Ever since their loss to Miami (FL) in early October, when they jumped out to a 27-7 lead before letting it slip away, the Florida State Seminoles have fallen behind early in games. Even in their only win since, against Wake Forest, they trailed by double-digits in the first quarter.
The Seminoles have a tendency of becoming one-dimensional and abandoning the run game, but it is even easier to do that when you are down by multiple scores early in the first 15 minutes. Over the past four games, FSU has been down by as many as 45 points before it put points on the scoreboard. The Seminoles have played good teams in all of these games, but they have still been stagnant in every first quarter.
To begin this streak of slow starts, Florida State trailed Wake Forest 10-0 early, but finally scored a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter. They eventually scored 31 more points to make it 38 unanswered and earn the 38-17 win, but they easily could have fallen behind and given up after a heart-breaking loss the week before to Louisville.
On their first three offensive drives against the Demon Deacons, they only picked up a total of 20 yards on 12 plays. On the final drive of the first quarter, they went 60 yards on six plays and was capped by a three-yard Cam Akers touchdown. They almost scored a touchdown on the next drive as well, but Keith Gavin fumbled the ball just before reaching the end zone.
FSU then followed that up with a huge loss to Clemson, 59-10. The ‘Noles didn’t allow points immediately, but once they did, they came in bunches. Florida State went into the second quarter tied at zero, but then allowed 28 points before halftime and then 17 more before kicking a field goal to end the scoreless drought.
This may not have been as much a slow start since they didn’t allow a score early, but it was definitely not a good start as a team since they weren’t able to score, either.
In the two games following the loss to the Tigers, the Seminoles allowed three scores and fell behind 17 points before scoring a touchdown. Against NC State, they were down 17 before scoring and then giving up 10 more points. The passing game played well against the Wolfpack, but there just wasn’t enough from the defense or run game.
The Notre Dame game started the same, but unraveled differently. After falling behind 17-0, the ‘Noles scored a touchdown and then gave up a two-point conversion that extended the Irish lead. Notre Dame then scored 23 more points compared to just seven for FSU.
There is definitely a trend here. But it may not be that they start slow and don’t have enough to come back. It may be that this team just isn’t nearly as good as the teams they are playing. In most of these games, it is taking them a while to put points on the board, but they are also getting scored on in bunches.
There are many reasons for these struggles, but there are three main ones that account for most of the issues.
1. No Real Run Game Threat
This issue hurts the entire team. There is not much of a run game at all and that leads to the passing attack not being as effective and the defense spending more time on the field. Cam Akers, who had over 1,000 yards last season, is only averaging 56 yards per game and 4.2 per carry. They are having to abandon the ground-game since they are falling behind so early and by large amounts, but even when they are trying to run the ball, they are having no success.
With no real threat of the run game, the defense can keep more players in coverage. And with a turn-style of an offensive line, the defense doesn’t need to blitz, either. So passing the ball has become even more difficult. And since most drives lead to 3rd-and-long situations after failed run attempts and incomplete passes, the defense is being thrown right back onto the field after maybe a few minutes of rest. Which leads to…
2. Defensive Breakdowns
I’m not saying the defense is bad. They aren’t. They are put in bad situations and are also pretty young on the back end. And even when they are successful, they are being thrown onto the field after extremely short offensive drives, leading to a tired defense that can’t keep up with the offenses they are trying to stop.
The defense has improved their national numbers as far as yards allowed, but they are still pretty low in points allowed. They are currently 68th in yards allowed per game at 404, but 93rd in points per game allowed at 31.6. They don’t have the offense to keep up with scoring like that. But it isn’t only the defenses fault. They have been good on third downs as a defense at 36 percent, but short fields allow teams more opportunity to score.
3. The Inability to Sustain Long Drives
The ‘Noles offense has had no success in putting together long drives. A big part of that is not having a consistent run game, but that is also in large part because the reliance on big plays. For Florida State to score, the Seminoles almost always have to have a big play. There have not been many long drives when they methodically drive down the field.
But most drives are short, whether they lead to points or not. Over the past four games, the Seminoles have had 57 drives: 41 of those drives have been six plays or less (71 percent), while 35 have been less than two minutes in length (61 percent). That is a sign of how bad the offense has been, but also that even when they score, they are throwing the defense right back onto the field.
Nov. 17: vs. Boston College
Nov. 24: vs. Florida