Okay, I know that we reached mid-season a week ago, but since I got a chance to attend the Boston College game I wanted to wait to grade the team's progress - or lack thereof - until after I'd seen them for myself. As much frustration and anger as there is in 'Nole Nation right now, if you look objectively there's also been a lot to like in this sub-par season. Keep your head up FSU fans, for hope is not lost. On to the grades...
The Freshman Class. A large part of FSU's downfall this year has been the forced reliance on freshman in key spots. Against BC a whopping FIVE freshman were forced into starting roles, and freshman mistakes contributed to the loss. However, when you look at the speed and skill the incoming class has brought to team it wouldn't unrealistic to say this is the best class FSU has brought in in a decade. Everywhere you look freshman are making huge contributions: TE Brandon Warren has been the team's most reliable receiving threat, LB Marcus Ball was a revelation at SAM LB and on special teams, SS Myron Rolle has been steady in the secondary, and the aforementioned Dekoda Watson has come up big wherever the coaches play him. And that doesn't mention the contributions of Caz Puirowski, Kevin McNeil, Matt Hardrick, Justin Mincey, or Patrick Robinson. When FSU fans howl about the state of the team they would do well to realize that while dark clouds are hanging over the current season the future is bright for the 'Noles new crop of stars.
The Kicking Game. After his debacle against Penn State in the Orange Bowl last year a lot of people thought that Gary Cismesia would be a liability in 2006. We all remember what happened to Xavier Beitia after his miss against Miami in 2002, and FSU fans conditioned to expect kicker melt-downs were sure we'd see "Weed" go up in smoke as well. Much to my surprise Cismesia has been a rock this season going 9-10 on FGs, with his only miss coming in the Troy debacle. Converted place-kicker Graham Gano has been outstanding at Punter as well. His average per punt has steadily climbed throughout the season, peaking with a brilliant performance against BC where he average 47.5 yards/punt and would have had two punts downed at the one-yard line had Joslin Shaw not gotten too cute with the first one. It's almost painful to think of how many times the kicking game has done in FSU in the past, only to see the kickers come through just as the rest of the team is falling apart.
The Running Backs. Obviously I realize that FSU's running game is still a shambles, but that has more to do with the offensive line than the backs. When given enough opportunities Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith have shown that they can produce. And even when they're not getting carries they've been instrumental in the passing game, illustrated by pair combining for 14 catches for 150 yards against BC. FB Joe Surratt has provided the physical running the team lacked last season - though he's been mysteriously absent the last few games - and now that Jamaal Edwards is coming back hopefully he can start to contribute as well. I'm sure the backs are frustrated because as much as they've contributed there's no question they are talented enough to do so much more.
Drew Weatherford. Maybe too much was made of Weatherford's freshman season when he led the ACC in passing and showed tremendous toughness even as he killed FSU in a couple games. His progression hasn't been as great as expected and he's still prone to the killer mistake such as the game-ending pick against NC State. He struggles with his accuracy on long throws, he runs too soon sometimes, and his ball fakes are terrible. And you know what? I love the kid. He's probably the toughest SOB we've ever seen at QB, he works his ass off, and he's always willing to take responsibility for bad plays or bad games. I still think he's the guy for this team, and if you don't agree consider the case of Chad Henne, another talented QB who endured a shaky sophomore campaign and is now at the helm of the undefeated Michigan Wolverines. If we can get Drew some decent coaching (more on that later) he could be another great one for FSU.
The Offensive Line. The sad thing is that a 'D' is actually an improvement from last season's 'F-' performance. The pass blocking has actually been very good. Drew hasn't been pressured nearly as much as he was last year, which has contributed to the drop in interceptions an dthe development of the short passing game. However, the run blocking is still abysmal. The line simply gets no push against the defense and FSU's backs are constantly hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. After an entire summer spent on conditioning and focusing on the run the effort of the line has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. As if that wasn't enough, mental mistakes have cost the 'Noles dearly as well. For whatever reason whenever FSU reaches the red zone the OL tends to make a stupid mistake that kills the drive and costs FSU points. Against BC at leat 10 points were taken off the board by dumb penalties and bad snaps. It doens't matter how good our backs are, how much Drew progresses, or what plays Jeff calls - if the line can't block FSU won't win. Period.
The Wide Receivers. I really thought FSU's receivers were going to surprise the nation this year. It seemed that we had the perfect mix - the lightning-quick Chris Davis in the slot, the powerful DeCody Fagg patrolling the midde, and Greg Carr providing the deep threat. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way. Davis has been plagued by fumbles and drops, Fagg has been injured as usual, and for some reason Carr has disappeared from the game plan as FSU has gone away from the deep ball. What's left is a disappointing crew of talented yet enigmatic performers. The sophomores - oft-injured Rod Owens and drop-prone Richard Goodman - aren't going to provide any immediate relief, but freshmen Preston Parker and Damon McDaniel have looked great in limited opportunities. For FSU's offense to click we MUST get the receivers more involved in the offense. Hopefully that will start against Maryland thiss weekend.
Kick Returns, Coverage, and Blocking. As good as the kicking game has been, the return and coverage units have been well below FSU standards. Chris Davis hasn't been able to fill the void left by Willie Reid's departure, and the coverage units badly miss Pat Watkins, Marcus Ball, and Jae Thaxton. This is an area that is usually a weapon for FSU, yet with the notable exception of the Clemson game, kick-blocking and coverage has been a liability all season. With all of the injuries we may not have an answer for this problem until 2007.
So that's it. A promising season has been derailed by injuries, inexperience, and poor coaching. Note the mass of 'C' and 'D' grades and you'll see why this season has been such a disappointment. Although this season is done as far as championship hopes go, with our wealth of talented youngsters we must still focus on improving and getting ready for 2007 - and beating UF of course! The 'Noles have been right there in every game and are not far removed from being 7-0 right now. With better coaching and better luck we'll be right bak in the ACC and National races in 2007. Now the onus is on Bobby Bowden to make the right moves in the off-season to make that happen. The hope here is that the old man can see the problem and make the necessary changes to right the ship.
Here's to a better second half and a great 2007 season!