Monday, October 23, 2006

Thoughts on FSU/BC

I returned from Tallahassee early Sunday morning with a heavy heart. I had just watched my 'Noles earn a heartbreaking home loss to Boston College. And I mean it - FSU earned that loss more than BC earned the victory. If not for a plethora of bad mistakes and a terrible call by the Ron Cherry-led crew I would have witnessed a 20-3 FSU victory instead of the 'Noles's third consecutive ACC home loss. To be honest I don't know what to make of this team - they play great in fits and spurts but they seem to find ways to lose big games. In any other situation I could blame injuries and youth, but after five seasons of excuses I have no patience for excuses. Anyway, here are my observations from the game...

The Good
- The crowd! I picked a great game to come back to FSU, since the crowd was hyped up for the Black Out. There were black shirts everywhere and the special black jerseys were much sweeter than I thought they would be. The stadium was packed and the Doak was rocking on every BC third down. Despite the loss it was a great atmosphere and I'm glad I went.

- The defense played their hearts out and stood tall despite all the injuries. Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons were all over the field, and Andre Fluellen continued his excellent season. Roger Williams, who I called out a few weeks ago, played a tremendous game and Myron Rolle was in on a ton of tackles. I noticed youngsters such as Bud Thacker and Dekoda Watson making big contributions, and the young secondary played well for the most part. If not for the massive injuries I believe FSU would have challenged Michigan for the #1 defense in all the land. As things stand we just have to use this as a learning year for 2007, and it appears that many of our young players are well ahead of the curve.

- The offensive execution between the 20's was excellent. Coming into this game I thought BC would play field position, keep their defense back, and force FSU to execute on long drives...which is pretty much what happened. For most of the game FSU made that look like a mistake by running a short passing game and running for good yardage after the catch. I truly believe that Jeff Bowden had the right game plan for BC, and Drew executed the game plan very well for the most part. Drew looked finding the open man, plus he made several throws on third-and-long to extend drives. There's no doubt that the offense has improved from last season, though there's still a TON of room for improvement.

- The pass protection was good enough to allow the short passing game to thrive, and for most of the game Drew had a ton of time to find his receivers. The OL has looked really good in the passing game, and those who would question Jeff's game plan should look at the OL on pass plays vs. run plays to see why he went the way he did. As with every other facet of FSU's game, the pass protection was great for MOST of the game. On the two most important snaps for FSU - third- and fourth-down plays with 3 minutes to go in the fourth quarter - the line was responsible for the breakdowns, first on a bad snap, then on a missed blitz pick-up. Again, FSU failed to finish.

- Overlooked in the loss was the fact that FSU kicking game was outstanding again. Cismesia was perfect on the day and Gano was unbelievable at placing his punts inside the five-yard line. How ironic is it that when every other facet of the team is struggling the kicking game FINALLY comes around!

- Charlie Ward and the Seminole Tribe were honored during the game and the crowd gave both a warm welcome. It was pretty moving to see the REAL Seminoles and the greatest 'Nole of all honored during the same game. Just wish we could have sent them both home happy.

The Bad
- The offensive execution in the red zone was abysmal. Most people will look at the turnovers and say they're why FSU lost, but the 'Noles repeatedly shot themselves in the foot once they reached scoring territory, and those mistakes hurt just as bad as the turnovers. After FSU's first good drive in the second quarter John Frady had a false-start penalty that killed momentum and led to a punt. Later the 'Noles drove deep into BC territory only to have Frady bounce-pass a snap that Drew was forced to fall on. Field goal instead of a touchdown. And the back-to-back mistakes at the end of the epic 17-play drive in the fourth quarter prevented FSU from tying the game and effectively sealed FSU's fate.

- The run blocking was terrible. Bravo to Jeff and Drew for keeping Antone and Lorenzo involved in the offense, but some semblance of a running game would have been nice. For some reason all of FSU's running plays were draws and traps - slow-developing plays behind a line that hasn't shown it can hold its blocks on running plays. I don't have a problem with JB's play-calling going away from the run game because the passing game was working, but Mark McHale needs to get his guys playing better. They don't have the excuse of being injured this year, they're just not getting it done up front.

- The WRs are still mysteriously absent from the game. Coming into the year I thought FSU had one of the most underrated WR corps in the nation. Now I think they may have been OVERrated. Chris Davis had a big day, but he's been inconsistent all year. Greg Carr had man-coverage but he was only thrown to twice that I saw and we never challenged BC deep. DeCody Fagg was merely and afterthought (granted, he's banged up). Ironically, Jeff Bowden's insistence on NOT throwing any jump-balls may be hurting FSU's offense since teams haven't had to worry about a deep threat. It's a philosophical about-face that has me scratching my head right now.

- One possible reason for the WRs disappearing act may be Drew's struggles on intermediate and deep balls. Getting to see him play in person for only the second time it became clear that on throws deeper than 10 yards Drew really starts to struggle with his accuracy (another reason I liked JB's game plan of controlled, short passing). The big play has completely disappeared from FSU's repertoire in large part because teams can sit back in a zone defense, keep everything in front of them, and wait for FSU to make mistakes. Unfortunately, until we develop a running attack or a deep passing game that strategy will continue to work.

The Ugly
- Turnover and penalties lost the game for FSU, and it's a damn shame because the crowd, the players, the Seminole Tribe, and of course Charlie Ward deserved a win. FSU flat-out outplayed BC for most of the game, only to shoot themselves in the foot twice. When you can't score more than 20 points against good defense you can't afford to give the other team 14 points, yet that's what we did. Caz's fumble was the result of a true freshman trying to do too much. It's understandable and forgivable as long as he learns from the mistake. The interception at the half is another story. EVEN IF the coaches made the decision to try to get a little momentum back after BC's touchdown, what the hell good is a three-and-out pass going to do when there's 24 seconds left and your deep in you own territory?!? That turnover was inconceivable and unforgivable, and Jeff, Dickey, and Drew all share the blame. In their three losses FSU has been right there in position to take the game, and we've found a new way to lose each time. A lot of that is due to having such a young team, but the coaches haven't always put FSU in the best position to succeed either, and that play is a perfect example of how we keep losing games we should win.

- The crowd...I know I just gave them props earlier, but every time a run got stuffed the guys behind me would yell "keep throwing the ball!". Good idea bud, we should be totally one-dimensional! Every time a pass went incomplete the guy in front of me tried to start a "Fire Jeff!" chant. Excellent plan sir, since clearly it's Jeff's fault that Drew missed an open receiver. The nadir came with three minutes to play and FSU driving deep into BC territory, for that was the exact moment that the student section decided to start THE WAVE!!! I swear to God, this actually happened. Obviously the football gods were outraged because they killed the drive immediately. And frankly, I can't blame them.

So where do we go from here? On defense I really can't complain...the coaches did a tremendous job with a bunch of freshmen. The youngsters are getting invaluable experience and next year when Paul Griffin, Emanuel Dunbar, Letroy Guion, Geno Hayes, Jae Thaxton, Marcus Ball, and Derek Nicholson are healthy this could be a frightening unit. I would put FSU's defensive staff against any in the country, and this game just reinforced my respect for Mickey, Odell, Steele, and Colzie.

It's the offense that has me bumfuzzled. There's been undeniable improvement from last year in the play-calling, the pass blocking, and the execution. So why can't we score more than 20 points against good defenses? Why can't we get a balanced offensive effort against good defenses? Why can't we throw the ball downfield? Obviously coaching is the culprit, and I would love to see Daryl Dickey get his walking papers at the end of the season. Honestly, I think the man his been playing Minesweeper for the last six years, because he sure hasn't been coaching up the QBs. Jeff Bowden is a trickier problem. We know he's not going anywhere, but is he ever going to get it done? Before the season I would have said no, but after watching the team this season I'm not so sure. Many people feel that Bobby has relaxed his grip on the offense this season, and the improvements seem to coincide with Jeff's increased responsibilities. So who's to blame? Well, there's only one other place to look...

Being in Tallahassee gave me the opportunity to listen to the post-game show, and it was shocking to hear Bobby after the game. He was dead-on that we killed ourselves, but he didn't know if we had a punt-block called when the Roughing the Kicker penalty was called (we did, for no apparent reason) or if the interception was Jeff's fault or Drew's. He was out of the loop on most, if not all, of the strategic decisions made during the game. And while that may help our performance in fits and starts, what affect does it have on a football team when there is no central figure running the show? Is it possible for FSU to return to glory without a strong, smart head coach who can make the tough decisions in key games? My head says no, but my heart...says no. So I'm going to go with NO. This team has the components in place to be a good team, a championship team, but it lacks leadership both on the field and on the sidelines, and until that void is filled there will be another void in the hearts of FSU fans where championship memories should be.


At 12:41 PM, Blogger Rich said...

Glad you made it to the game. Yes, play-calling has improved. But that's like going from an F to a D — okay, maybe C -minus. Turns out Jeff called the out pattern that gave B.C. a TD before the half. Now what's the worst possible route to run when you've got a long way to go in under a minute, AND you wanna protect the ball?

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