Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's The End of The World As We Know It

In the wake of FSU's demoralizing 20-27 loss to Clemson last night the season, indeed the future of the entire program, seems to be on the edge of the abyss. While there were innumerable struggles over the last five seasons, there was always a reason for hope. But after three consecutive disappointing performances to start the season I feel like that hope has finally been extinguished. I will always love the 'Noles and I think there's a lot to like about this team, but it became clear last night that we are nowhere near the force we once were and are unlikely to regain elite status until the next coaching regime takes over. Here's what I saw last night:

- The one positive development for FSU was the increased commitment to the running game. For the first time this season the Noles cracked 100 yards on the ground and Antone Smith and Joe Surratt punished Clemson with inside runs. We're not exactly '95 Nebraska - no back carried more than 11 times and the team only averaged 2.7 yards/carry - but the fact that JB actually ran the ball after the first quarter was a pleasant surprise.

- Mickey Andrews wass ready for the wide receiver screens. Clemson gashed FSU repeatedly last year with WR screens to Chansi Stuckey, who racked up almost over 150 yards receiving and two TDs in that game. This year FSU's DBs did a much better job of attacking the ball and Stuckey was held to 34 yards (though he did catch a TD pass). In the second half FSU was able to force Clemson to all but abandon the screens.

- The team showed tremendous heart in coming back to tie the score at 20-all. There is no quit in this team and it is this fact alone that let's me believe there may be a brighter future ahead. In the second half the offense finally showed a physical side and the defense continually rose to the occasion until the final drive. Still, you can't keep digging yourself into a hole and expect to climb out every time. With two second-half comebacks already in the books it was simply too much to ask for a three in a row.

- The last two discs of "Lost: Season 1" came in the mail today. So that's pretty cool.

- The offensive line is still below-average. Clemson dropped LBs into coverage on almost every down and never moved their safeties up, yet FSU was unable to break a single long run all night as Clemson quickly closed any holes that opened up. Of even more concern were the four sacks on Drew Weatherford, which was a huge disppointment considering how good the pass protection had been in the first two games. Some of the sacks came from coverage with the Tigers dropping eight men into coverage, but it was embarrassing how much pressure Clemson was able to apply with a three-man rush. Mark McHale is looking like another shaky hire on an offensive staff that's full of them.

- Outside of the improved screen coverage the secondary wasn't good at all. Free safety Roger Williams has been a notable weak link in FSU's defense with several missed tackles and poor coverage. He should have been helping Tony Carter with deep help on Clemson's third-quarter TD, instead he was looking into the backfield as Will Proctor lofted a pass over his head. Williams wasn't the only culprit though. Broken coverages on third-down repeatedlykept Clemson drives alive and drained the defense in the first half.

- Paul Griffin's injury really affected FSU's defensive line. With Griffin, and back-ups Emanual Dunbar and Aaron Jones injured, FSU essentially played without a DT for most of the game. In the 20 years I've been following FSU football I can't recall them ever playing a three-man DL as much as they did last night. At some points Alex Boston was moved inside, but that took away FSU's most consistent pass rusher, and as a result Will Proctor often had all day to throw. He wasn't sacked all night. The three-man line was a bold move by Mickey Andrews and it almost worked, but ultimately the lack of depth took its tolll and the defense was unabe to stop Clemson's final drive.

- FSU's defense made one major mistake in each half and both times it led to a Clemson touchdown. Letroy Guion's late hit negated what would have been 3rd-and-long for Clemson in their own territory. Instead they got a first down and ultimately took the lead on Proctor's 20-yard TD run. At least I can give Guion, who was playing hurt, credit for hustling on the play. FSU's coaches GOT hustled late in the fourth quarter when Clemson's offense lined up, hiked the ball, and rolled off a 54-yard run as the 'Nole defenders were staring at the sideline waiting for a signal. As bad as the 'Nole offense was all night, FSU still could have won the game without those mental errors.

- The wide receivers were terrible. Awful. Cover-your-eyes bad. Richard Goodman, who is apparently a God on the practice field, dropped a sure TD pass. Chris Davis dropped a first-down throw from Weatherford that hit him squarely in the hands. Greg Carr was a non-factor. Coming into the season I felt that FSU had a very underrated group of receivers, but so far they've shown nothing. Only DeCody Fagg has shown up each week, though freshman TE Brandon Warren continues to impress. If only the WR coach could get more out of his group. Speaking of which...

- We are now on year six of the Jeff Bowden Experience and the true magnitude of the damage is plain for all to see. Seriously, it's like he never even looked at the tape of last year's game. Clemson came out in the exact same defense they shut FSU down with last year - don't worry about the run, rush only the four DL, and drop seven into coverage - and yet the Seminole offense seemed totally unprepared for it. The offense was once again shut out in the first half and no adjustments were made until after the half. To me the disparity between Clemson's OC and FSU's OC was made clear by the following contrast: in the third-quarter Clemson faced a key 3rd-and-1 around FSU's 30. Instead of pounding away at FSU's stacked D Proctor executed a perfect play-action pass into the endzone and Clemson took a 20-9 lead. Later in the game FSU faced a huge 3rd-and-1 at their own 40. At this point in the game FSU had tied the score, Clemson's defense was tired, and the crowd was going crazy. I turned to my buddy Hootie and said "FB Dive", which was exactly what JB called. The 'Noles had already run SIX FB Dives in the game and it was painfully obvious to everyone - including, of course, Clemson's entire defense - that it would be run again because JB can't seem to grasp the concept of setting up the defense. Surratt got the ball, all 11 Clemson defenders jumped on top of him, and Clemson was able to regain some much-needed momentum and eventually win the game.

At this point we all know the deal. Jeff Bowden is terrible at his job and he has two guys under him - QB coach Daryl Dickey and OL coach Mark McHale - who apparently do nothing at all. The Seminole offense has steadily deteriorated under their watch, yet they have better job security than a Supreme Court Justice thanks to Bobby Bowden...and there's the rub. I love Bobby and have the utmost appreciation for what he's done at Florda State. The man is a legend and he deserves to go out on his own terms, but now I recognize that those terms include allowing his son to wreck the program he spent half of his life building up. It's a damn shame and will be sad to watch, but there's nothing any of us fans can do about it. In "Fever Pitch" Nick Hornby compared being a fan to being in a bad marriage... sure, there were some good times but now every little thing drives you insane and you feel like screaming until your head explodes. On Saturday night I knew exactly what he meant. The ongoing offensive struggles have drained me of all hope and watching the team drives me mad, but I'm still a 'Nole. 'Til death do us part.


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