The Seminoles opened last night against Oklahoma State in Dallas, the site of the 2014 National Championship game. The defending champions have been candid about their Dallas to Dallas ambitions, but last night’s 37-31 win suggests the road back to Dallas for the title game will be more perilous than widely accepted. Here are my thoughts.
The Heisman trophy winner truly sucked in the Spring Game, and in game one he showed enough of his shortcomings to raise at least a yellow caution flag. Winston held the ball too long and displayed a lack of awareness in the pocket that resulted in a few long sacks and a lack of fluidity when he decided to run. Bear in mind, his 28 yard touchdown run was fantastic, but it was a draw bydesign and required no read on his part. When he tried a similar play on a subsequent drive, he ran into traffic for a negligible gain. Winston forced throws particularly to Rashad Greene which resulted in a turnover, and he had significant difficulty identifying defenders dropping underneath FSU’s crossing routes (his second pick in the red zone and a near pick in the 4th quarter). One of Winston’s strengths was his seemingly effortless ability to spread the ball different receivers all over the field. His decision making and rhythm must improve for him to reach or surpass his 2013 level of play.
Jameis still accounted for over 400 yards of total offense and was good when he needed to be with his two second half touchdowns. It is mindful to remember that a quarterback is often defined by his ability to make plays in the fourth quarter of close games during a subpar night as much as anything.
THE RUNNING GAME
The veteran offensive line did not consistently control the line of scrimmage against what is not believed to be a vaunted front seven from Oklahoma State, but they were not helped by Karlos Williams who ran tentatively, dancing about for open running space instead of claiming chain-moving yardage. This is a step back as Williams gift as a runner last season was his decisive, runaway freight train going downhill approach. He must not lose his identity as he is not a gifted, space-finding runner. Mario Pender was much better as he hit the holes at speed and made the most of what was available. It will be interesting to see who the coaches trust as we go forward. The running game was hurt by lack of usage that could be attributed to negative plays, Winston’s lower than expected completion percentage or a lack of commitment on the part of the coaches.
Too many and some of them from a lack of discipline, but it must be said that the hypersensitivity of officiating unsportsmanlike conduct is reaching a unacceptable level of pussification. Football is a visceral and violent game. The people that enjoy football are aroused by visceral violence or have a significant gambling problem. Neither of these types of people are likely to be offended by exuberant, emotional celebrations or mild taunting. Know your customer and throttle back the bullshit.
Nate Andrews pick six was an outstanding play and typified the energy and awareness of the Seminole defense in the first quarter. They controlled the line of scrimmage, swarmed to the ball and made things difficult for Oklahoma State. That evaporated over the remaining three quarters of the game as the team controlled the line of scrimmage only sporadically while conceding running lanes and losing people in coverage. It was unclear if this was due to fatigue, adjustments by Oklahoma State or a lack thereof by Florida State, but it was clearly an unbecoming performance on the whole. When the Noles blitzed it frequently came off the edges and seemed telegraphed, but not in the panic-inducing, holy shit they are bringing the house and we don’t have enough people to block them way that actually induces panic and creates bad plays and turnovers. Oklahoma State was entirely too comfortable for most of the night, and it is disconcerting that few if any adjustments seemed to have a positive impact.
FSU is fortunate to have won this game. The offense was mistake prone and generally inefficient for the better part of three quarters, and the defense was lost energy and effectiveness as the game wore on. FSU benefitted greatly by two mistakes in the punting game, and a fortuitous fumble in the fourth quarter. FSU must honestly assess it’s performance and make meaningful improvements or this season will be a bitter disappointment.