Schoffel column: Fisher, 'Noles entering uncharted territory at 1-3

Ira Schoffel, Managing Editor
Warchant

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Gene Williams / Warchant.com

About 90 seconds after bracing his injured left leg to hobble onto a platform for his postgame interview Saturday night, Florida State tailback Jacques Patrick was asked an all-too-familiar question.

He offered an all-too-familiar answer.

“This happened to us last year versus North Carolina,” Patrick said. “This is not the first time something like this has happened to us. We rebounded well from the North Carolina game. … The biggest thing is just staying motivated.”

Unfortunately for the Florida State Seminoles, Patrick was right that they have experienced painful disappointments before. The 2016 team struggled to a 3-2 start and, in that North Carolina game, held a one-point lead in the final minute only to see the Tar Heels kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.

That loss ended a 22-game home win streak. Kind of like Saturday’s 24-20 loss to rival Miami ended a seven-game series win streak.

But in another respect, Patrick was also wrong. While it’s true that the Seminoles have had to rally following numerous defeats during the past three seasons, they haven’t been in a position quite like this. Not even head coach Jimbo Fisher has been in a position like this -- not during his career as an offensive coordinator or head coach anyway.

One month after opening the season with a No. 3 national ranking, FSU is 1-3 on the season. The Seminoles are 1-2 in ACC play. Fisher has never had a 1-3 record as a head coach. He was never 1-3 as an offensive coordinator.

The last time Fisher was part of a football team that only won one of its first four games was in 1998, when he was the quarterbacks coach at Auburn. That team, which also happened to be the only other time Fisher started a true freshman quarterback, actually opened 1-5 and finished the year at 3-8.

So, even for Fisher, this is uncharted territory. And it’s unlikely whether he has any better idea of whether the Seminoles can salvage this season than the players do.

The worst start Fisher has had to overcome as head coach came in 2011, when the Seminoles were 2-3 through five games. But the difference that year was two of those losses -- on the road at Clemson and at Wake Forest -- could at least be partially blamed on starting quarterback EJ Manuel being out with an injury. This team won’t be getting a veteran QB back in the lineup.

The other challenge with this particular situation is that every positive sign of potential also brings with it an equally significant cause for concern.

* The FSU defense showed signs of dominance in the first half Saturday against Miami, holding the Hurricanes to 57 yards of total offense. But then that unit got gashed for 24 points and 280 yards in the final two quarters.

* Against a stout Miami defense, the FSU running game was outstanding with Patrick and freshman Cam Akers combining for 212 yards on 31 carries. But Patrick sustained a leg injury during the game and was walking gingerly afterward.

* Freshman quarterback James Blackman proved once again that he can make plays in the clutch, connecting on late touchdown throws with the game on the line. But he also continues to struggle mightily in the first halves, at times looking confused and inaccurate.

* This FSU team as a whole continues to display resilience, playing extremely hard Saturday despite a poor start to the season. At the same time, this team also has shown a penchant for failing to meet expectations; the Seminoles have now posted an 11-7 record over their last 18 games. They are 15-9 over their last 24.

After Saturday’s loss, Fisher correctly pointed out that the Seminoles’ defeats to N.C. State (27-21) and Miami (24-20) could have gone either way and that FSU could easily be 3-1 right now. At the same time, if not for a last-minute TD pass from Blackman at Wake Forest, the Seminoles could be 0-4.

And the injuries also seem to be mounting.

Top wide receiver Auden Tate turned in another gutsy performance, hauling in three receptions for 56 yards despite being in immense pain with a shoulder injury. Fellow starting receiver Keith Gavin left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, which Fisher would not discuss after the game.

Starting safety Trey Marshall also left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury that Fisher wouldn’t discuss. Offensive lineman Landon Dickerson continues to have issues with an apparent ankle or foot injury he sustained at Wake Forest. And then there’s Patrick.

Despite all of those issues and the 1-3 record, Fisher insisted late Saturday that he continues to feel better about this team and its prospects for the rest of the season.

“I was proud of our team,” he said. “I think we really grew today and got better. Still 1-3 and I understand that, but at the same time, we are getting better. There is still a good football team out there and there is a season out there to be had.

“Looking forward to having a great week of practice and put this behind us in 24 hours.”

For Florida State fans, it’s an all-too-familiar refrain. The Seminoles will have to flush another disappointing defeat and strive to get better. They’ve had to do it time and time again during the past two or three seasons.

But make no mistake, they’ve never had to rally from depths quite like this. That’s not to say it can’t happen. But this is clearly uncharted territory for the ‘Noles, and for Jimbo Fisher.

Contact managing editor Ira Schoffel at ira@warchant.com and follow @IraSchoffel on Twitter.

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