It took Florida State five quarters to score its first touchdown last season. This season, it took a lightning-quick 43-second drive.
Cam Akers had a 38-yard TD run. Tamorrion Terry had a 75-yard TD reception. And even a short pitch and catch to tight end Gabe Gabers. The three scores catapulted the Seminoles into a situation that the teams of recent have been extremely unfamiliar with: they were ahead.
Not only was Florida State ahead in the game, they were close to blowing out the Boise State Broncos. At one point the ’Noles led 24-6. Florida State put up 31 points in the first half – they only scored 30 points or more three times last season (Wake Forest, Northern Illinois and Samford).
The latter makes it even more shocking that FSU lost to the Broncos, 36-31.
The Seminoles were held scoreless in the second half and only amassed 68 yards after halftime. The team was an abysmal 1 for 12 on third-down conversions by the end of the game.
When asked what changed in the second half, coach Willie Taggart said the team simply didn’t execute.
“We executed well in the first half,” Taggart said. “The second half we didn’t do as well … maybe there was a guy here or there who should’ve stopped on his route but kept going or we should have thrown a ball out but we didn’t. Those mistakes, those little details, especially in pressure situations or when the other team has momentum – someone has to step up and make a play. Instead of making those plays, we made mistakes. It was just a lack of execution.”
Despite being shut out in the second half, the Kendal Briles offense proved how exciting and efficient it can be in the first half – which makes the fact that it wasn’t as the game progressed so disappointing. Jet sweeps, trick plays and open runs down the field were as dazzling to watch as they were productive. To the offense’s credit, scoring 31 points would be enough to win the ballgame on most days.
A lot of attention was given to the QB battle in fall camp and James Blackman proved why he was named the starter against the Broncos. He looked calm throughout the contest and you could genuinely see the improvement if you looked back to his freshman season. He was progressing nicely through his reads, leading cornerbacks off receivers and had a couple of really nice deep throws that, out of the three scholarship quarterbacks, only he could make. Throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns, Blackman is certainly no longer a trial-by-fire quarterback.
Surprisingly absent from the offense was sophomore running back Khalan Laborn, who only gained eight yards on three attempts on Saturday. Laborn, who suffered a dislocated kneecap against Samford, looked to be on the verge of stardom before the injury. When speaking to the media during fall camp, the sophomore said the knee, “Felt great,” and that, even though he was 100 percent, he was taking his rehab seriously. Perhaps Taggart and the ’Noles are taking extra precautions, but Florida State might also be needlessly restricting one of its best playmakers.
For the most part, the offensive line played quite well. The Seminoles continuously rotated linemen in and out of the game, digging into their two-deep depth chart for every position on the line. Most of the breakdowns didn’t occur until later in the game where the ’Noles needed to produce points quickly, but the improvement that offensive line coach Randy Clements has preached was visible against a viable Boise State defensive front.
With that being said, the best blocking of the day actually came from elsewhere. Junior tight end Tre’ McKitty was the lead blocker on the Akers and Terry touchdowns that rocketed Florida State to an early lead. Despite only providing one catch in the passing game, McKitty’s blocking could be crucial in helping an offensive line that still has a long way to go.
Everything appeared to be going well before the halftime break, but afterwards it looked as though the offense from the 2018 season had run out onto the field instead of the offense that spectators witnessed in the first half.
“I do feel like we got comfortable with the big lead,” receiver Keyshawn Helton said. “We were executing a lot of plays in the first half and were executing what coach was calling. Us getting comfortable is something we can’t do. We now know that we cannot let that happen.”
The reversal of fortune was due to a couple of things, but the execution was lacking in the second half and the play-calling can be questioned, too.
However, when the Seminoles were exploiting bad matchups caused by the up-tempo play-calling, the offense looked near unstoppable and vastly improved.
“Show me a time last year when we put up 31 points in the first half,” James Blackman said. “When we are rolling, we are rolling. It’s hard to stop us. We just need to keep the momentum going.”