Florida State Football Midseason Report Card: Still Room For Improvement
There’s nothing like reading a midseason report card on your beloved team—especially when they are coming off a huge win against a hated rival and are the best team in the conference!
This has been one of the most anticipated seasons for the Florida State Seminoles in quite some time. No Bobby Bowden. No Mickey Andrews. It was a new season with a different look that some were skeptical about, but I think most fans are starting to enjoy the change and accept it.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher has done a solid job so far, and Mark Stoops is showing why he's one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation.
The season started off on a high note, but then the following week it went to a low point in a hurry after being dismantled by Oklahoma on the road.
Since then the team has finally settled in with its new coaches and schemes. In their last four contests they have gone 4-0 and outscored their opponents 144-41. In fact, they have scored more than 30 points in every game this season except one (17 at Oklahoma).
Now it’s time to pick apart the team and dissect every position to see just how well the team really has played thus far.
Schedule Through Six Games
Samford 59-6: 1-0 (0-0)
at Oklahoma 17-47: 1-1 (0-0)
BYU 34-10: 2-1 (0-0)
Wake Forest 31-0: 3-1 (1-0)
at Virginia 34-14: 4-1 (2-0)
at Miami 45-17: 5-1 (3-0)
Overall: 220-97: 5-1 (3-0)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Before the season even started there was so much hype about Christian Ponder that people went the distance to make a website for his Heisman candidacy.
However, he hasn’t played like a Heisman winner all season, but he’s done enough to help the Seminoles win ball games.
There has been speculation for quite some time this season that his surgically repaired shoulder isn’t fully healed. He’s had difficulties throwing out routes and deep patterns. You’ve even seen him grimace a few times after throwing a pass.
He will continue to receive questions on how well his shoulder is, and I’m sure the same answer will come out of his mouth every time: “I’m 100 percent.”
Whether his shoulder is hurt or not, he’s managed to play consistent all season even though his numbers aren’t outstanding. Through six games he has completed 90 of 150 passes for 1,017 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Of course, those numbers could be better if his receivers hadn’t dropped so many passes.
He can thank the phenomenal play of his offensive line and running backs for the lack of pressure he has felt all season.
Will he be able to stay consistent throughout the season? Yes, I think it is safe to say that those numbers will improve and his confidence will continue to grow with each solid performance.
E.J. Manuel: 16-of-23 for 279 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in six games
Running Backs: A
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
A rushing attack is always a vital part in the success of the offense, and the Seminoles' backfield is a great example.
They are averaging 223.5 yards a game as a unit. That’s good enough to rank them as the 16th best rushing offense in the nation.
Most teams have one or two guys that can run the ball, but this team has the luxury of four guys who can solidly run the football.
It starts with Jermaine Thomas, who is the primary ball carrier. He likes to run outside the tackles and use his elusiveness to his benefit. Then you get a mixture of Chris Thompson and Ty Jones, who are the more powerful backs in the group but also have the speed to break away.
Lonnie Pryor, who is slotted as the fullback, can also get up and go when given the opportunity (three carries for 45 yards and one touchdown against Miami).
The great thing about having a plethora of talented backs like the Seminoles do is that you never miss a beat on offense.
These backs not only know how to run the ball, but they are better than average receivers out of the backfield and do a great job picking up blocks as well. You have the whole package with this unit.
Jermaine Thomas: 65 carries for 419 yards and six touchdowns
Chris Thompson: 48 carries for 433 yards and four touchdowns
Ty Jones: 36 carries for 283 yards and two touchdowns
Lonnie Pryor: Five carries for 54 yards and one touchdown
Wide Receivers: C+
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Too much talent and not enough experience. There is no question that this team has plenty of talent and athleticism when it comes to the receivers. Unfortunately, they lack experience, consistency and get hit with the butterfinger flu way too often.
Time after time they have beaten their defender but can’t hang on to the ball. Then it looks as if they forgot how to run a route or even block for the run.
This is perhaps the weakest link of this team, but even though they have had their struggles, there’s still plenty of upside.
Besides a couple of drops against Miami, Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith came up with some big catches when they needed them. Smith made the biggest catch of the night when Christian Ponder hit him for an 18-yard touchdown that sealed the game.
If the Seminoles want to continue to compete and win ball games, the receivers will need to step it up and start improving. They have the capability of doing so, but having and doing are two completely different things.
Bert Reed: 29 receptions for 269 yards and one touchdown
Taiwan Easterling: 19 receptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns
Willie Haulstead: 15 receptions for 255 yards and three touchdowns
Rodney Smith: Eight receptions for 97 yards and one touchdown
Kenny Shaw: Two receptions for 28 yards and one touchdown
Beau Reliford (Tight End): Six receptions for 75 yards
Offensive Line: B+
It’s a wonder why Christian Ponder even worries about being sacked. I mean, look at this offensive line.
They have combined to start 168 games together. Talk about some experience. When this line is healthy it’s arguably the best O-line in the nation.
A lot of people talked about how great the Miami defensive line was and how Allen Bailey was going to dominate Zebrie Sanders. In case you guys didn't catch the game, Sanders and the rest of the O-line didn't give up a single sack.
Senior All-American Rodney Hudson has had no problems opening up gaping holes for his runners to get through.
The absence of Andrew Datko is the only reason why they aren't graded any higher. When he was out they replaced him with the likes of freshmen Henry Orelus and Garrett Faircloth. While their job sufficed, it wasn't like having the experience and talent of Datko out there.
Now that the O-line is finally healthy, this offense is only going to get better.
Andrew Datko, David Spurlock, Ryan McMahon, Rodney Hudson, Zebrie Sanders
Defensive Line: A-
When the season started, no one would have imagined that this D-line unit would be playing the way they are.
Last year it was one of the biggest issues on the defense. They were unable to apply any type of pressure on the quarterback. Their size made them easy pickings to get overpowered, making it easy for the opposing running game to pick up big chunks of yardage.
Here’s a stat for you: The Seminoles rank 12th in the nation for rush defense. Compared to last year, that’s the difference between night and day.
They are bigger, faster and stronger this year, and it’s shown. Brandon Jenkins (5), Markus White (2.5), Everett Dawkins (2), Demonte McAllister (3) and Bjoern Werner (3) have all contributed to a defense that leads the nation in sacks (26). They have already tied their sack total from last season through six games.
This may not be the deepest D-line the Seminoles have ever had, but it’s definitely one of the most talented they've had in years. Fifty-two sacks is the total that they are projected to end the season at if they keep this pace up.
Brandon Jenkins, Markus White, Jacobbi McDaniel, Everett Dawkins
When Nigel Carr was kicked off the team before the season started, everyone was worried that this defense would take a big hit. Soon after his dismissal Mister Alexander was named the starter in his place. Let’s just say he hasn't disappointed at all.
There is no shortage when it comes to linebackers even with the loss of Carr. Alexander has proved to be a good fit and has had some huge hits that have desperately been missing from this defense for a while.
Nigel Bradham and Kendall Smith are the leaders on the defense. They may be silent, but they are deadly. You don’t see them do much trash talking, and that’s because they let their game do the talking for them. Smith leads the team with 37 tackles, and Bradham is right behind him with 34.
This unit still has plenty to improve on even with three upperclassmen. That’s generally because their backups are made up of three freshmen and one sophomore. Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Jeff Luc and Vince Williams round out the linebackers.
With this group you can be sure of one thing, and that’s tackling. Of course they enjoy getting a big hit when the opportunity presents itself, but for the most part they would rather wrap up to assure the tackle. Each game they seem to become more confident and are demonstrating that they're grasping the zone concept much better.
Nigel Bradham, Kendall Smith, Mister Alexander
The secondary is extremely young and inexperienced. Nevertheless, they are quick learners.
They went back to the drawing board after getting torched through the air by Landry Jones and Oklahoma. That game was a blessing in disguise for this bunch because it allowed them to see where their weaknesses were and what they needed to improve.
Giving up big plays was an issue last season. This year it’s been nonexistent for the most part.
Going from a man-to-man defense to primarily a zone coverage scheme can take a long time to adapt. This has been evident in certain scenarios where the players seem to lack communication or forget their assignments. One concern after the Oklahoma game was their poor tackling effort.
“I know for me it’s something that I have to work on,” Greg Reid said about tackling. “You wouldn't think it’s something that we need to work on because we have been doing it since we were kids, but we do.”
Since that game, the tackling has been much better. Even though Nick Moody or Mike Harris will get an occasional big hit, they make the sure tackle now.
They still have some improving and adjustments to make, but they do continue to get better each game. If healthy, this will be a very dynamic secondary next season after all the experience they would have gained.
Greg Reid, Xavier Rhodes, Terrance Parks, Nick Moody
Special Teams: B+
When given the chance to return the ball, Greg Reid is a threat to break loose every time.
After last year's performance in the return game, most teams have opted to either kick the ball out of bounds or to Lamarcus Joyner.
Reid has still managed to put up 392 return yards and one punt return for touchdown. He is called the X-factor for a reason, and that’s because he can change the outcome of a game in a hurry. Whether it’s returning a kick or just giving the offense great field position, he can do it all.
I remember when Shawn Powell first started punting for the Seminoles. He was atrocious to watch—very inconsistent and didn't have much of a leg on him. This year he’s averaging 43.2 yards a punt and has seven punts inside the 20.
Dustin Hopkins had a problem with extra points last year. However, he hasn't missed a single extra point and is 8-of-10 in field goals, with a long of 52 yards. Not to mention he has 23 touchbacks, which is good enough for second best in the nation.
Overall the special teams have done a tremendous job on the season. They haven’t allowed a single return for touchdown or a blocked kick. On the other side they've blocked a punt and returned a kick for a touchdown.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
There were a lot of questions looming around Seminoles football when Jimbo Fisher took over the helm. Fans weren't sure if he was the right man for the job and were curious if the coaches that he brought in could get the job done. All were legitimate questions with reasonable concerns.
One thing is for certain now: Fisher did an excellent job in choosing his staff.
New defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has implemented his zone defense, and things are starting to click. The players are finally starting to buy into the new scheme, and they are playing like a completely different defense compared to last season.
Vic Viloria, the head strength and conditioning coach, has done a phenomenal job with this team. You can see it in their physique along with their improved stamina.
I was a little concerned when the Seminoles lost in embarrassing fashion to Oklahoma. I even started to wonder if Fisher was the right man for the job. Then this past weekend the Miami game happened. It was a 45-17 shellacking on the road against perhaps your biggest rival. That dominant win just showed me that Fisher and his staff truly know what they are doing.
The only real concern I have with the coaching is the questionable play-calling at times. I almost feel like Jeff Bowden is back on the sidelines calling the plays. Of course that is just a minor detail because Fisher has shown that he and his staff know how to prepare a team for a big game, excluding the Oklahoma one of course.
This staff and the team are really starting to gel at the right time.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Overall this team has played a pretty good six games of football. I mean, they are sitting 5-1 overall and 3-0 in ACC play. Most fans would say that’s a pretty good start to the season, but to me this team still has a long way to go.
The offense is finally full strength, and while that may be a plus, the receivers are still a concern. They may have plenty of talent and potential, but they have to start bringing all of that and more to the table on a regular basis.
They can’t have those lackadaisical efforts as often as they do. Their routes need to be crisper, and catching the ball with consistency is a must.
On the defensive side, they've really bought into the new style of defense and are looking like one of the better defenses in the nation. They still need to improve in a few areas. For instance, they may not be giving up the big play, but they are allowing too many open receivers on underneath routes that can be just as dangerous.
Both the offense and defense rank in at 28th in the nation for total offense and defense.
Consistency is the key for this team to be successful. When I say consistency, that doesn't necessarily mean staying consistent with the way you are playing at the moment. I mean improving consistently and carrying that over to each game.
At the same time, though, they need to focus on one play at a time and one game at a time. Do not look past any one of your opponents, or it could come back to haunt you.
If they can do just that, then this team has the capability to run the table on its way to the ACC Championship Game.