ACC: Ryan Hoefeld

Planning for success: Florida State

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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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.

[+] EnlargeCameron Erving
Lynne Sladky/Associated PressThe move of Cameron Erving from tackle to center bolstered Florida State's inside-run game against Miami.
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.

By the numbers: FSU's weak links

November, 6, 2014
Nov 6
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It’s no secret that Florida State hasn’t dominated opponents this season as it did a year ago. What might be missing a bit from the conversation is exactly what has been missing from the Seminoles’ winning formula in 2014.

It’s true that quarterback Jameis Winston hasn’t been quite as sharp this season, but it’s worth noting that he has been asked to throw a good bit more than he did a season ago. During the regular season in 2013, Winston’s high in pass attempts was 34 (vs. Clemson). This season, he has had one game against an FBS foe in which he’s thrown less than 34 times (31 vs. Notre Dame). Last season, 51 percent of FSU’s plays against FBS teams were pass plays. This season, that rate has jumped to 58 percent.

So why the increased reliance on Winston’s arm? It has a lot to do with the lack of production from the backfield, and that actually starts up front.

If you have watched Florida State’s recent games, it’s no secret that center Ryan Hoefeld is a bit overmatched, but the Seminoles’ inability to run between the tackles has been a season-long problem, and it’s the biggest difference between last season’s offense and this season’s.

Last season, FSU ran between the tackles on 66 percent of its runs, and its 6.2 yards-per-carry average and 26 TDs led the ACC. This season, the Seminoles’ performance outside the tackles has actually improved, but its production up the middle has been cut in half.

Now flip the script to the defensive side of the ball. Again, FSU hasn’t been nearly as impressive as it was in 2013, and the once mighty secondary has proven vulnerable at times.

Last season, FSU allowed 52 percent completions, picked off one of every 16 attempts and allowed a national-best 5.1 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks. This season, those numbers are down across the board: 58 percent completions, one interception for every 34 attempts, and a 7.1 yards-per-attempt average.

Again, it’s hard to pin all that blame on the secondary when the play up front has been spotty.

With Timmy Jernigan and Telvin Smith gone from the middle of the defense, opponents have thrived between the tackles, and the pass rush has dropped off precipitously (FSU averaged a sack every 12.2 attempts last season, every 22.8 this year).

Last season, opponents averaged just 3.2 yards-per-carry between the tackles and scored just twice -- both tops in the ACC. This season, FSU has again improved on outside runs -- its 4.2 yards-per-carry allowed leads the conference -- but opponents are rushing for 1.1 more yards-per-run up the middle than they did a season ago and have already doubled their touchdown total.

Injuries have been critical in both areas for Florida State. Center Austin Barron and defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample are done for the season. Tackle Derrick Mitchell and linebackers Terrance Smith, Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe have all battled injuries, too. FSU is plugging in second- and third-stringers to fill key roles, and the results have been obvious. [Edit: Barron's original diagnosis suggested a season-ending injury. Jimbo Fisher said this week the center could return this year. Meanwhile, reports surfaced Thursday suggesting Eligwe's career at Florida State was over though Fisher has yet to confirm that.]

Indeed a lot has changed for the Seminoles from 2013. Freshmen are playing bigger roles, the competition is better, and as national champs, they are getting every opponent's best shot. But the biggest differences from 2013 to 2014 have been health and strength up the middle - two issues invariably tied together.

And with Barron and Lawrence-Stample sidelined, those problems aren’t going to be fixed in any dramatic fashion. What is encouraging for FSU is that it has found ways to win anyway. What’ is perhaps troubling, however, is that there will be many bigger challenges ahead -- from Virginia’s defensive line this week to Duke Johnson and Tyler Murphy down the road -- that figure to test those weak links again and again.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Freddie Stevenson had never seen it, and that’s because Mario Pender said it has never happened before. The only thing between Pender and a 74-yard touchdown was the remaining daylight, but the redshirt sophomore was caught and tripped up 18 yards shy of the end zone.

“Man I lost some sleep over that one,” Pender said.

When he woke up the next day, the team reminded him he failed to pull away from the last Wake Forest line of defense.

“The whole team got me,” he added with a laugh.

[+] EnlargeMario Pender
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesFlorida State wants tough, steady runs from Mario Pender, who will see more work this week with starting RB Karlos Williams injured.
Pender swears it is the first and only time it will ever happen, and he will have plenty of opportunities to pop a long touchdown run Saturday. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said No. 1 Florida State will likely be without starter and leading rusher Karlos Williams, which means the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Pender is penciled to start.

Fisher isn’t concerned about Pender breaking 50-yard runs against a Syracuse defense that ranks in the middle of the pack in the ACC. He just needs Pender, who is averaging 6.7 yards per carry, to keep moving the chains and shorten a game in which the Seminoles will be on the road without their full complement of players.

“They’re used to making big plays and that’s what we want to see [but] it’s not what it’s about. It’s being able to make that four-, five- and six-yard run,” Fisher said. “They’re so used to running away from everybody on every field they’ve ever been on.”

Pender doesn’t try to run away from defenders at the goal line. When he sees the end zone, Pender is willing and prefers to bowl a player over on his way to a touchdown. On his first career carry, Pender initiated contact inside the 5-yard line and carried a defender across the goal line.

His three rushing touchdowns this season are second on the team.

“I feel like every game I have to touch it at least once,” Pender said of the end zone. “I owe it to the offensive linemen for them blocking and doing the hard work that I actually compliment them by getting in the end zone.”

Redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld will be inserted into the starting lineup Saturday, too, making his first career start. Center Austin Barron suffered a fractured arm on Florida State’s second offensive drive against Wake Forest, and Hoefeld stepped in admirably for the senior.

Throughout spring and fall practices, Fisher had left tackle Cameron Erving work at center in cases of emergencies. With Barron out indefinitely, there were questions whether Fisher would completely shuffle his offensive line and move Erving to the interior. However, the fifth-year coach said there was never any doubt that Hoefeld would get the first crack at replacing Barron.

The offense fared well without Williams and Barron in the second half, but the offense struggled some to start the game. The offense has been up and down at times this season, but, as Fisher points out, the team is averaging 43 points per game when Jameis Winston starts. While the offense does not always look as cohesive as it did a year ago, Fisher said the team is in good shape.

“It’s just like a boxer. Some people like style points. Some guys are defensive boxers and will out point you. Other guys will knock you out,” Fisher said. “... We are just a different style of offense. We still throw it. We still run it and we are still very effective. You just don’t see some of the flash and dash all the time.”

NoleNation links: Benjamin says he's ready

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
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David Hale writes: Living up to Seminoles' fans high hopes -- not to mention the practice-highlight tales told by teammates -- will be a tall order for redshirt freshman receiver Kelvin Benjamin. He insists he's up for it after a rocky year off.

Corey Dowlar writes: Insider Several of FSU's commits have loaded up on preseason honors as high school seasons begin.

Hale: Cornerback Nick Waisome barely beat out a true freshman for the starting spot left by Greg Reid’s departure, but that hasn’t hampered his confidence.

Hale: Insider Defensive end Bjoern Werner, who helps man one of the strongest defensive lines in college football, is today's subject in NoleNation's Carrying the Spear series of player profiles.

NoleNation links: Week's recruits

July, 8, 2012
7/08/12
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David Hale writes: Insider The Seminoles got four commitments in five days this week, including three in the ESPN 300 -- pushing Jimbo Fisher’s class to No. 5 in the latest ESPN RecruitingNation rankings. NoleNation looks at how the players can contribute down the road at Florida State.

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