By: Chadd Scott (@chaddscott)
After Florida State’s latest annual unimaginable face-plant against a vastly overmatched ACC opponent Seminole fans are upset at Jimbo Fisher’s play-calling. They’re wrong, and right.Nole fans are wrong in saying Fisher should have passed more or thrown deep more often or been less conservative on any individual play or series. If FSU converts one of a handful of second-half second or third and shorts – or properly executes a punt or doesn't take a 15-yard sack knocking them out of field goal position or… – the team cruises to an easy victory.
From a micro perspective, Jimbo Fisher’s play-calling was spot on. (A fact he made sure to reinforce at what became a memorable-for-its-oddity Monday press conference)
FSU fans are correct, however, in finding fault in Jimbo’s ultra-conservative game-plan. Fisher –led FSU teams taking losses versus inferior ACC foes, be they Virginia or Wake Forest or UNC in years past or NC State this season, can no longer be considered isolated incidents. A trend has developed. A deeply disturbing trend.
Trends exist for a reason and while the players, opponent, location and every other variable has changed in these upsets, the constant remains Fisher.
From a macro perspective, Jimbo Fisher’s conservative game-planning against inferior competition, manifested in his down-by-down play selection, communicates an unintended message to his team. That message: this one’s in the bag.
Fisher can be an audacious play-caller and game-planner. Against Clemson earlier this season his approach was wide-open. What I believe happens is during game week preparation and then during the game itself, when Seminole players recognize a dull, conservative, bland game-plan, they mentally ratchet down. They recognize a boring game-plan and assume their coach believes the opponent will be a walk-over because if there was any concern about the outcome, the game-plan would appear more exotic.
FSU didn’t lose to NC State because of individual play selection. The Seminoles lost because they played more like zombies than Seminoles. There was no noticeable emotion, no fire, no juice, no life. The same way they played against South Florida. Following the USF game I said on radio if FSU played that way again, they’d lose. They played the exact same way the next week against NC State and did lose. FSU has a remarkably talented team, but not a talented enough team to sleepwalk to victories.
How do I know the Noles were stuck in low gear against the Wolfpack? Short yardage. The Noles offensive line was blown up more often than not on short yardage plays, plays whose success or failure are largely determined by aggression, pad level, want-to, and ferocity. Florida State has a far bigger, stronger and more athletic offensive line than NC State does a defensive line, yet when the time came in short yardage to exert their will, FSU couldn’t do it. FSU couldn’t do it because mentally the team was on cruise control, especially in the second half after the game's outcome seemed even more assured than before kickoff. FSU approached Saturday’s game as if it were a study hall, not a football game.
Go back and watch the punt block. NC State had a player selling out his body, twisting, diving, contorting, lunging to defeat a statuesque FSU blocker to put a hand on the kick. The less-talented Wolfpack player was playing full-out while the more talented FSU player seemed to be stuck in quicksand physically and mentally.
Put on the NC State (or USF) tape and then put on the Clemson tape and FSU appears a completely different team – more aggressive, livelier, faster, sharper, more dangerous… a live wire. The charged FSU team which played Clemson beats the sleepy FSU team which played USF or NC State by two if not three touchdowns.
Same players, but different week, different game plans, different approach to the game from the head coach, different – and not better – team.
Unconsciously, Fisher signals to his team when it needs to amp up (Clemson) and when it can coast (USF, NC State) through his game-planning, be it dynamic and fresh, or a bowl full of plain, cold oatmeal. While Jimbo Fisher can accurately claim each and every one of his play calls against the Wolfpack was correct, what he can’t claim is that all of them put together – and the unintended message those plays sent his team – did not cost FSU another should-have-been-easy victory.
For more insight, perspective and analysis on FSU's loss to NC State, check out this incredibly thorough podcast from my colleague Ingram Smith.
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