TALLAHASSEE — When Florida State running back Cam Akers saw the hole open up on the second play of Saturday’s third quarter against Wake Forest, his first thought was obvious.
Sometime after that 58-yard touchdown in the Seminoles’ 38-17 romp, something else popped into Akers’ head.
Relief. He had finally broken another big run.
“That’s what I’m used to doing,” Akers said.
Or what he was used to doing, at least. Explosive plays helped Akers become one of the country’s top 2017 recruits and break Dalvin Cook’s freshman rushing record last year.
But those breakaway runs have disappeared this season. So have most of the smaller ones. An FSU rushing attack expected to thrive under first-year coach Willie Taggart is instead on track for its worst season since before Taggart was born.
“This is Florida State. We keep running backs,” Taggart said. “We’ve got good running backs, and they need to run the ball. But we say that’s what we want our identity to be. We’re still working to get to where we want it.”
The numbers show how much work the Seminoles have ahead of them to get there.
FSU’s 2.92 yards per carry are the lowest of Taggart’s career and the Seminoles’ worst since 1969. It’s hard to see that number improving much Saturday against No. 2 Clemson, which has one of the nation’s best defensive lines and held ‘the Noles under one yard per carry last year.
The Seminoles’ biggest culprit is a depleted offensive line that’s been forced to use a different starting lineup every game because of injuries and attrition. But the stable of blue-chip running backs deserves some of the blame, too.
Last year, Akers had as many rushes of at least 10 yards (29) as Penn State phenom Saquon Barkley. This year, his nine through seven games aren’t close to the top 100 nationally. Only two of his 101 rushes have covered more than 20 yards: his 85-yarder against Virginia Tech and the 58-yard score Saturday.
“I think early in the year he was just pressing,” Taggart said. “Nothing was going well for us, and he wanted to help his football team. He was trying to do more.”
Coming out of the open date, Akers realized that trying to do more by looking for long runs was making him do less. He needed to be patient and trust his instincts and teammates.
“Nothing big,” Akers said, “but a lot of little things that can make a difference in a big play.”
Finally, those little things paid off Saturday with two big plays to start the third quarter.
Akers began with his prettiest rush of the game. He darted left, split two defenders and broke a tackle on his way to 17 yards.
“When I make a big play, I feel like there’s going to be a lot of big plays after that,” Akers said.
Like the next one, out of a nearly identical formation.
Instead of charging the hole immediately, Akers showed the patience he had been lacking. He stuttered slightly in the backfield, giving center Alec Eberle enough time to seal off Wake Forest’s middle linebacker. Eberle’s block opened the hole Akers needed. Akers’ speed did the rest.
Even with that score, FSU’s run game didn’t dominate. With Akers sitting at 99 yards late, the Seminoles gave him two chances to secure his first 100-yard game of the season. His first attempt was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, and the second was nullified because of an illegal block in the back.
But Akers believes Saturday was a sign that FSU’s run game is close to finally breaking through.
“It’s right there…” Akers said. “We’re right there.”
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.