Fourth-best in Florida

Let's face it, USF came into Doak Campbell Stadium and intimidated FSU with their hitting and physical play. That USF was able to take the role of the aggressor was probably the most surprising thing that came out of Saturday's game—and the most concerning for watchers of the Seminole program.

This article is a day late because, quite frankly, I really didn't know what to write in response to the ‘Noles embarrassing loss to USF. I must confess that I did not expect FSU to lose this weekend, and I most certainly didn't expect them to be out-hit and appear outmanned, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Let's face it, USF came into Doak Campbell Stadium and intimidated FSU with their hitting and physical play. That USF was able to take the role of the aggressor was probably the most surprising thing that came out of Saturday's game—and the most concerning for watchers of the Seminole program.

That said, I will remind the readers of this section from my article last week, breaking down FSU's thumping of BYU:

"In much the same way I cautioned Seminole fans not to step off the ledge last week, it's important not to get too high this week. BYU was overmatched physically in a way that no other team FSU plays this year will be, so expectations for the rest of the season should be tempered accordingly."

Unfortunately, I didn't realize how suddenly (and forcefully) this difference would be visible. Unlike BYU's overmatched defensive front, USF's defensive line was the quickest FSU has played this year (yes, quicker than Miami), and their defensive ends absolutely clobbered FSU's offensive tackles. Jason Pierre-Paul had a defensive performance that would fit nicely in the resume of any FSU end from the 90s as he simply dominated FSU's overmatched tackles. It was unfortunately all too clear that both of FSU's tackles were in high school the year before last, and they simply weren't physical enough or strong enough to stem the USF pass rush, meaning that a noticeably gimpy Christian Ponder spent most of the day running for his life or on his back.

In watching the game I was forced to wonder how different it might have gone up front if the FSU offensive line ever actually had to block an elite, well-coached defensive end in practice. It was obvious that the combination of size, athleticism, and multiple pass-rush moves (on top of a lot of stunts) was something our tackles hadn't really seen before, which is an indictment of our own pass rush (especially our ends) as much as anything else.

Even more frustrating is how the FSU defensive staff seems not to have learned how to stop the zone read play. This was my one concern coming into the game (‘Nole fans will recall how Boston College used that play to run down the field in the fourth quarter last year, despite having a quarterback playing with cement shoes), and USF did not disappoint, running the Seminole defense ragged as FSU attempted to defend it in essentially the same manner they did against BC. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results, the FSU defense is certifiably insane. But again, that's not exactly news, as I've been criticizing the ‘Nole defense for about five years now (when many others were ready to plot an assassination attempt against Jeff Bowden and his offensive staff, I kept pointing out that the defense was having the same problems, just less visible at the time).

Of course, the defense only gave up 14 points on two big plays, so they do not bear the entire blame, but the fact that they allowed over 100 rushing yards to a redshirt freshman quarterback and allowed USF to run the ball at will all game certainly did not help matters (recall that USF missed two field goals). The ‘Noles are fortunate that USF couldn't throw the football or it could have been even uglier.

In fact, another surprising aspect of this game is that the score was as close as it was: Look at Florida State's miscues:

Three turnovers (on four fumbles, though the call on the Ponder fumble was wrong)
Stopped inside the 10 three times for zero points (once on an inexcusable no-call for pass interference on Goodman)
Long TD pass called back due to "holding"
Two blown coverages resulting in 70+ yard pass plays
Dropped a pick-six
Ending another fourth-quarter drive with of a phantom hold on Hudson (who was called for knocking the defender down with an open-handed punch to the sternum) on a 15-yard pass play into USF territory.
Allowing the opposing QB to gain over 100 yards rushing, mainly on designed run plays

After looking at that list, it's amazing that FSU didn't get beaten by more. It's also pretty clear that the ‘Noles, despite everything mentioned above, still should have won this game—even if they had only scored on their three trips inside the 10, the game would have had a very different outcome. But that's exactly the problem with this team: too much "what-if," not enough execution. At least on the offensive side of the ball, the players are being put into position to succeed. They simply have to execute their assignments, block, catch, and not fumble, and this game is a win.

Assorted Notes:

It's criminal at this point that Mister Alexander isn't on the field on every passing down. He's the one player who consistently gets to the quarterback. That's the biggest personnel mistake being made on defense right now.

We're not putting our defensive players into positions to succeed. We're asking players who can do one thing well but not another to do just the thing they don't do well. The first task of a coaching staff is to assess personnel, determining what each player can and can't do. The second is to put each player in positions where their strengths are maximized and their weaknesses hidden. Plain and simple, FSU is not doing that, and they haven't for years (ever wonder why Samari Rolle was in one-on-one coverage with a minute and a half left against Jaquez Green in 1997? It's inexplicable).

The players responsible for deep zones in the secondary bite on way too much. I couldn't tell if it was a cover-three or quarters, but either way, Dionte Allen bit on the low route in a high-low, allowing the long TD. The other long TD was similar: the safeties both bit on low routes and let a player behind them. Again, this is inexcusable. Terrence Parks also let a receiver behind him later but was fortunate to watch the kid drop the pass. When one player does it, it's his mistake. When it's done by multiple players, there's a coaching problem (this is mainly a problem with the safeties).

That said, Parks looked pretty good out there, and I'd like to see more of him. Hopefully, the next defensive staff will move him back to corner, where he has more potential, provided the defense isn't simply putting him on an island all the time.

Not going for it on fourth and one from the 43 was a mistake, even considering the failure on the goal line. Every statistical measure shows that teams are more likely to benefit by going for it in that situation.

Word on the street is that Bobby Bowden had more than usual to do with this week's offensive gameplan and playcalling, which explains why they went more conservative than usual on that side of the ball.

The rushing stats are deceptive, but still not good. On actual running plays, FSU rushed for 63 yards on 22 carries—still a paltry 2.9 yards per carry, but better than the 0.7 YPC once sacks are included (I'll never understand why college football counts sacks as negative rushing yardage).

Ty Jones did not look like himself against USF. Jermaine Thomas actually looked like a better fit running the football against that type of defense than Jones, but we didn't really give him much of a look. That said, Jones doesn't look quite as explosive as last year; I'm beginning to wonder if he's just a little too heavy and isn't quite comfortable with it yet. Pressley looked very explosive right up to the point where he got ear-holed. Chris Thompson has gotten too many carries this year in the wrong situations. He simply goes down too easily to run him on the outside zone play on an obvious running down.

Ponder still looked steady and composed and actually played a solid game, despite being under as much pressure as he'll face until this team plays Clemson. That was the one encouraging thing about this loss, though it's perhaps even more discouraging to lose a game in which the quarterback actually plays well.

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