Florida State’s starts have been sluggish and mostly regrettable — a big early deficit at Wake Forest and against Louisville have contributed to losses the last few weeks.
The Seminoles have scored just 14 points in first quarters in 2021, a touchdown vs. Notre Dame and a touchdown at Wake Forest. Reasons for the drives falling short have ranged the spectrum, especially on the opening drive.
“Every game has really been a different reason,” offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said. “To be honest, the first game Notre Dame came out in something completely different. That was on us, myself. Second game, obviously we came out, penalty. Third game, we came out, we turned the football over. This week we came out, the first three plays, three different one-on-one situations where we didn’t have success and have to punt. Obviously we have to get started faster.”
Slow starts can be attributed to building chemistry among freshmen, veterans and transfers. And some of it can be connected to confidence. Even Keyshawn Helton’s drop against Jacksonville State was later cited as a deflating moment not just for him but others on offense. The slow starts are both on the opening drives and in the opening quarter on offense:
Against Notre Dame, FSU went three-and-out, three-and-out, 89-yard touchdown by Jashaun Corbin, punt.
Against Jacksonville State, FSU turned it over on downs, then went punt and punt.
At Wake, FSU went fumble, three-and-out, three-and-out and a 75-yard touchdown drive (Treshaun Ward 8-yard TD run).
Against Louisville, FSU went punt, turned it over on downs and then began a scoring drive but with a touchdown being scored early in the second quarter.
Given that each quarter has provided at least two full drives, often three and sometimes four, the batting average for the Seminoles’ offense to produce points in the first quarter is extremely low on a per-possession basis.
“We’ve got to re-evaluate with our current personnel what we’re doing in those drives and try to help our guys get started,” Dillingham said.
The offense’s three-and-outs or early turnovers have put FSU’s defense in some bad spots. (Opponents have scored five touchdowns and a field goal in the four games.) A lack of complementary football has led to the sloppy starts and the Seminoles, who have not been able to put together an explosive passing game, are instead forced to try and throw the ball.
FSU’s defense found itself in “sudden change” situations twice in the first quarter at Wake, going back out on to the field following a Seminoles fumble and a special-teams penalty. And against Louisville, FSU was halted on fourth down and the Cardinals capitalized by scoring a touchdown.
On defense, among the biggest culprits have been opponents’ ability to convert a high rate of third downs.
“Starting fast is a mindset, it’s not just in games, it’s in practice and in meetings and we’re trying to push that,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “For us to play well this coming week it has to happen early in the football game. There’s an urgency in the intensity in which that message is being sent.”