Sunday, September 16, 2012
Pass protection still a concern for FSU
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tre Jackson delivered the first block, and Chris Thompson didn't need much more help.
The tailback burst through the line of scrimmage and shot down the sideline for the first of two long touchdowns, the highlights of another blowout win for Florida State.
EJ Manuel spent much of the first half on the run against Wake Forest.
"That's the best feeling as an offensive lineman you can have, when you set the block, open up the hole, and you see your running back bust through," Jackson said. "You're just running behind him cheering him on."
Florida State's offensive line was dominant in the running game on Saturday, as the Seminoles racked up nearly 400 yards on the ground, dismantling a Wake Forest defensive front that had no answers.
In the passing game, things weren't quite so pretty.
EJ Manuel was under pressure throughout the game. Manuel was sacked three times, forced out of the pocket far more often, and by halftime, FSU had completed just five passes.
Given the myriad questions regarding the inexperienced offensive line entering the season, the struggles in pass protection against Wake Forest are reason for some concern.
"It wasn't perfect," fullback Lonnie Pryor said. "It may look good watching, but it wasn't perfect. We had some good plays and we had some bad plays. We still need to work on pass blocking and be more focused and do things right."
Wake Forest didn't make things easy.
The Demon Deacons routinely threw a five-man front at Florida State, forcing the line to adjust, the backs and tight ends to pick up blitzes, and forcing Manuel to make quick decisions. It took one full half before Florida State adjusted to those things.
Moreover, Wake’s base 3-4 defense was further complicated when Jimbo Fisher was forced to use backup Daniel Glauser at right tackle after starter Menelik Watson missed two practices -- and a bulk of the preparation for the Deacon's defense.
"It was a little different," Jackson said. "I believe we were coached well on it during the week. Our coaches got us some good looks with the scout team and we were well prepared for it."
Still, there were missed assignments on the line. There were backs that failed to pick up blocks. There were receivers that broke off routes too soon and times when Manuel held the ball too long, left the pocket too soon or simply delivered a throw that was off the mark.
After two straight weeks in which Florida State was simply far more physical and athletic than the opposition, Wake Forest at least provided a test, and the grades weren't quite as high as Fisher might have liked.
"We've still got a lot of things we've got to clean up, still have a lot of sloppiness in a lot of areas," Fisher said.
Even in the running game, things weren't perfect.
Late in the second quarter, a 20-yard screen pass and a 10-yard run set up what appeared to be another easy scoring chance for Florida State, but Pryor and James Wilder Jr. failed to find the end zone on three straight tries from inside the 2-yard line.
A year ago, pass protection and short yardage doomed the Florida State offense. On Saturday, there was no slowing the Seminoles, but those problems haven’t disappeared.
Still, Manuel insists progress has been made, and the steps Florida State needs to take to iron the remaining flaws aren't major.
“Nothing out of the ordinary, but just to be more consistent," Manuel said. "I think that there are some throws that I missed and then some catches that they usually don’t miss, but just as an offense we have to be more detailed.”
That's how Fisher sees things, too.
Criticism is tough to come by after winning three games by a score of 176-3, but Fisher knows there is work to be done.
And yet, there's no ignoring the outcomes, regardless of the level of competition or the handful of flaws that managed to surface anyway. For now, at least, he'll measure progress by how far FSU's line has come rather than how much further they have to go.
"We're head and shoulders above where we were," Fisher said. "Are we where we want to be? No, we're not close. But we're making a lot of progress."