Saturday was the third week in a row that Florida State dominated an opponent in all three phases of the football game. The 'Noles put up 600-plus yards of offense, held Wake Forest to 126 yards, and played with field position leverage the entire game. Let's take a look at some of the facets of FSU's game that worked best and some that the team will work to sharpen this week.
At this point, it is becoming routine to watch the Seminole defense dominate its opponent at the line of scrimmage. Florida State generated 11.0 tackles for loss Saturday, and save for one breakdown in the first quarter that went for 34 rushing yards, the defense was flawless. It was the kind of disciplined effort that once and for all put last year's Wake Forest game to bed.
Deacon receiver Michael Campanaro lined up in the slot most of the afternoon, pitting himself against nickel back Tyler Hunter. Hunter was physical at the line of scrimmage and held his zone with consistency, which was a large part that Campanaro only had a pair of catches. The Seminole secondary was a blanket, while its front-four was an assault weapon - a deadly combination.
Straight ahead runs
We'll get to the goal-line shortcoming in a bit, but this game should be considered a success in the run blocking department. Tailback Chris Thompson hit two home runs Saturday for a reason, and it all started with the offensive line's ability to generate large holes with nasty physical play.
Florida State ran for 385 yards, with about half coming from Thompson. Quarterback EJ Manuel got the attack going with some first half speed options - plays rarely seen since Manuel announced himself in a back-up role for an injured Christian Ponder. Sophomore James Wilder Jr. ran with a purpose in the second half again behind an offensive line that was not perfect, but effective overall.
The Seminole special teams cemented early on that Wake Forest was in deep trouble. Whether it was Rashad Greene returning another punt for a score, true freshman Cason Beatty pinning Wake inside its own 10-yard line (twice), or kicker Dustin Hopkins creating a chance to pin the Deacons on kick returns, the Seminoles showed a blend of toughness and discipline that created field leverage all afternoon. When an offense struggles early, there's no remedy better than generating point-blank opportunities on defense and special teams.
The passing game
Coach Jimbo Fisher said it best after Saturday's game - the Seminole passing game was inconsistent because of three factors: the line didn't block at times, the receivers made some mental errors, and the quarterback missed some throws.
We'll start with pass protection. Both tackles, Cameron Erving and Daniel Glauser, had learning moments Saturday, getting beat on simple pass rush moves by the Demon Deacon edge rushers. The 3-4 defense does complicate matters for the offensive line assignment-wise, but even still, there were breakdowns that saw completely free shots on Manuel. The Seminole quarterback's sheer athleticism covered one such play, when he spun off a rush from his left and turned a negative into a touchdown pass to Rodney Smith. Expect Menelik Watson to be back at right tackle as he should practice with regularity this week, and expect the pass protection breakdowns to get some attention as Clemson brings more athleticism to the table, albeit in a 4-3 base defense.
The receivers also made some mistakes reminiscent of week one against Murray State, a game in which Fisher criticized the group for not being detailed. To begin the game, there was a consistent sloppiness with pre-snap lineup, communication with Manuel as the play was called, and a few occasions of route-running mistakes. To put it simply: if Manuel misses an open receiver, but coach Fisher chooses to pull aside the receiver and not his quarterback after that play, chances are the quarterback was throwing to the correct spot. That type of post-play correction happened on more than a few occasions Saturday.
With the receiver corrections being said, Manuel also missed on a few plays himself. At times, receivers came wide open and Manuel either chose an odd trajectory to throw the ball or plainly missed them. Route-running certainly goes a long way with what a quarterback is capable of doing, but even in situations where the route depth could be off, a quarterback should be able to adjust and hit an open man. That did not always happen Saturday with Manuel.
Manuel's post-game assessment where he says the passing game needs to be more "detailed" could not be more right. In a game that was a white-wash and produced over 600 yards of offense, there is still much room for detailed play.
Goal to go
An old source of frustration reared its head again this weekend, as the Seminoles were stuffed in a goal-line situation three straight plays. It's not always easy to see why these things occur, but it would appear that the three plays were a combination of two principle keys. One, the Seminoles simply got beat at the point of attack in a couple of chances. Two, it would appear that Wilder didn't use his eyes to find the right place/hole to attack. Granted, this is merely the end to one series in one game, but goal-line situations against an inferior opponent like Wake Forest should hardly offer a challenge to a straight-ahead rushing attack. The failure of the offense to punch it in this week will also draw attention from coach Fisher, who is a proponent of winning situational football.
Play of the game
Thompson scores from 74 yards
Here's a moment that will bring a smile to offensive line coach Rick Trickett and his group up front. Out of a single-back shoutgun with three wide receivers and a tight end in to block, Florida State ran to the weak side of the field (Manuel's right in this case) looking for a big play. Thanks to dominant efforts by Glauser, tight end Nick O'Leary, right guard Tre Jackson and downfield blocking from Greene (Rashad didn't physically block the defender, but he out-positioned his man), Thompson used his trademark burst to complete the home run play.
Take a look at this screenshot of the offensive line's dominance in creating a seam for Thompson - it's easiest to see the seal-off by Jackson as well as Erving's seal of a back-side defender. This is textbook run-blocking which produced a three-score lead.
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