterback as they did last year.
3. Tough Schedule Ahead
The Seminoles have already faced the top-ranked Crimson Tide, and the schedule remains difficult throughout the season. The slate contains four ranked teams, two of which are on the road. Ranked opponents left on the schedule include Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida. In addition, there are also two other teams that are currently undefeated left to play for the Seminoles (Wake Forest, Duke). This week, Blackmon will be tested with his first road start of his young college career, clashing with 4-0 Wake Forest Saturday afternoon.
FSU’s remaining opponents are a combined 22-11, as the ACC is one of the best conferences in all of college football. The Seminoles may struggle to reach bowl eligibility, needing six wins to guarantee themselves a bowl appearance. If Florida State can reschedule their contest with Louisiana-Monroe, which was cancelled earlier in the season, it would give their bowl chances a boost in the right direction.
After losing Francois for the season, the combination of a freshman quarterback and an inconsistent offensive line will plague the Seminole offense. The offense will struggle to produce points against very talented ACC defenses, as the Seminoles will lean on their own defense to carry them the rest of the way. Florida State will hope Fisher can turn the ship around and salvage something positive out of this season. After starting the season ranked third in the AP preseason poll, the season so far has been a disappointment to Florida State fans. With four ranked opponents left on the slate, the Seminoles may struggle to reach bowl eligibility this season.
**All stats courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb and cfbfilmroom.com
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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