When Florida State prepares to open its season Saturday against Boise State, the Seminoles should be optimistic about an improved offensive line showing up in Jacksonville.
The unit almost literally has nowhere to go but up.
“I think that they have to be better,” ACC Network analyst and ex-Miami linebacker Jon Beason said, “because they were that bad last year.”
Years of recruiting misses, poor development, coaching issues and attrition combined with bad injury luck to make FSU’s 2018 line one of the worst in the recent history. FSU and Oregon State were the only two Power Five programs that allowed at least three sacks and eight tackles for loss per game last year.
Since 2009, only nine other major-conference teams reached both lowly totals in the same season.
The good news for FSU: All nine offensive lines improved statistically the next year.
The bad news: All nine were still bad, and a few remained awful.
Start with the positives.
The nine programs collectively averaged 1.9 fewer tackles for loss and 1.2 fewer sacks per game the year after their historical low. Every team improved in both areas.
Three of them ended with records reasonable FSU fans would gladly accept. Tennessee went 9-4 and won the Outback Bowl in 2015. Rutgers won nine games in 2011 before coach Greg Schiano left for the Bucs. And most optimistically for FSU, UCLA finished 10-3 in coach Jim Mora’s second season (2013).
Now for the dose of reality.
Offensive lines as bad as the one the ’Noles fielded last fall take years to fix.
Washington State ranked last nationally in 2009 after allowing an astounding 113 tackles for loss. The next year, the Cougars improved all the way to … second to last to land on our list again.
Maryland fielded two of the nine atrocious lines in our analysis (2012, 2016), and even that distinction doesn’t convey its full ineptitude. The Terrapins still haven’t had a team rank in the top half nationally in either category.
Tennessee made the best year-over-year improvement, cutting its sacks in half from 2014-15. But that growth was only enough to move the Volunteers to No. 53 nationally in that category —the only above-average performance in our analysis — and Tennessee still ranked 108th in tackles for loss allowed.
Expect FSU to progress to the mean like its historical precedents.
The coaching staff should be better aligned with new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and position coach Randy Clements, who worked together 10 of the last 11 seasons. Coach Willie Taggart has touted his players’ improved fundamentals and chemistry.
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FSU will likely break in at least three new starters: Baveon Johnson at center, four-star true freshman Dontae Lucas at right guard and Northern Illinois transfer Ryan Roberts at right tackle. The other two, Jauan Williams and Brady Scott, started 12 games for FSU last season.
Behind them, FSU has a pair of other linemen with starting experience, giving Taggart more confidence in the unit’s depth than he had last year.
“I think the key is not only having a backup, a backup that's ready to play…” Taggart said. “We're in a different position now.”
They should be in a better one, too, if history is any guide. But not much better.
The Seminoles’ mess at offensive line took years to create. They’ll need years – plural – to clean it up, too.