Schoffel Column: No excuse for many of FSU's problems

Ira Schoffel, Managing Editor
Warchant

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If Jimbo Fisher or anyone in the Florida State camp is looking for excuses right now, they certainly have plenty from which to choose.

They lost their starting quarterback in week one.

There were more costly injuries in Saturday’s 27-21 loss to N.C. State, including a lower-back injury to senior linebacker Matthew Thomas and a shoulder injury to junior receiver Auden Tate. The Tate ailment was particularly significant; he was enjoying a career day with nine catches for 138 yards and one touchdown when he went down early in the third quarter.

They were deprived of a tune-up game against Louisiana-Monroe by Hurricane Irma. In the 53 days since the start of preseason practice, they had played all of one game, which Fisher admitted Saturday has caused issues with focus and motivation.

And the officiating Saturday was at best questionable. FSU’s coaches have had issues in the past with ACC referee Jeff Flanagan and his crew, and Saturday’s game won’t do anything to allay their concerns.

So, if the Seminoles choose to seek external reasons for their 0-2 start to the 2017 season, they could find plenty to comfort them. But if they sincerely reflect on what is going wrong right now, my guess is they will find much more discomfort.

This clearly isn’t the team anyone thought it would be.

The defense was said to be one of the best in the country, the offense was expected to be much more explosive with an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions, and the maturity and leadership developed from last season’s struggles were expected to be a key intangible.

So far, the ‘Noles are 0-2 on the field and 0-for-3 in those important categories.

Let's start with the defense.

Most everyone seemed excited about the way they played against Alabama, but I have to admit I wondered at the time if that game told us the whole story. Now, we absolutely have to view that group -- and defensive coordinator Charles Kelly -- in a different light. Despite playing well for stretches in both games, they have gotten off to awful starts in each of them.

* FSU is 0-2 for the first time since 1989; What's next for the 'Noles?

Against Alabama, the Crimson Tide’s first three drives ended with a touchdown and two field goal attempts. N.C. State’s first two drives went for a field goal and a touchdown. Combined, those drives saw FSU’s opponents rack up 313 yards on 45 plays -- that’s an average of 6.96 yards per play. Those five possessions resulted in two touchdowns, two field goals, one missed field goal and zero punts.

And in so many critical situations on Saturday, Kelly’s group came up short -- from the very first drive, when they gave up a 27-yard pass on third-and-13, to the last one, when they allowed N.C. State tailback Nyheim Hines to break off a 15-yard run on third-and-7. The last one salted away the game.

The story isn’t much rosier on offense.

For all the offseason talk about the improved offensive line and this incredible stable of running backs -- a tailback group that features three five-star prospects and three four-stars -- Fisher doesn’t seem to trust them very much at all. For the second game in a row, Fisher came out throwing early and then decided to almost abandon the run when they fell behind.

And it’s not as if they were getting stymied when they did try to run. Top two tailbacks Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers combined to rush for 94 yards on 20 carries. That’s a very impressive average against one of the nation’s best run defenses. But Fisher called only 20 designed runs for the entire game, compared to 44 designed passes -- 38 actual attempts plus four sacks and two QB scrambles.

It's a strange approach when you have a true freshman in James Blackman making his first career start at quarterback. And likely part of the reason the Seminoles have scored just two total touchdowns in two games.

And then there are the issues of maturity and leadership.

After struggling to a 3-2 start early last season, FSU’s players seemed to take major strides in these areas. Not only did they not give up when most of their 2016 goals were dashed, but they seemed to play harder. They got more focused and more disciplined. It’s how they were able to win seven of their last eight games and end up claiming an Orange Bowl championship.

But in a game where they needed those intangible traits to emerge in the worst way -- trailing all day with a first-time starter at quarterback -- they lacked them at all the critical moments.

They committed a slew of costly penalties. They made mistakes at the most inopportune times, whether it be a breakdown on the offensive line or a missed tackle on defense. And it appeared that at least one player lost his composure after the game. While it’s unclear if words were exchanged or if the FSU players saw N.C. State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb spitting at midfield, defensive end Josh Sweat had to intervene in what appeared to be a brewing post-game altercation.

When I asked Sweat after the game what transpired, he said he had to explain to his teammates that they can’t lose their cool no matter what happens.

“That’s not us,” Sweat said. “That’s not what we do.”

OK, but who are they? And what do they do?

Are they the team that started the season ranked No. 3? Or are they the one that now looks vulnerable against at least five more opponents on their schedule? They certainly look like the latter.

All we know for sure is they are 0-2 on the field and 0-for-3 in areas that were supposed to be their biggest strengths.

Whether they focus on the excuses or the very real problems will give us the final answer.

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

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Talk about this story with other Florida State football fans in the Tribal Council

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