Florida State entered Saturday’s game trying to jump start its season against Wake Forest after an 0-2 start to the season. Mike Norvell’s team went into the game trying to prove that last week’s loss to Jacksonville State was an anomaly and a win against the Demon Deacons in the teams ACC opener would have taken some of the sting out of last week’s bitter disappointment. A win would have also given FSU some momentum heading into a two game ACC home stretch that starts next week with Louisville. A win would have reassured the team and its fan base that it had righted the ship. However, after Saturday’s disheartening 35-14 loss to Wake Forest the questions and concerns surrounding the FSU program continue to grow. FSU needed to play its most complete game of the season against the best team its faced so far this season to walk away with a Sod Game win and they didn’t. Here are three impressions on what led to FSU’s third loss of the season:
Best Team Won
There are plenty of ways this was proven over the course of Saturday’s game but the best football team won the game. We thought Wake would be the best offense that FSU would face in the first three weeks of the season and it was, hands down. We thought we would see a disciplined bend-but-don’t-break defense from the Demon Deacons and they were that — and for most of the game much better than that, playing dominant football at times. FSU looked like a team still trying to find its identity, offensively rotating McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis at quarterback for various reasons (lack of productivity or injury) throughout the game. After playing in offensive formations with both Milton and Travis on the field last week, they were never featured on the field at the same time this week. Defensively FSU struggled to find any type of consistency against the run or the pass. After coming into the game as one of the better run defenses in the country, allowing just 86 yards per game, the Seminoles gave up 225 yards rushing to Wake Forest. The one thing FSU needed to do was shut down the Wake rushing attack and it never quite learned how to defend Wake’s delayed read-zone RPO offense, which only opened more opportunities for Wake in the passing game. Wake looked like a team that knew exactly who it was and what it needed to do to win on Saturday. FSU looked like a team that is still trying to find out exactly who it is and what it can do well consistently.
Lack of sustainability on offense
The FSU offense needed to put points on the board and maybe more importantly keep the ball away from the Wake Forest. It couldn’t. FSU had 13 offensive possessions during the game with nine of those drives consisting of three plays or less (this includes a one-play scoring drive by the Seminoles). Seven of those drives of three plays or less occurred in the first half, which resulted in FSU’s defense playing 52 plays from scrimmage in the first. Wake totaled 332 yards of offense and took a 27-14 lead into the locker room.
FSU’s offense was more consistent in the second half but it was too little, too late after Wake drove 90 yards to make the score 35-14 on its first offensive series of the second half. Of course, Wake was less aggressive defensively in the second half as it played with a three-touchdown lead. FSU is still very much trying to learn who it is on offense and, as evidenced by the rotating door at quarterback, who are the best players to give the offense more productivity and consistency. FSU has yet to find anyone single player who can consistently make plays in Mike Norvell’s playmaker friendly offense. Of course, matters weren’t helped any with FSU’s lack of depth on the offensive line. Center Maurice Smith was held out of the game and earlier in the week guard Dontae Lucas left the program. There were questions coming into the season about FSU’s offensive line even with its best personnel on the field, the concerns about how it would play without its best five were validated against Wake. FSU game into the Wake game averaging 233 yards on the ground but finished with just 92 yards rushing on Saturday behind its patchwork offensive line. The search for a go-to wide receiver continues as well.
Big plays and third-down defense
The FSU defense needed to limit the amount of big plays it gave up in the passing game as it tried to stop Wake, which features a unique way of running a delayed read-zone RPO offense. FSU didn’t have any answers against Wake’s rushing or passing attack. Chunk plays (plays of over 10 yards rushing and 15 yards passing) have haunted the FSU defense last season and in the first two games this year. Big plays were a huge part of Wake’s success. FSU came into the game allowing opponents 13.5 plays of 10 yards or more (run or pass), which ranked 79th in the country. Wake totaled 14 plays of 10 yards or more against FSU on Saturday afternoon. Four of those plays included two passes of more than 40 yards, including a 49-yard TD pass on their first possession. Wake totaled 484 yards of offense for the game with 214 of those yards coming on just 10 plays.
FSU couldn’t get off the field on third down, where Wake Forest converted 7 of 17 third-down opportunities. In the first half Wake converted on 5 of 10 opportunities on third down and on 6 of its first 12 opportunities. Wake quarterback Sam Hartman was a very efficient 7 of 10 for 74 yards. They say football is a game inches. Wake averaged 6.2 yards per third-down play while having an average distance of 6.1 yards to-go on their third-down opportunities.