Execution Knows No Opponent (Part Two)

A week after crisp execution in nearly every phase against an overmatched Samford team, Florida State struggled to do anything well against an outstanding Oklahoma team that seized momentum early and never looked back.

That Florida State lost to Oklahoma should certainly surprise no one; the Sooners came into the year an early favorite for the national title race and a roster stocked with experienced and highly recruited players. It shouldn't even be surprising that OU scored 47 points on the young 'Noles defense. But what surely very few expected was the poor play of the typically high-powered Seminole offense, which didn't perform much better against Oklahoma than did the Chris Weinke and Mark Richt-led Seminole offense in the 2001 Orange Bowl.

Christian Ponder, the 'Noles' Heisman-candidate quarterback, started hot, leading the 'Noles to a touchdown on their first drive, suggesting that the game would be the shootout everyone expected. Unfortunately, the 'Nole offense would not score again until a field goal in the fourth quarter, after the outcome had long been decided. And ultimately, it was the struggles of FSU's veteran offense that cost them a chance at this game (and let the game get out of hand). Though most will certainly put the majority of the blame on the defense for giving up 47 points (and OU could certainly have scored more), the truth is that whenever a game is this lopsided, it takes failures from more than one side of the ball. The offense quite simply could not afford not to get first downs and give OU good field position against the overmatched defense.

As Jimbo Fisher pointed out in his postgame press conference, the game ultimately hinged on the offense's inability to answer early, giving Oklahoma the momentum of a runaway freight train. Perhaps the most important play of the game was the first quarter block-in-the-back penalty called on FSU's Rodney Smith, costing the 'Noles around 35 yards of field position (going from about OU's 40 to the FSU 14). The offense then went three-and-out, giving OU excellent field position and leading to a quick 21–7 lead. Momentum can be a cruel mistress, and in this case, once things got rolling in the wrong direction, it only got worse. This game serves as a signal example of an "outlier" lopsided result stemming from one team getting shell-shocked early, not weathering the storm, and never recovering its psyche.

At the end of the day, that has to be the most frustrating thing for the new coaching staff—watching the film and recognizing that the culture change still has a ways to go, that even the veteran offense panicked when things didn't go smoothly and OU jumped ahead. Fisher has been preaching "process" over results since taking over as head coach; this is an example of how far this team has to go before it has truly digested that message. If the offense is to be as good as it should be this year, it must improve in its ability to find its feet when the momentum is going the other way—to this point it has either rolled or sputtered, with very little in-between.

And in order for that to happen, Christian Ponder has to step in and be the leader and player he is capable of being. I mentioned in this space last week that, despite the stats, Ponder had struggled with his accuracy against Samford. Unfortunately, those struggles continued against Oklahoma, but the spaces were smaller, leading to incompletions and interceptions. So far, through two games, Ponder has not been as sharp as he was before his injury; hopefully this week's game against BYU provides the necessary salve for whatever has caused that difference.

The other thing that needs to happen—and quickly—is that the young wide receivers need to step up, get separation, and provide a downfield threat. It is not as though the offense does not include downfield routes; rather, Oklahoma simply did not respect the young receivers and focused their attention on Easterling and Reed underneath. This was a game where the loss of Jarmon Fortson was quite visible, as Haulstead and Smith (especially the latter) had sub-par performances befitting their inexperience. It is also clear that Ponder either does not trust his arm or does not trust the young receivers one-on-one downfield; the offense simply has to have a downfield threat or it will not be effective.

As for the defense, things are not all bad. Had someone told me beforehand that FSU would limit the Oklahoma running game to 2.3 yards per carry, I would have been ecstatic, sure that the 'Noles would win the game. Yes, OU averaged 5.9 yards per play overall, but there was visible improvement over last year even in a game where the defense was dominated. The top goal for the game was to limit the OU running game and force Landry Jones to get hot for OU to win. And for the first time in a while, at least one goal seems to have been met. Unfortunately, Jones got red-hot, hit nearly every throw on the money, and the Seminole defense struggled to tackle OU's playmakers in the open field. But again, everyone knew that the new-look secondary would struggle against OU's uptempo passing game, especially if Jones got hot. It's the improvement against the run that is the positive from this game, and if the offense had kept some pressure on the Sooners, it is likely that the pass defense would have benefited as well.

Quick Hits

As stated earlier (and last week), Ponder has not looked like the same player in terms of his accuracy these first two weeks. The thing to watch against BYU is whether his throws hit his receivers in stride and whether he is hitting his backs without forcing them to turn around to catch the football.

Easterling continues to be the 'Noles best receiver, but he is better suited to be a #2 WR (as is Bert Reed, who is better in the slot). Haulstead and Smith desperately need to live up to their talent outside if this offense is to be successful.

Jermaine Thomas ran hard and well, though that was obscured by the overall struggles of the offense.

The offensive line actually didn't play poorly; most of the pressure came on overload blitzes and because of coverage downfield.

Werner will begin to get more and more snaps at defensive end if he continues to play as he has the first two weeks. White is likely to continue to start because of his leadership up front, but Werner will likely end up playing more snaps. This is a situation where it matters less who starts the game and more who plays when it's important.

Moody looks significantly better than Ochuko Jenije at safety. Jenije was close to winning the battle at corner but lost that battle to the younger Rhodes, and now quite simply does not look like a natural safety. Thanks to the depth problems at safety, he's the next best option, but Moody should recover that position as he gets healthy. Terrance Parks had a rough game on the edge, being too easily blocked by Oklahoma receivers.

Against bigger defenses, Chris Thompson's lack of size becomes more apparent. He's a strong kid, but he simply isn't suited for 3rd and 2 against a team like OU. FSU badly needs a bigger back (Smiley eventually? James Wilder, Jr.?) who can break some tough tackles in the box.

Amp McCloud may take Jacobbi McDaniel's starting spot if they keep playing like this. McCloud simply plays with more leverage and power. It's clear who the older player is, even if McCloud is the "new guy." Demonte McAllister continues to look like he has the best upside of the DT group. Any QB pressure from inside is likely to come fro McAllister or Dawkins (who is FSU's best DT at present) this year, with McAllister providing more pop from the position against the pass.

Cameron Erving should be suspended for two games, and it should be made quite public. This should be done even if he's redshirting for the year, simply because he made FSU look very bad with his stunt on the sidelines.


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