Winning Ugly

On a Saturday which featured several highly ranked teams falling to lesser teams, Florida State managed to dodge the upset bullet. Every team has down weeks—and managing to win those games is the difference between good and average, between great and good.

It was evident from the start that the coaching staff wanted to use this game as something of a passing scrimmage, opening the game with 24 called passes and 7 runs in the first half. Fans may question the wisdom of "losing balance" in this way, but there was a reasonable rationale behind this decision. To be blunt, the Seminole staff didn't see any way Boston College's offense would score more than 17 points on FSU's defense—a fact Jimbo Fisher admitted after the game (as it turns out, they were right, as BC's offense produced 12 points, even after a couple big plays on the first two drives).

Coach Fisher and Ponder
Steve Chase,

As a result, the staff decided that this game presented an opportunity to work out some kinks in an area of concern so far this year: the passing game. The Eagles' run defense is outstanding, and given their offensive ineptitude, it seemed like the ideal time to work on the dimension of the offense that has been missing. Christian Ponder has struggled (for him) this year (thanks in large part to nagging injuries), the young wide receivers are still not quite as reliable as they need to be, and the passing game simply has not been in sync to this point.

Given the upcoming schedule, Boston College presented the best opportunity to give Ponder and the young receivers a chance to get on the same page, giving the offense some much-needed balance going into the latter part of the year, which will present several teams capable of beating the 'Noles. That meant intentionally abandoning balance for one game in order to get more balanced in future games when they'll need to be able to throw to win. So the object was to throw as much as possible against a team that could be used for that purpose—a gamble, yes, but a relatively safe one, given BC's lack of offensive firepower.

Unfortunately, Ponder got dinged again, Boston College came in with an excellent defensive plan that caused a little confusion at times, and the 'Noles had more trouble than they had bargained for—including four costly turnovers. But even after the first three turnovers, the game was never in doubt—until an unfortunate pick-six off a tipped ball put BC ahead late in the game. At that point, the passing scrimmage ended. Give the staff credit—the moment they needed to scrap the plan, they pulled the plug, riding the dominant running game to a win, including an 8+ minute drive to close out the game in the fourth quarter.

Was it the right move, given the way the game turned out? I would argue yes, if only because the offensive staff is significantly more concerned about the continued struggles in the passing game than they are letting on publicly. Fisher made a calculated gamble, got a bad draw, and still won. That is the essence of a good bet—one in which you win despite not getting the breaks. The potential payoff was sizeable—getting the passing game off the snide going into the season's toughest stretch of games.

Unfortunately for the Seminoles, this did not happen, with Christian Ponder coming out of the game even more banged up, with a ruptured bursa sac that will certainly keep him from throwing much during the bye week. The receivers also had a less than ideal outing, with several drops, poor blocks, poor (and a few wrong) routes, and lapses in concentration. But despite the failed effort to jump-start the passing game, a W is a W, and I'm betting Ohio State or South Carolina would have been happy to trade results with FSU this weekend.

Smith and Alexander have been active this year
Steve Chase,

Quick Hits:

Terrence Parks has become a man this year. He has provided stability at the strong safety position, consistently showing up in the right positions and taking good angles against both the run and the pass. Yes, he should have drawn an interference call on one of his four (4!) pass breakups, but the no-call was in part a result of his attacking the ball exactly as he is coached to do it. Along with Xavier Rhodes, Parks has been a quiet but outstanding member of the secondary this year. And given how thin the safety position is, Parks may well be the most valuable player on the defense right now.

Andrew Datko is still not close to healthy, as can be seen by his lack of physical play in the running game. This is a kid who is playing on guts, and I'm a bit concerned about how he'll be able to handle run blocking against the better fronts coming in the next few games.

The defensive tackles have slowly been becoming dominant—I continue to say that Demonte McAllister has the highest upside of the group, being a potential early first-round pick, and he played like it in a short stretch of the second half.

I'd like to see a bit more rotation up front on defense, as the starters are going to get worn down a bit in games where the offense isn't able to consume a lot of clock. The two young ends haven't played especially well in their opportunities the last few weeks, but they need to see the field situationally if for no other reason than to give the starters some air.

I expect to see more of the true freshman receivers—Greg Dent, Kenny Shaw, and Jared Haggins will all start seeing more time. Fisher's passing game really needs at least six reliable receivers to run it well, and the kids are getting closer to ready each week. Dent flashed some nice explosiveness on his one catch against BC.

Though a bursa sac injury is not especially serious, Ponder's elbow injury is potentially a significant concern; I would expect that he spends some time with specialists during the bye week to determine the best course of action. This kind of swelling and pain in the elbow, though not disabling, does affect how much zip a quarterback can put on the ball, since most of the football's velocity comes from the extension of the arm in the throwing motion—a movement directly involving the elbow.

This team, while vastly improved, still has four very lose-able regular-season games left: NC St., North Carolina, Clemson, and Florida. All of these teams—the last three in particular—have the players to beat this team. Fisher and his staff have a very challenging assignment ahead to keep the motivation and energy levels high enough each week to come out on top.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing to come out of this game was Fisher's decision to go for the fourth down conversion to seal the game in the fourth quarter, a decision he explained was the result of wanting to "win it" and not rely on Boston College to "lose it." Fisher again chose to play to win rather than trying not to lose—and that's precisely why this team didn't find a way to lose this game, as they likely would have in the past few years.

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