EL PASO, Texas – Without Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn, the Florida State offense indeed looked very different.
But that didn’t mean the run game wasn’t productive.
Discussion leading up to the Sun Bowl revolved around walk-on Deonte Sheffield and if he would be starting the game with Akers preparing for the NFL Draft and Laborn out after knee surgery. And if the Seminoles were exploring implementing wide receiver D.J. Matthews as a running back for parts of the game. Gabe Nabers was a valid yet unlikely option, as he was formally a fullback before converting to tight end his junior year.
The running attack for the Seminoles proved to be arguably the most consistent aspect to the offense’s performance on Tuesday afternoon, a bright spot despite the six turnovers (five by James Blackman) in the loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
Sheffield indeed got the start and displayed some impressive vision and explosiveness when his number was called. The walk-on rushed for 87 yards on 18 carries and was often times one of the only bright spots for the Florida State offense. Sheffield did score a touchdown against Alabama State, but up until that point, saw minimal playing time in his first two seasons.
“He did a great job,” Odell Haggins said. “At Florida State, we will always say: ‘Next man up.’ That’s one reason why in today’s society – I don’t care if he’s a walk-on or what not – you treat everybody like they are a star on your football team … and you love them like that.”
In addition to Sheffield’s performance, freshman walk-on Treshaun Ward also received significant playing time in the Sun Bowl. The Tampa Bay Tech product rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries and, like Sheffield, produced some of the only offense Florida State had during a horrific first half of offense.
The uncertainty and need for the running back position for Florida State went beyond just the Sun Bowl. Laborn’s status is still in question – he was suspended for the Florida game and then had knee surgery a week or so before the Sun Bowl.
Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have received a pair of key commitments for next year. Four-star running back Lawrance Toafili committed to the Seminoles on the first day of the early signing period. And on Saturday, Jashaun Corbin announced that he will be transferring to Florida State from Texas A&M (he will need a waiver approved to allow him to play for the Seminoles in 2020).
The stress surrounding the running back position has subsided as quickly as it arrived. The two commitments by Corbin and Toafili were welcome additions, but it’s the encouraging performances in the Sun Bowl by Sheffield and Ward that show there is strong depth at the running back position when called upon.