Inability to run the ball cost the Seminoles in their 20-15 loss to N.C. State last weekend and could be a concern for the remainder of the season because of injuries and shaky play on the offensive front.
"We've got to get something going on the ground if we are going to win these last three games," quarterback Drew Weatherford said.
Easier said than done. The Seminoles (7-2) will be without the services of starting tailback Leon Washington (ankle sprain) for the second straight game Saturday at Clemson (5-4). The offensive line is shorthanded, too – FSU learned that shoulder surgery will keep guard John Frady will be out for the season earlier in the week.
Through nine games, the Seminoles have totaled just 998 rushing yards, 338 of which came in routs of The Citadel and Wake Forest. Compare that to the 1944 they totaled last season with much of the same backfield personnel in place.
Washington, an all-America candidate at season's start, has managed just 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"The accolades are great but this season has been about doing what is best for the team," Washington said. "It's been fun for me to watch some other guys step out."
When opposing defenses clamped against the run during the first half of the season, the numbers of runners Washington and Lorenzo Booker suffered while a freshman-fueled passing game soared.
The past two weeks, the reverse has happened. Maryland and N.C. State have played the pass, forcing Weatherford to make more complicated decisions in the face of seven and eight-man coverage schemes.
The running game answered the bell against the Terrapins with 135 yards but never fully untracked itself last week. The Seminoles were unable to establish any kind of balance despite the Wolfpack rushing just three on mist downs.
"It's definitely hurt. In every game, it seems like teams are respecting the run less and less," Weatherford said. "The (defensive line) is rushing up the field a lot more aggressively and not anticipating us to run the ball very often. The DB's aren't paying attention to play-action fakes.
"It seems like they know we are going to pass the ball every time and it has made it difficult."
FSU still owns the ACC's top offense, but over three-quarters of its 420 yards per game comes via the pass.
"I have full confidence that we'll get things straightened out," Booker said. "We have to."
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