The Daily Nole

FSU Football: Reviewing and Grading Benchmarks for the 2018 Season

Mitch White/FSU athletics

Before the 2018 season began, we identified six different expectations for Florida State football.

We did not say any of these were guaranteed, but we believe a majority of those six expectations were necessary for a successful 2018. Now that the season is over, we can review the benchmarks and see how close Florida State came to achieving them.

Before we begin, we must emphasize that we are not going to be pass/fail graders. The original benchmarks assumed things like minimal injuries. That obviously did not occur, so we have to adjust accordingly. We will give out letter grades but they are not as important as the explanations. Football teams are complex, after all.

Finishing 5-7 should tell you how the majority of this article will go. But there are still bright spots among the mess.


Top 30 S&P Offense

Not even close. The Seminoles finished with the 107th offense in the nation.

Much of this has to do with the offensive line. There is simply no way to scheme around five guys who will go pro in something other than sports. If you don’t have the players, there is nothing else a team can do.

Landon Dickerson going down would have greatly tampered this expectation, had we been able to see into the future. If the same genie also foretold injuries to Cole Minshew and Derrick Kelly, the bar would have probably been set at top 70. We simply underestimated how even just one or two injuries could severely impact the offensive line.

Yet it is still not a full explanation of why the offense was so putrid. The other factor involves quarterback Deondre Francois being unable to run the Gulf Coast offense. He never actually improved as the season went on, as he continued to struggle with the read-option and targeting receivers downfield.

Those are two of the bigger elements of the offense that he appeared uncomfortable with, which really makes one wonder about James Blackman being the backup. Was Francois the right decision? Did the staff do a poor job of coaching him up?

Nothing went right on this part of the team. Injuries explain a good portion of it, but there are now more questions than answers about what head coach Willie Taggart is aiming for in the next couple of years. We really have no choice but to give this benchmark an F.

Top 20 S&P Rushing Offense

Again, not even close. S&P has the rushing offense ranked 111th in the nation.

Many of the same criticisms above apply to this prediction, except the offensive line is an even bigger factor here. There is simply no way to run the ball without an offensive line. You can try a couple things to get your passing game in a rhythm and distract from the line, but there are very few methods for a successful running attack when the front five are awful. Given what we saw, this benchmark gets an “Incomplete” grade.

Don’t Go Conservative

The first benchmark that the staff met. Florida State, despite all their shortcomings, remained aggressive on offense throughout the season. It did not punt where the math says to go for it, and it did not settle for field goals in games where it was down by a few scores.

Unfortunately that also meant that losses would have a wider margin than usual. When you play for touchdowns and not field goals, you are bound to fail on some of those attempts. This does not negate the soundness of the strategy. A+


Top 15 S&P Defense

Much closer than the offense got to their benchmark, but still…no. Florida State’s defense finished the year as No. 41 in the nation.

It is hard to deny that the defense was negatively affected by the offensive incompetence. There were at least five games where the defense performed very well for as long as it possibly could, only to get let down by the offense. Going 3-and-out consistently tires out the other side of the ball.

That being said, defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett’s unit faded down the stretch. The cornerbacks improved and the linebackers had their moments when they began experimenting with personnel. But the safeties played so poorly that opposing quarterbacks could just target them all the way down the field.

Florida State is addressing this in recruiting and already has two safeties committed. Yet the fact that not a single safety made strides in coverage is worrisome. Out of Cyrus Fagan, A.J. Westbrook, and Hamsah Nasirildeen, at least one of them should have been the go-to guy on needed stops. Nasirildeen did lead the team in tackles.

There was a lot to like about the defense in 2018. Overall though, it was still slightly disappointing, and some of its deficiencies cannot be explained by lack of talent. C+

More Sacks

Well, technically the Seminoles did get to the quarterback more in 2018 than they did in 2017. FSU increased its sack totals from 27 to 28.

The most disappointing part of this stat is that Florida State was on track to shatter it. We even wrote about it six games into the season, when Florida State had recorded 19 total sacks.

That was up from 10 sacks through six games in 2017. In the final six contests of 2018, Florida State’s defensive line faced tougher competition, and subsequently got neutered as an effective force. There should be no reason that a hyper-talented defensive line experiences that much drop in production.

Florida State has too much talent to be hovering around its current numbers. The glimpse of improvement was nice, but it is not enough to be successful in the future. C-

No Collapses

A resounding no.

Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame, and Florida all showed defensive collapses. Note that there is a difference between getting put in a bad position by your offense and actually collapsing. Those four games were decidedly the latter, as the defense had its weaknesses put on blast and highlighted with the brightest of Sharpie markers.

The coaches cannot control the mentality of certain players who choose to give up on the team, but ideally they should know which ones it is and how to deal with it. They never found a solid answer, so now the defense enters the offseason on a backslide. D-

We did not expect FSU to nail every one of their benchmarks. In fact, we ended the piece with:

Taggart and company do not have to meet every single one of these benchmarks to have a successful season. However, after looking over the list, it’s hard to imagine much success without doing so.

Guess what happened? Florida State adequately met very few of them, and it missed a bowl for the first time since the automobile was invented (if our math is right). Not everything was the fault of staff or players and some of these are more suited to the 2019 season. For now, it is clear that the Seminoles failed in a lot of aspects in 2018, and they will need a strong rebound next year to keep it going.

Final Overall Grade: C-

One Comment

  1. finance85

    November 28, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    The O-line was very, very bad. That said, they had flashes where they weren’t that bad. I saw open holes the backs missed. I saw Francois hold the ball too long, and fail to simply step up in the pocket. I saw Francois fail to recognize obvious blitzes pre-snap.

    It took Taggart a little while, but he learned to go north-south instead of east-west.

    I saw development in the LB group when Jackson and Warner were on the field at the same time.

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