Florida State's offense stagnant behind struggling line
By BOB FERRANTE
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State has tried three starting lineups on the offensive line in three games. The Seminoles will use a fourth on Saturday.
While injuries have plagued the group, regardless of who has been in - a veteran or a first-time starter - the line hasn't done its job. The group has provided little time for quarterback Deondre Francois to throw and little to no running room for Cam Akers or Jacques Patrick. Francois was pressured on nearly half of his 41 passing attempts in a 30-7 loss at Syracuse on Saturday.
"A lot of times our guys are just panicking," Florida State coach Willie Taggart said. "Our guys know what to do and they panic - and I think that happens when you get beat once or twice and then you start to panic rather than trusting our technique and trusting your rules and your assignment and then you try to do too much."
Florida State (1-2) has allowed 10 sacks and generated only 156 rushing yards in its FBS losses, managing just a field goal and a touchdown in lopsided losses to Virginia Tech and at Syracuse.
Instead of good news, the offensive line concerns just continue.
The Seminoles will play Northern Illinois (1-2) without senior Derrick Kelly, who started three games but has a leg injury and won't play. They also are unlikely to have Landon Dickerson, who has missed two games with an ankle injury and hasn't returned to practice.
Florida State is already thin on numbers and experience on the offensive line.
The Seminoles' first-team offensive line in Tuesday's practice was comprised of tackles Brady Scott and Abdul Bello, guards Mike Arnold and Arthur Williams and center Alec Eberle. Beyond Eberle, who has now made 35 starts, neither had started a game before the 2018 season. Williams was a defensive tackle until he moved over to offense in August.
"Nobody cares," offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. "My dad told me when I was a little kid, and it was probably the truest thing I've ever been told in my life: `No one cares about your problems and most are glad you have them.' Everybody we play against is glad that we have problems."
That likely true, and the Seminoles most certainly have problems.
The Seminoles lost six linemen in the seven months leading up to the 2018 season: Brock Ruble graduated and transferred to Toledo, David Robbins took a medical disqualification, Josh Ball was suspended and later dismissed, Andrew Boselli and Ethan Frith gave up playing football and Corey Martinez graduated and left the team.
Those personnel losses, along with the fact that former coach Jimbo Fisher signed just one offensive lineman in the 2017 class, have proven detrimental to the growth of a young offense under Taggart. Florida State may have to use one of the four true freshmen who haven't played through three games.
"Everything's on the table right now," Taggart said. "Some guys are going to have to develop a lot quicker than we thought they would."
Florida State hasn't been able to build any momentum on offense as drives stall due to the line issues, penalties and third-and-long situations become impossible to convert. The running game is stagnant and Francois has been pressured on 51 of his 131 dropbacks in three games, according to Pro Football Focus.
It's clear the offensive line concerns will be a season-long issue. But the question is whether the Seminoles can patch up some of the problems.
"Sometimes you get tired of the same thing happening," Eberle said. "We know how good we can be. We know how good our whole squad, every position can be. We're ready to help each other out and get it done."
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Updated September 18, 2018