Throughout Florida State’s struggles this season, an odd statement has made its way around Tallahassee that seems quite ironic—especially with FSU coming off a Thursday night win over North Carolina.
“At least it’s almost basketball season.”
Certainly such a comment seems much better suited for Chapel Hill, where Tar Heels’ basketball has always been a March Madness mainstay. The football town of Tallahassee, however, hasn’t exactly enjoyed the Seminoles’ 3-4 start to what many hoped would be a promising season on the gridiron.
Ironically, Florida State’s basketball team began stealing some of the spotlight in Tallahassee after beating top-ranked North Carolina last March to advance to the Tribe’s first ever ACC championship game and make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years.
Thursday night, Florida State proved all is not lost in 2009—at least Seminole fans have the luxury of watching a rising star in quarterback Christian Ponder—but Bobby Bowden and the Seminole football team have hardly done enough this season to keep the spotlight from wandering to other sports in Tallahassee.
So, without further adieu, let’s grade the Noles’ performance through the first half of the season.
Bobby Bowden is on the hot seat, and for good reason. Not even the second most difficult schedule in the country can hide the fact that Florida State has underachieved this season in a big way.
For now, the job Jimbo Fisher has done to improve FSU’s offense gives this coaching staff a passing grade, but even he has endured his share of difficulties this season. Fisher’s play calling has come under fire several times this year, and the Noles efforts in the red zone—though better lately—have been less than efficient on the season.
Oddly, Fisher’s offense scored a combined 132 points against the three toughest teams on the schedule—Miami, BYU and Georgia Tech—in the first half of the season, but managed only two scores and seven points against Jacksonville State and South Florida, respectively. Florida State did, however, hang 30 points and nearly 400 yards passing on what was statistically the best passing defense in the country Thursday night in the team’s win over North Carolina.
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, on the other hand, has a lot of explaining to do after a horrendous outing against Georgia Tech and an equally embarrassing first half against North Carolina.
Andrews’ defense has been uncharacteristically awful this season, giving up more points and more big plays than Seminole fans care to count. Then came FSU’s loss to the Yellow Jackets where the Noles gave up 49 points and 400 yards rushing—a defensive effort that looked even more horrific given the success of Fisher’s offense, which scored 44 points in the loss.
While the Seminoles are very young on defense, the unit’s dismal performance against Georgia Tech was beyond youth and inexperience—pointing instead to bad coaching and a lack of preparation.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is unofficially listed on the injury report with a sore back—at least he should be after carrying the Seminole offense through seven games this season. Ponder has been one of the lone bright spots for Florida State in 2009, and without him there’s no telling how far the Tribe would fall. With 2,176 yards passing, 12 touchdowns and just one interception, Ponder can probably thank a 3-4 record for not being a factor in this year’s Heisman race.
Aiding Ponder this season has been the offensive line and a talented group of receivers. Though the offensive line hasn’t exactly lived up to its lofty preseason expectations, the unit has been noticeably better this season and given Ponder the time he needs to step up in the pocket and make throws down the field. (In years past, Seminole fans would be saying, “What pocket?”)
Meanwhile, FSU receivers have outperformed expectations this year after the unit lost two starters last season. Bert Reed, Rod Owens and Richard Goodman each have at least 27 receptions and 350 yards receiving on the year, and the position has proven to have enough quality depth to let Ponder spread the ball around effectively.
Last, and least, has been the performance of Florida State’s tailbacks this season. Though Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones have shown flashes of potential, the unit has been inconsistent at best and fallen far short of expectations. In fairness, Fisher hasn’t put much emphasis on establishing the run this season, but nevertheless, it looks like the Noles will go yet another year without a 1,000-yard rusher.
For years during the Jeff Bowden era, Florida State’s defense put the team on its back as the offense struggled. Needless to say, the tables have turned this season. The Seminole secondary has been porous at best, and nothing about this defense has been particularly impressive. Though the defense is young, no one thought it would be this bad, and there’s little doubt among Seminole fans that Andrews’ oversimplified schemes haven’t done FSU’s inexperience any favors.
Florida State had no answer for Georgia Tech’s triple option, and Thursday night, Andrews defense couldn’t even keep contain against North Carolina en route to giving up 27 points to the worst offense in the ACC. The defensive line has been far from dominant, the linebackers are consistently out of position, and to say the secondary is gullible would be a significant understatement.
Unlike the elite, hard-hitting Florida State defenses of the past, this year’s squad is predictable and undisciplined. Seminole fans who wished and prayed for life on the offensive side of the ball over the last several seasons have to wonder if the grass is really all that greener on the other side.
But then again, why should the Seminoles have to choose one side or the other?
Here’s to hoping a new defensive coordinator can get more out of the talent FSU does have and bring a better balance to the team next season.
Special Teams: C
There’s little doubt true freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins has the talent and the leg to go the distance, but the Seminoles would certainly like him to be a little more consistent than 10 for 15. That said, Hopkins is coming off his best performance of the season against North Carolina, and seems to have put his extra-point phobia behind him.
Against the Tar Heels, Hopkins finished three for three and did not miss a single field goal attempt for the first time since the Seminoles’ season debut against Miami.
Meanwhile, sophomore punter Shawn Powell has done a pretty decent job this season. Powell is averaging 41 yards per punt, including 10 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and has avoided any costly mistakes thus far.
In the return game, true freshman Greg Reid has made a name for himself as the kind of impact player Florida State was looking for this season. Reid averages 81 return yards per game and has helped the Seminole offense establish favorable field position all season.
Defensively, FSU also has one blocked kick on the season. However, overall, Florida State’s special teams play hasn’t been the kind of weapon it has been in years past.
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