Written by Erik Slaby
Tallahassee, FL – Week four of college football is underway and it has been rough sledding for the Florida State Seminoles so far this season. Under new head coach Willie Taggart, they’ve struggled to a 1-2 record, with their only win coming in a close game against FCS opponent Stamford Bulldogs. It doesn’t get any easier this week against a tough opponent in the Northern Illinois Huskies, a rematch of the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Coming off of a 30-7 blowout loss to Syracuse last week, the Seminoles are looking to rebound and right the ship. The Seminoles have been plagued by self-inflicted wounds this season with turnovers and penalties, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, halting drives or allowing opponent’s drives to continue. On the offensive side of the ball, some of these penalties are what one would classify as “dumb” penalties. Such as illegal formation and false start penalties. Taggart spoke briefly about these penalties at his press conference on Monday.
“I think we all know we’ve got to be a lot better when it comes to penalties, playing smart football,” said Taggart. “That’s something that has hurt our football team and we just haven’t played smart football.” He added, “we want to do what I call winning football and that’s not having those penalties that cost you and those silly penalties, those personal fouls, those selfish penalties.”
Though penalties have hindered Florida State on both sides of the ball, they have struggled regardless, especially offensively this season. The Seminoles have one of the worst offenses in college football this season. They rank 109th out of 129 FBS teams in total offense, 122nd in scoring offense and 120th in rushing offense. Penalties play a role in these struggles but many of these numbers stem from dismal offensive line play.
Heading into this season, it was well-documented that the offensive line was not exactly a strength of this team. In the two previous seasons, the offensive line has struggled to pass protect and run block but they were decent at points. With former starting right tackle Rick Leonard graduating and young players coming in, the offensive line was projected to struggle, but not to the level they have so far this season.
The Florida State offensive line has struggled in basically every phase of the game, but none more so than run blocking. In every game, defenders have been able to consistently get in the backfield and drop Florida State running backs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick for a loss of yardage. Injuries have played a role as three starters have been injured, with two starters missing significant time and the young players that have been forced to fill in, are seemingly unprepared.
The one “bright spot” of Florida State’s offense has been their passing offense, which is ranked 61st but this is mainly because the Seminoles have gotten behind early and have been forced to throw the ball, combined with their inability to run the ball. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection too as quarterback Deondre Francois has been under constant pressure and been hurried and hit numerous times. This lack of protection has led to numerous mistakes by him from forcing throws, holding the ball too long or missing receivers when they get open. In order for the Seminoles to improve offensively, the offensive line will need to drastically improve.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles have been much better but because they are on the field seemingly all of the time, by the second half they are gassed. The Seminoles are ranked 95th in total defense but most of the damage opposing teams have inflicted has come in the second half and in the first half, the games have been close. The Seminoles are ranked 108th in time of possession so in order to help their defense and give them some rest, the Seminoles will need to improve this stat. It will be tough this week against Northern Illinois though.
In three games so far this season, Northern Illinois is 1-2 but their two losses have come against very good opponents in Iowa and Utah. Though they have lost these two games, the silver lining for the Huskies has been their defense. They are ranked 49th in the country in total defense. The Huskies are also one of the more disciplined teams in the country, being tied at 22nd for fewest penalties averaged per game with five. In comparison, the Seminoles are tied at 114th, averaging nine penalties per game.
If the Seminoles are to win this game, they will need to rely heavily on their defense, be more disciplined and limit their mistakes and will need to have at least some improvement, however small, in their offensive line play. If they are able to pass the ball effectively and are even able to run the ball somewhat, the Seminoles have a great chance to win this game. If not, the Huskies will get the win and Florida State will fall to 1-3. Taggart’s seat will become even hotter if that comes to pass.
The game will take place on Saturday, at 3:30 PM EST at Doak Campbell Stadium. The game will also be televised on ESPNU.