Preview: FSU determined to rebuild confidence on offensive line against Samford
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State looks to build confidence in its struggling offensive line when the Seminoles take on Samford this weekend.
In their season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, the Seminoles allowed five sacks and were not able to establish a running game — then fell out of the Top 25.
It was not the kind of start first-year coach Willie Taggart had hoped for.
Taggart fired up the Florida State fan base with an offseason promise of a fun, fast-paced offense he called “Lethal Simplicity.” That’s not what he delivered. Florida State was benign in a 24-3 season-opening loss to Virginia Tech. The Seminoles struggled to move the ball when it mattered most: On first down, third down or in the red zone.
One of the main culprits against the Hokies was the offensive line, the same weakness as in the last three seasons.
“We learn from it and we get better from it,” Taggart said. “I thought our offensive line played better than what I thought on the field. I thought we could’ve done some things better and we could’ve helped too as coaches. It’ll be much better on Saturday.”
Florida State’s line also committed four penalties, including three on guard Landon Dickerson (a personal foul and a pair of false starts). He sprained his ankle in the game and Taggart is uncertain that he will be able to play against Samford (1-0).
That could force Derrick Kelly, a senior who has played guard and tackle throughout his career, to slide over to tackle. Not an ideal scenario for the Seminoles but his versatility presents options for a group that needs to find solutions.
Senior center Alec Eberle isn’t totally surprised by the slow start.
“I knew coming into this there might be a couple hiccups,” said Eberle, who has made 33 starts. “This is our first time in a game with this offense. Coming into this next game, we’re going to be focused. We know that if we can put it all together for the whole game and not just have little spurts of it that we could be the offense that we all know we can be.”
Some other things to watch when Florida State hosts Samford:
DON’T SLEEP ON HODGES
Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges completed 25 of 36 passes for 330 yards and five touchdowns in a 66-9 rout of Shorter in Week 1. A senior, Hodges is a two-time Southern Conference offensive player of the year and has thrown for 10,631 career yards (former Alcorn State star Steve McNair is the FCS leader with 14,496). Hodges threw for 3,983 yards with 31 touchdown passes in 2017 and will challenge Florida State’s deep secondary.
“We want to line up fast and try to wear down that defense early,” Hodges said. “We just need to go out there and be ourselves and enjoy the moment.”
PRESSURE OFF THE EDGE
Samford’s defensive front features one of the FCS’ top defenders. Defensive end Ahmad Gooden had 101 tackles and 15 tackles for loss in 2017 and was named the SoCon’s defensive player of the year. Gooden is “probably one of the better defensive ends in FCS,” Taggart said.
STREAKS ON THE LINE
Florida State has won 13 straight non-conference home games since the start of the 2013 season and is 23-0 against FCS teams since 1978. The Seminoles have also won five of their last six games played on fewer than seven days’ rest.
“It’s good to get away from a horrible loss,” Taggart said. “Get back to work. Want to make sure that we don’t necessarily forget it, but make sure we understand how we feel and that we don’t feel that way again on Saturday.”
The Seminoles managed just a field goal on four red-zone trips in the loss to Virginia Tech. But Taggart’s offense at Oregon was very efficient in 2017, scoring on 89 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line. The Ducks generated 50 scores on 56 trips – 33 passing touchdowns, 11 rushing touchdowns and six field goals.
Florida State failed to score a touchdown at home against Virginia Tech, the first time that has happened since a 12-3 loss to Wake Forest in 2008. The Seminoles were held to single digits in points just twice in the Jimbo Fisher Era (2010-17), with both resulting in losses last season – 24-7 to No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta and 35-3 at Boston College.