Special teams mistakes plague FSU against Alabama

Florida State opened their 2017 season with a 24-7 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in Atlanta. The defeat marks the first for FSU with Jimbo Fisher as head coach.

The loss could have deeper implications for the `Noles after a late game leg injury to Deondre Francois. The rising sophomore QB was down on the field for a few minutes before being helped off to a tent on the Seminoles sideline. He was unable to put any weight on his leg. True freshman James Blackman took over for Francois after his injury and made a few handoffs as the last few minutes wound off the clock.

Blackman won the competition for the backup quarterback job in camp against junior JJ Cosentino and fellow freshman Bailey Hockman. The young quarterback supposedly has a strong and accurate arm, but he’s still learning the playbook and terminology. He just recently enrolled in July, while Cosentino has spent multiple years in Tallahassee, and Hockman enrolled in January. Blackman is also extremely skinny at 6’5” 185 lbs. He looked like a wide receiver when he was under center.

While nothing is confirmed, Francois was carted off the field with a heavy brace on his leg. If he’s unable to go next week or for the extended future, one of these quarterbacks will have to step up. They’ll have the week of practice to duke it out prior to the game with UL-Monroe. In this game, against an overmatched opponent, FSU will need to find out which one of these quarterbacks they can trust. Right now, it seems like the most likely option is Blackman. His upside and performance during Fall Camp seems to have caught Fisher’s attention.

This season, NoleGameday will take a look at three things trending up with the Seminoles and three things trending down during our post game recaps

Three Up

The Defense

Despite the loss, Florida State proved that their defense is legit. The `Noles held Jalen Hurts under 100 yards, 96 to be in fact, as we predicted. Hurts completed 10-18 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. Most of his yards came on his touchdown throw of 53 yards to Calvin Ridley, who burned true freshman Stanford Samuels. Safety Ermon Lane seemed to misread the play and he was also out of position.

FSU wasn’t as effective against the run, but by no means were the `Noles bad against the Crimson Tide’s physical running backs. In fact, this defense is easily the most talented as any they’ve had since 2013. Alabama gained 173 yards on 42 carries for an average of 4.1 a carry. For reference, Last season `Bama averaged 5.8 yards per carry. the last time Alabama was held to under 300 yards of offense in a game was in 2014, last night they finished with 269 yards. This defense is elite. 

The defense dealt with having to cover a short field for most of the night. Alabama’s punting combined with Florida State’s miscues kept the field flipped. You have to imagine that the Seminoles would’ve surrendered even fewer points if their special teams unit had come out with even an average performance. It was arguably an all-time flop for FSU there, but we’ll get to that.

However, it’s clear that this defense has taken a step forward from where they started in 2016. They have experience and talent at every position on the field, regardless of the quarterback, it’s clear they can do their job.

Auden Tate

The passing game, like the protection, was inconsistent for most of the night. Deondre Francois managed to record 161 passing yards in the first half, but Alabama limited him to a mere 49 yards through the air in the second half.

Auden Tate was one of the few bright spots in the receiving core during game one. Francois found Tate on a jump-ball downfield for a 38-yard gain on the second drive of the game. Later on the drive, Francois would toss up another jump-ball on a fade route to Tate. The 6’5” junior wide receiver made a fantastic catch while being covered marvelously by Minkah Fitzpatrick to haul in a three-yard touchdown.

The Seminoles will help to get more consistency from Noonie Murray next week. He finished with just three receptions for 29 yards.

Derwin James

It was his first time in a real game in almost a year, but you certainly couldn’t tell it by the way Derwin James was flying around. He finished with six tackles and half a sack but his presence couldn’t be more notable. James almost intercepted a pass he deflected in Hurts’ face during the first half. He also delivered a couple punishing hits to the Crimson Tides star quarterback when blitzing.

Just having him back on the field means so much to this defensive unit. James is a game changer and you could see that Alabama was trying to identify where he was on every play. He should only continue to make more of an impact as the season progresses. This loss should only fuel the fire.

Three Down

Special teams

Florida State had an all-time low of a performance on special teams during the loss to Alabama. In fact, that unit could be the reason the `Noles lost the game.

FSU had a blocked field goal, a blocked punt, a fumble on a kickoff return, a personal foul on a punt, a kickoff return that went to the ten-yard line, and a 12-yard punt. Sophomore Logan Tyler struggled in this one, he had six punts for an average of only 31.5 yards per punt. His blocked punt set the Crimson Tide up for a score in the third quarter that allowed them to stretch their lead.

Keith Gavin made two poor decisions to return kickoffs out of the end zone. The sophomore was quickly brought down by a rumbling Alabama kickoff unit at the ten-yard line prior to the Seminoles second series. In the third quarter, Gavin tried to bring the ball out again and fumbled the ball after taking a big hit. `Bama recovered, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing play that put them up 14.

The `Noles also failed to return a punt in the game. Calling a fair catch or letting the ball bounce every single time. 

Running game

The Seminoles needed to effectively establish the run against Alabama’s front to open up passing lanes. Instead, they were stifled by a Crimson Tide front that was replaced four starters among their front seven. FSU was held to a total of 40 rushing yards on 27 carries, a 1.5 per carry average.

Alarmingly, new starter Jacques Patrick was unable to get anything going on the ground. He finished with six carries for 17 yards. Patrick was simply too slow to make any headway against `Bamas speedy defense. He also didn’t seem to run with the same purpose that Cam Akers did when he got carries.

The former five-star running back completed his debut with 10 carries for 30 yards. He also added a catch for 11 yards. FSU didn’t turn to him until the fourth drive of the game, but Akers quickly answered with 3 straight carries for 17 yards. The freshman didn’t look intimidated at all, even talking trash to the Alabama players at times. He’ll have a chance to become the feature back this season.

Florida State’s offensive line was definitely improved against the pass rush, even though Francois took some big shots, but they could do absolutely nothing when it came to creating running lanes. Thankfully, the Seminoles won’t face as many defensive lines this talented throughout the season. They also will probably more of an idea of how to create consistent rushing yards after a few weeks of experimentation.

Halftime Adjustments

FSU trailed 10-7 at halftime and the `Noles were a few offensive adjustments away from a second-half comeback. Instead, the special teams unit fell apart (as mentioned above) and the offense failed to generate the kind of movement they saw in the first half.

After a touchdown drive of 80 yards during the first 30 minutes, the Seminoles longest drive stretched just 27 yards in the second half. Florida State was limited to 82 yards of offense in the second-half as Alabama seemed to bring more pressure to get to Francois. They succeeded, disrupting the `Noles flow. The uncharacteristic special team’s woes were just icing on the cake of FSU’s first loss in 2017.

You have to question the game plan that Fisher and his staff tried to implement offensively in the second half. After a good performance through the air by Francois in the first half, Florida State broke down. This team will work to become more consistent across the board in week two.

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