The weak link in Florida State’s offensive game plan this season was clearly up the middle.
It’s no knock on the potential of redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld, who was forced into action when senior Austin Barron went down with injury, but the drop-off from last year’s starter, Bryan Stork, was significant.
So rather than simply sticking with the cards he’d been dealt, Jimbo Fisher rolled the dice. He moved Cameron Erving, his All-ACC left tackle, to the middle of the line and placed true freshman Roderick Johnson into the starting lineup to protect Jameis Winston’s blind side.
It was a gamble, but it worked -- at least for this week -- and now Fisher seems happy to stick with the new format for his offensive line.
“Inside, Cam is so athletic, he can move, can pull,” Fisher said. “As good as Stork was, Cam is such an athlete ... and he can clog up the middle.”
The improvement wasn’t particularly visible in terms of pass protection against the Hurricanes. Miami recorded just one sack, but Winston was hit or pressured on six of his 37 dropbacks -- roughly the same as his season average, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Status quo is certainly acceptable, though it’s worth noting that Miami entered the game with one of the least productive pass rushes in the ACC, and starting defensive end Anthony Chickillo missed time after getting hurt in Saturday’s game.
Chalk that up to Johnson getting his first heavy dose of work at left tackle, but FSU has seen enough of him in practice to think there’s a high ceiling there.
"Sometimes he does better against Mario Edwards than I do [in practice],” Erving said. “That's being honest. He has a lot of potential."
The potential in pass protection is one thing. Where FSU saw a marked improvement was on the ground.
Entering the game, Florida State had struggled mightily running the ball between the tackles, averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry -- a significant drop-off from last season’s production.
Against Miami, however, the Seminoles rushed for 5.8 yards per carry, including 2.0 before contact -- both season highs. The yards before contact more than doubled FSU’s season average on rushes up the middle, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The caveat to the instant impact the swap on the line might have had is that Florida State ran the ball between the tackles just nine times -- its lowest total of the season. That was due in part to an early deficit that forced FSU to throw more, but also likely a desire to get Erving used to his new role.
But Fisher sees this as the future for the line, and given that Barron was officially listed as available for the Miami game, even his return to health is unlikely to change that in the near term.
It’s a savvy move for Florida State, which goes against a Boston College team this week that ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense and third in the ACC in tackles for loss.
“It’s a move that we felt we needed to make to help us in the future to take us where we wanted to go,” Fisher said.