Monday Mailbag: Running Backs, Replacing Marquez White, and Basketball’s Struggles

Photo by Logan Stanford

Welcome to NoleGameday Monday Mailbag, where we’ll be answering your questions every Monday morning regarding the state of Florida State athletics, as well as other topics that you would like to discuss. As always, feel free to leave us a question on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Dakota: I see this running back situation shaping out like it did in 2014, rather than 2013’s committee approach. If you remember, 2014 Florida State returned Karlos Williams and Mario Pender as the two main backs. Williams was fresh off of a breakout junior campaign and Pender was finally healthy/eligible. Dalvin Cook, who was an early enrollee that year, saw some action to begin the season but didn’t really begin to establish himself as a feature back until the fifth game of the year against Syracuse when he had his first 100-yard performance. Towards the end of the year, Florida State moved away from a committee approach with Williams/Pender/Cook and the freshman back took the majority of the carries the rest of the way.

This season, Florida State returns players like junior Jacques Patrick and sophomore Amir Rasul who have some years in the system. At 6-2, 230-pounds, Patrick has the size to be a workhorse back, but has not proven yet that he can carry the load in big-game situations. Meanwhile, Rasul is a speed demon but we just haven’t seen enough of him yet to understand who he is as a player.

They also have some talented incoming freshmen in Cam Akers, Khalan Laborn and Zaquandre White. Akers, the No. 2 recruit in the country, is already on campus and one of the most talented players that Jimbo Fisher has ever signed. Many people are already comparing him to Dalvin Cook when Cook was a freshman. Meanwhile, Laborn and White are very talented backs in their own right.

With players like Patrick and Rasul on the roster, there is no need to rush Akers or Laborn into action right away if they are not ready. Despite their five-star status, these freshman will face a tough adjustment to college football going against Alabama’s all-world defense. Expect Florida State to use many running backs in their offensive approach to begin the season before settling on one player to be the feature back to close out the year, be it Patrick, Akers or someone else.

Dustin: There’s been a plethora of issues for FSU away from home so far. In losses this week at Georgia Tech and at Syracuse, Florida State’s field goal percentage was well below their season average of 48.2%. Against the Yellow Jackets, they shot 20-71 (28.2%) from the field and 6-25 (24%) from deep. The Seminoles improved slightly on those numbers against Syracuse, shooting 23-60 (38.3%) from the field and 9-25 (36%) from three point range. Shot selection has been a major issue on offense, in all three of FSU’s losses in conference play, the Noles have shot 25 or more three-pointers. After a hot start from deep at the beginning of the year, the team has experienced a drop off in long range shooting, with their team percentage falling all the way to 35.9%. In fact, PJ Savoy is the only player on the team shooting 40% or higher from three point range as this teams ability to stretch the floor has gradually cooled off.

Defensive rebounding is another issue that has been magnified in the last two contests. The Seminoles struggle to boxout on defense consistently, leading to offensive rebounds and more chances at points for the opposition. At times, Florida State looks uninterested in crashing the glass or attempting to boxout the opposition, other times, they are just in the plain wrong positions. They surrendered 14 offensive boards to Georgia Tech and 16 to Syracuse, this team still has a lot of growing to do before March.

Who do you see replacing Marquez White? (Via Instagram)

Dakota: Florida State will likely move into the offseason with sophomore Levonta Taylor as the primary option to replace Marquez White at field cornerback. The 5-10, 169-pound five-star recruit played quite a bit as a freshman, especially after Florida State made defensive adjustments halfway through the season. As I’ve pointed out several times, Taylor was part of FSU’s specific third down package. On third downs, Tarvarus McFadden came off the field, White moved to boundary cornerback and Taylor came on at field cornerback. He played the position fairly well from what I was able to be and was always a willing tackler in the run game.

With McFadden the unquestioned starter at boundary cornerback, look for several players to challenge Taylor for the job at field cornerback. Marcus Lewis is a player who flashed last year in the spring game at true cornerback, but struggled mightily at STAR this season before sitting out with an injury. If he’s healthy, he has the talent to compete for the job. Other players like sophomores Kyle Meyers and Carlos Becker and early enrollee Stanford Samuels III will also likely get looks at the position as well.

What possible losses do you think the football team might have next season? (via Instagram)

Dakota: There are several games on next year’s schedule where I think Florida State could find difficulties. For one, the game against Alabama to open the season will most certainly be the Seminoles’ most difficult game and it comes on opening weekend. Nick Saban will have the Crimson Tide ready to roll against Jimbo Fisher’s squad and the Tide have historically dominated in their neutral-site opening games.

The ‘Noles get rival Miami fairly early in the season as well, just two weeks after their war with Alabama. As always, this game will be close no matter the talent level of the two teams and both coaching staffs will have their teams hyped up for the matchup. Despite the loss of several key offensive players from last season, the Hurricanes certainly have what it takes to give Florida State a fight.

Also, keep an eye on North Carolina State. The Wolfpack return QB Ryan Finley, TE Jaylen Samuels and ranked 25th in overall S&P+ to end the season. Luckily, Florida State gets this matchup at home rather than in Raleigh (a cursed place for FSU).

The next big test occurs when Louisville and defending Heisman Trophy-winner Lamar Jackson visit Doak Campbell Stadium. The Cardinals struggled to end the season, but there is no denying Jackson’s playmaking ability. Florida State has also failed to shut down dual-threat quarterbacks recently and there is a good chance that Bobby Petrino will have a good idea as how to attack the ‘Noles defense.

By the time Florida State travels to Clemson, the Tigers will likely have their offense figured out after losing Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, etc. to the NFL Draft. Whether it’s true freshman Hunter Johnson starting at quarterback or someone else, the Tigers will be a much different team on November 11th than when they open the season. Clemson is always a very tough place to play as well so there is no doubt this will be a difficult matchup.

Finally, the end game against Florida is always a battle. The Gators lose a ton on defense and have to figure out what they are doing at quarterback. Again, this game being on the road makes it more difficult than on first glance. Who knows, maybe the Gators will actually be able to score an offensive touchdown in this game?

Can the basketball team bounce back from those two bad losses? (via Instagram)

Dustin: Who knows? We haven’t seen this group of guys deal with multiple, tough losses in a row, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they respond against a good Miami team on Wednesday. I really like feel this game in Coral Gables is a must win, Florida State needs to pull out a gutsy road victory to get their confidence back away from Tallahassee. At home, they’ve played exceptionally well, but that’s not going to help them in the NCAA Tournament.

This game is crucial for Florida State’s momentum, it could be the start of a big run or the continuation of the losing streak. The Seminoles aren’t going to get a chance to play in their home arena during the ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament, putting together a few wins on the road as we near the end of the season would be very encouraging. When you aren’t comfortable in an environment it can show in your game, and it has for FSU on the road and at neutral sites, if they can become more focused away from home it bodes well for their postseason chances.

Who do you think will be the starting RB and which new faces will we see in the return game and on defense? (via Facebook)

Dakota: As stated above, expect a running back-by-committee approach to begin the season before a player like Cam Akers or Jacques Patrick establishes himself as a feature back. In the return game, Florida State will have a variety of options to replace Kermit Whitfield at kick returner. I think Keith Gavin has established himself as one of the options back there after his 66-yard return versus Michigan. Perhaps a speedster like Amir Rasul or Ryan Green could complement Gavin. At punt returner, Noonie Murray will have every opportunity to keep his job, but expect talented players like Levonta Taylor, Tarvarus McFadden and D.J. Matthews to challenge him for the spot.

On defense, players like Janarius Robinson, Keith Bryant and Joshua Kaindoh will be the primary options to replace DeMarcus Walker at defensive end. Taylor, Marcus Lewis and Stanford Samuels III will battle for the field cornerback job. At linebacker, expect to see Dontavius Jackson, Emmett Rice and Josh Brown get more reps this season after having a year in the program. Junior college transfer Adonis Thomas could also give you something as well.


Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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