FSU should let the running backs loose against Georgia Tech
The Florida State Seminoles will return to the field Saturday after a bye week and will host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Florida State (4-3, 2-3 ACC) are looking to end a 3-game losing skid. Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-2) saw its 2-game win streak come to an end Oct. 20 after a 16-9 home loss to Virginia.
The Seminoles are a 24-point favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook with a point total of 47.5.
Here are 3 things I’d like to see from the Seminoles on Saturday:
1. More Benson and Toafili
With Treshaun Ward out the Florida State running back-by-committee approach has thinned out and should be more like a traditional timeshare between Trey Benson and Lawrance Toafili. Benson’s usage in the offense has been interesting. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt sophomore is averaging 6.9 yards per carry, but he’s not getting the ball as much as he should be. Benson hasn’t had more than 10 carries since the Boston College game Sept. 24.
Two weeks ago Benson felt like FSU’s best offensive player against Clemson. The Tigers were not eager to tackle the big back and Benson had 4 runs of 11 or more yards. But he only carried the ball 7 times and disappeared for much of the 2nd half. Toafili has gotten more work and produced in an increased role. The redshirt sophomore had 11 carries for 68 yards and finished with a “REAL” average of 5.3 yards. That’s an excellent number and proof that Toafili probably deserved 5-to-7 more carries.
“I thought the game against Clemson, you saw probably his best down in and down out performance as a running back,” Seminoles coach Mike Norvell said. “I think that’s something we’re going to continue to build upon.”
(Writer’s Note: “REAL” average is calculated by taking a player’s touches and eliminating the longest gain and shortest gain with the belief that the opposition isn’t as good as its best play or as bad as its worst play. Minimum of 10 carries for a running back and 5 catches for a wide receiver.)
The best way to build up what Toafili and Benson are doing is to let them do more of it. Quarterback Jordan Travis also is a great threat in the backfield, but there’s a fine line between proper usage and too much usage. Right now he’s in the too much usage area. The best way to settle that down is to get the running backs heavily involved Saturday. It would be good for them to split 35-40 touches.
2. Stop giving, start taking away
Florida State’s defense generally avoids giving up the big play, but the lack of takeaways eliminates some of the good work of the unit. Norvell also touched on this during his press conference Monday.
“We’ve got to create pressure,” he said. “We’ve got to disrupt things at the line of scrimmage. We’ve got to make sure, if we get opportunities on the back end, we take advantage of them, being in the right place, making sure our eyes are where they need to be. Then it just comes down to effort, physicality, and pursuit.”
On the season the Seminoles defense has 8 takeaways and just 1 over the past 3 games. Duke had 8 takeaways in a game this year (sorry Miami). Norvell is correct when he says pressure causes mistakes, but the defenses being called aren’t players much freedom to create chaos. With the possibility of Georgia Tech playing 2 backup quarterbacks this week, the Seminoles defenders should have a few opportunities to get loose and try to make something happen.
3. Make special teams decent again
Honestly it’s hard to believe Florida State spends as much time as it does on special teams because it doesn’t show up on the field. The coaches no longer trust kicker Ryan Fitzgerald in most pressure situations and they shouldn’t. Unfortunately it has put additional pressure on the offense to get into the end zone.
Against N.C. State the lack of trust in Fitzgerald cost FSU a potential win. Against Clemson the Seminoles had 2 drives end in plus territory, with 1 ending inside the Clemson 5-yard line. The points being left on the field start to add up over time.
The kicking game isn’t the only culprit. FSU’s kick coverage had a major hiccup against Clemson when Will Shipley returned a kickoff 69 yards to set up what proved to be the winning touchdown. Add in a disastrous fake punt against Tigers, and whatever Alex Mastromanno was thinking when he made an illegal kick against N.C. State and the Seminoles clearly have struggled in 1 of the 3 phases of the game.
It’s hard to expect Fitzgerald to have gained the trust of the coaches during a bye week, but a successful field-goal attempt early in the game would be a nice start.
3 players I’d like to see more of
1. WR Mycah Pittman: The Oregon transfer had a big game against Wake Forest (5 catches, 85 yards, 2 touchdowns), but he finished with just 1 catch for 6 yards against Clemson. Mycah Pittman is the Seminoles’ most versatile threat on offense with his ability to line up all over the field.
2) DT Joshua Farmer: The defensive line depth beyond Fabian Lovett is nothing to write home about. Jarrett Jackson, Malcolm Ray and Robert Cooper have been collectively average at best. Joshua Farmer, however, has something to work with. He has got some nastiness to his game and that’s much needed with this defense.
3) CB Azareye’h Thomas: The freshman seemed to be on a nice rise for a while, but it seems like his snaps have gone down. There has been an apprehension with this staff to let some talented freshmen play. Yes there will be mistakes, but there also will be positives and a growth of confidence. Hopefully Azareye’h Thomas gets some more run Saturday.
This will be a good Saturday afternoon if:
Florida State wins 37-14 with Benson and Toafili both gaining 100 yards rushing and the defense recording 3 takeaways. Fitzgerald connects on all 3 field-goal attempts.
This will be a bad Saturday afternoon if:
Florida State wins 24-21 behind a late rally and forces Travis to play hero ball, the defense gets no takeaways and Fitzgerald goes 1-for-3 on field-goal tries.