If there was a hangover from last week's defeat at Georgia Tech, it certainly didn't last very long. This game, despite the ‘Noles even trailing 10-0 early and then giving up a short-field touchdown due to a muffed punt, never felt as though it was in doubt. In many ways, the Clemson team Florida State faced this week looked a great deal like the FSU teams of the last few years—enough skill position talent to scare you, a QB with a good number of starts under his belt, and an abysmal offensive line.
Florida State dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football (surely music to the ears of Seminole fans everywhere), got steady play from QB Christian Ponder, and churned out 266 rushing yards in defeating a team that had won the last three games in this series. More significant is the workmanlike way the team went about its business—the intensity was as high as it has been all season on both sides of the football.
The defense was finally able to create negative plays and even score. On the other hand, there were still too many breakdowns in gap control, allowing a few too many big plays out of the running game. The secondary played well, however, with no major breakdowns that I saw aside from the Spiller TD. Ochuko Jenije is finally flashing the potential that had some scouts feeling he was the most talented CB in the southeast when he came out of high school. With a bit more seasoning and confidence, he should be able to make some noise next year. Korey Mangum continues to surprise with his solid play as well.
On another note, the officiating in this game was abysmal—among other things, Patrick Robinson was held on Spiller's receiving TD, the clip on Kevin McNeil actually qualified for two penalties (it was also an illegal block below the waist since the WR was coming to the inside), and the poor communication between the referee and our staff at the end of the first half cost FSU a shot at more points. The refreshing thing is that despite these bad breaks, this FSU team is still good enough to win comfortably against a team that has legitimate weapons.
The biggest story of the last two games is Jermaine Thomas' emergence. The kid just has great vision and a feel for running with the football. It's almost shocking at times how much space he seems to have to run the football; part of this is an excellent job by the emerging OL, but part of it is his knack for hitting the right seam at just the right time and at full speed. Now that he's getting more comfortable in the offense and has a better grasp of his assignments in pass protection, look for him to have an increased role the rest of the year.
That said, Antone Smith is also running awfully well right now. Thomas' emergence only helps take some of the load off Smith's legs, and his last run against Clemson showed how having fresh legs late in a game is so valuable. He is going to be very close to a thousand yard season (if FSU does somehow make it to the ACCCG, he should get it).
This was one of the best blocking games by the FSU fullbacks I've seen this year, if not the best. For all the abuse Marcus Sims took this week, he had a tremendous game against Clemson, with several critical blocks paving the way to huge gains. When the fullbacks and Caz Piurowski's block like they have been, it makes life much easier for the young offensive line.
Neefy Moffett still takes way too many plays off. He is good for a big (sometimes a huge) play every so often, but he won't last long in the NFL if he continues to loaf on half his plays. Had he gone all-out on the play, Spiller probably doesn't score on that first screen pass.
Markus White had a breakout game. Hopefully that continues through the rest of the year so teams can't focus on Everette Brown. The defensive staff's decision to play four defensive ends on passing downs was a good one and should have happened a long time ago. Once Mincey is healthy, I'd like to see him in at one of the tackle positions in those situations, however. Either way, White has tremendous potential once he gets a full year working with Stroud and the Seminole strength staff.
Greg Carr should have come down with that interception in the end zone. That said, had the ball been thrown half a second earlier, it would have been an easy score.
Ponder continues to show major growth. At this point, there's very little in his game that won't get better simply through more reps and more game experience. There are times he could get rid of the football a bit early, and he missed a couple reads in this game, but overall he's playing very steady football—and without the "happy feet" he showed early in the year. He's also showing more comfort setting his feet and throwing to the intermediate middle zone, which is really the next step in his development. I couldn't feel much more comfortable with him at this point. It's almost awkward for Seminole fans not to have their hearts in their throats every time their QB drops back to pass, but Ponder just exudes calm and has shown no propensity for making major mistakes.
Datko and Spurlock are keepers on the OL. Spurlock has been a wonderful surprise since Furlong's injury, and once these two have gotten a year or two in a college weight program, they're going to be all-ACC candidates. Right tackle is still a concern, though Greenlee played much better than Sanders after replacing him on the fourth series, but neither player is exactly "solid" at this point. Greenlee is a better run blocker and seems more physical than Sanders, though Sanders has much better feet. Either way, we're probably going to have to keep Piurowski on the right side quite a bit to help with pass protection when we play UF.
Speaking of UF, the Gators had better not overlook these young ‘Noles when they come into Doak on Thanksgiving weekend. FSU's offense is now good enough to score with the Gators; the question is whether the Seminole defense can step up and slow down UF's speedy playmakers. Either way, that game is beginning to look very interesting, though it is still off the national radar.
The ‘Noles just need to go out and have another solid week of practice and take care of business against Boston College. The Eagles don't have an offensive player or matchup that scares me, so as long as FSU does its business, this one shouldn't be closer than fourteen points.