Florida State Has Work to Do If It Wants to Be a Playoff Team in 2014

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Florida State Has Work to Do If It Wants to Be a Playoff Team in 2014
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Jameis Winston threw for 370 yards and had a 28-yard touchdown run.

Jimbo Fisher still gets fired up and gives motivational speeches. But he's big on the short mantras that more often stick with teenagers and 20- and 21-year-olds who prefer Twitter-like bursts of conversation.

Last year, the Florida State coach embraced "find me a crumb," a saying meant to emphasize making the little plays, fighting for extra yards and forcing turnovers. He used "play don't care who makes it" to encourage freshmen and sophomores to not just learn on the fly but also deliver results on the field.

This year, it's "don't eat the cheese." Fisher doesn't want FSU to buy into the hype, the No. 1 ranking, the "repeat" talk. He wants his group to focus on the next play, not look past an opponent and stack up wins on Saturdays. It's fancier (and less boring) than saying "take care of business" or "play one game at a time."

Following an offseason in which Fisher preached focus and did whatever he could to warn the Seminoles against complacency, FSU was sluggish and clearly took Oklahoma State for granted.

This was a wake-up call. That's true despite the fact that the Seminoles never trailed on Saturday night and eventually escaped with a 37-31 win over Oklahoma State.

But FSU nibbled at the cheese before realizing what it had done.

The lesson to be learned needs to be this: Games like these, against better, deeper, more experienced teams, will be losses. FSU won't win anything in 2014 based on its 2013 resume. It's just one game into the season, but the Seminoles still clearly have improvements to make if they want to earn a spot in the four-team playoff.

FSU's 2013 team was one that systematically dominated teams, winning nine of 14 games by 30 or more points. Will the 2014 team be one that fights to win games? Or does this game cause the Seminoles to rededicate themselves and focus on playing up to their potential each Saturday?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Fisher said this week that he hates season openers, and then softened that comment before explaining. There are too many concerns and not enough game film, especially of a team like the Cowboys, who lost so many starters. He said season openers are like "chasing ghosts."

FSU spent much of Saturday night chasing Tyreek Hill, who ran for 44 yards, caught six passes for 62 yards and had 140 yards in kickoff returns. Those numbers may not seem like a lot, but he kept extending drives and breaking the FSU defense's back.

Shaky play at defensive tackle, a concern the coaches knew could be an issue following the early departure of junior Timmy Jernigan to the NFL, often hurt Florida State. That's something the Seminoles will need to shore up in the weeks ahead.

The defense certainly made plays. Safety Nate Andrews' nine-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter gave FSU the early momentum. Cornerback P.J. Williams forced a crucial fourth-quarter fumble of Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh, and defensive end Mario Edwards was disruptive against the pass.

But there was inconsistent play at receiver, where Jameis Winston seemed to drop back and look for Rashad Greene as often as possible. These two have always had great chemistry, and on Saturday, last year's Heisman winner completed 11 passes to Greene for 203 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. However, while Winston threw for 370 yards—and had a critical, leaping 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter—there were two head-scratching interceptions, perhaps because he had trouble finding anyone else to throw to.

Karlos Williams, the starting tailback, was the second-leading receiver, with five receptions. Christian Green had two catches early. Tight end Nick O'Leary had three receptions. Winston needs to establish more chemistry with FSU's young receivers and spread the ball around better.

Perhaps the most stunning development was that the Seminoles offensive line was pushed around. Five seniors, four of them veteran starters, and FSU struggled to protect Winston. And the running game was ineffective, as FSU had just 106 rushing yards on 31 carries.

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Last year, Winston won a Heisman, but FSU won games with a balanced attack. There was no balance on offense on Saturday. Williams ran for 66 yards but averaged just 2.9 yards per carry.

Florida State was just too flat on Saturday. Too many penalties (eight for 71 yards), and the offense was awful on third down (4-of-14). By contrast, Oklahoma State was able to sustain drives and convert on eight of 16 third-down plays.

The "Dallas to Dallas" mantra that FSU embraced in the offseason was all well and good. But Fisher rightly has asked the Seminoles to let that chatter go in August. 

FSU is 1-0. Forget "Dallas to Dallas." The Seminoles need to remember not to eat the cheese.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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