FSU Football: Did offensive line really regress against NC State?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 27: Florida State Seminoles fans react in the fourth quarter of the game against the Clemson Tigers at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 27, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. Clemson won 59-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 27: Florida State Seminoles fans react in the fourth quarter of the game against the Clemson Tigers at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 27, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. Clemson won 59-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

After FSU Football giving up eight sacks last Saturday, Sam Tschida takes a look at how the o-line played and if they were really getting worse.

FSU Football has had issues on the offensive line since 2016, the last year an o-lineman earned any all-conference honors. After years of poor depth and bad development, everything came to a head last season as FSU fielded one of the worst offensive lines in the country. They struggled the entire season and were one of the major factors in the ‘Noles 5-7 season.

This season, we’ve seen improvement from the offensive line. Ryan Roberts is an upgrade over the combination of right tackles who started last year, while Abdul Bello, Brady Scott and Mike Arnold are improved. But the improvement is only incremental, as the best offensive linemen on the team is most likely a true freshman, Dontae Lucas, who is a co-starter with Arnold.

This line is not hopeless like they were last year, but they’re still bad, and this was made clear against NC State. The Wolfpack sacked Alex Hornibrook an astounding eight times and held the Seminoles to just 93 rushing yards (adjusted for sack yardage). Of those 93 yards, 41 came on the back-breaking Cam Akers touchdown run early on in the 4th. Up to that point, the ‘Noles had just 50 yards rushing on the night.

Florida State Seminoles Football
Florida State Seminoles Football /

Florida State Seminoles Football

So, did the line actually regress this badly, is NC State just this good on defense, or were they just finally exposed? Let’s break it down.

This offensive line is not very good and hasn’t been for quite some time now. They did not regress, moreso they were truly exposed against the Wolfpack. Last season, they were one of the worst units in the entire country and probably the worst o-line in the P5. This season, they’re not that bad, but they are still aren’t very good. With the ‘Noles ranked in the top 30 for offensive SP+ (Kendal Briles deserves every penny), some fans might have thought the line issue was much improved. Sadly is hasn’t.

Overall Prospects

Offensive linemen take longer to develop than most other position groups, and it’s hard to just ‘plug and play’ kids out of high school. It takes the development of highly regarded prospects, and that just hasn’t happened recently. The ‘Noles have signed exactly one blue-chip offensive lineman in the last three recruiting cycles (Lucas). Despite signing three in 2016, only one is still on the team in Baveon Johnson, who is still developing at the center. The fact that Lucas is probably the best o-linemen on the team should be alarming.

Has there been any improvement? Absolutely; the offense runs much quicker than last season, which disguises a lot of the weaknesses that this line has. There are also fewer mental errors and overall confusion about who to block. The line looks much less passive than last year, and have given a lot of effort into their blocks. The one area that hasn’t really improved is the physical side; this team still gets beat physical by good defensive lines.

Pass Blocking

First, let’s look at their pass blocking. Here, NCST sends a blitz, and the pocket absolutely collapses.

We see some confusion on the right side with Roberts, and the left side of the line just gives way. The only guy not six yards in the backfield is Lucas, who was lined up against a linebacker. NC State’s defensive line is not bad by any means, but they’re not exactly good, and this shows the lack of physical talent from the o-line.

Now, the pass blocking in this game was bad, but it wasn’t eight sacks bad. About half of those sacks on the quarterback, who despite what message boards say, isn’t always super decisive with the football.

Hornibrook has four whole seconds to throw the ball here. NCST brings five (two on a delayed blitz), and while the pass blocking great, there’s plenty of time to check down and make a throw. Instead, he settles for a sack, which happened multiple times during the game. The ‘Noles are extremely lucky there wasn’t a turnover here, but this can’t be blamed on the o-line.

Run Blocking

Run blocking was also pretty bad. As stated in the intro, the ‘Noles ran for only 93 yards, almost have of which came on one play. This caused the offense to have to rely on explosive passing plays with no run game, an eerily similar picture to the entirety of last season.

It wasn’t so much that the o-line didn’t get in front of their guys, it was moreso that they go almost no push, and therefore there was no hole. Here’s a pretty good example:

This was one of the only big runs of the night, and it’s all thanks to outside WR blocking and Cam Akers being extremely skilled. There is no hole, just a pile of bodies, and the center gets beat by the three-tech who’s there to meet Cam Akers. Against a good defensive front, that’s a big loss; against both UM and UF, that’s a loss. This needs to get better if there’s any hope of beating those teams.

Bottom Line

So overall, did the line really regress against NCST? No, they just had a bad game and were exposed. They had played decently well against UVA, probably one of the best front-sevens they’ll face all year, and Louisville, but were not good against NCST. But, there is slight improvement, and with better QB play, I think the line can improve marginally every single week.