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Inside the numbers: Building block for 2021, statistical improvements

The record may not look like much. Often Florida State was tough to watch. But the Seminoles made some steps forward in a few statistical categories in the 2020 season.

Coach Mike Norvell learned who was willing to work hard and made a “daily investment” in the football program. And some of those results are evident when comparing FSU’s stats in 2020 to 2019.

We’ll look below at one big building block as well as a few other statistics of note, too.

Rush offense

Yards per game

FSU in 2020: 199.89 yards (31st nationally)

FSU in 2019: 140.69 yards (93rd nationally)

Yards per carry

FSU in 2020: 5.11 yards per carry (24th nationally)

FSU in 2019: 3.83 yards per carry (96th nationally)

The improvement on the offensive line is indisputable. While the line struggled at times in pass protection, due to injuries and likely players missing games due to COVID positives or contact tracing, the run blocking was considerably improved. Remove Cam Akers (a second-round pick) and FSU averaged 59 yards more per game in 2020. And the 5.11 yards per carry is more than a yard better, even with a running-back-by-committee approach with Lawrance Toafili, Jashaun Corbin, La’Damian Webb (who has transferred to Troy) and a mobile quarterback in Jordan Travis. His ability to run completely changed the dynamic of the FSU offense in the eight games he played.

Toafili had just 37 carries in 2020 but his 356 rushing yards resulted in a 9.62-yards per carry average, which was second in the FBS. Travis led FSU with 559 rushing yards (5.8 yards per carry), Corbin had 401 rushing yards (5.0 yards per carry) and Webb had 369 rushing yards (5.3 yards per carry).

Even with an offensive line that often featured four freshmen, true or redshirt, FSU was able to move the ball on the ground. We often discussed FSU’s offensive identity and it was clearly to run the ball, put together long drives that produced points and attempt to keep time of possession in the Seminoles’ favor.

Going for it on fourth down

Norvell loves to roll the dice, either by nature, to give confidence to the offense or to take a load off the defense. FSU’s 28 fourth-down attempts led the ACC and the 15 conversions were second (only to Virginia’s 16) this season. The conversion rate of 53.5 percent isn’t great, ranking 72nd nationally. Also remember that this was a nine-game season for FSU — meaning the Seminoles went for it on fourth down an average of three times per game — while other ACC teams played 10 or 11 games. 

But Norvell has illustrated a desire to go for it on fourth-and-short, which is a gamble when FSU is on its own side of the 50. But it is a welcome reversal from Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart. In 2019, under Taggart and interim head coach Odell Haggins, FSU went for it just 19 times (with 11 being successful) in 13 games. In 2017, under Fisher and Haggins, FSU went for it 10 times and was successful five times.

Punting a consistent bright spot

Freshman Alex Mastromanno was 31st in the FBS in punting, averaging 43.5 yards per attempt. By comparison, walk-on Tommy Martin averaged 39.7 yards per punt in 2019.

Mastromanno’s average is the highest over the course of a season by an FSU punter since 2015, when Cason Beatty averaged 45.2 yards per punt.

Takeaways

There were very few bright spots when looking back at FSU on defense. One clearly was takeaways, which had been an emphasis from the start under coordinator Adam Fuller.

FSU had 14 takeaways in 2020, eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries. The Seminoles averaged 1.55 per game. In 2019, FSU had 18 takeaways in 13 games (1.38 per game). This isn’t a big improvement on a year-to-year comparison but still notable.

Asante Samuel Jr. led the way with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Joshua Kaindoh’s interception return for a touchdown against North Carolina was a big factor in the upset win.

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