Seminoles' season completely derailed

S Lamarcus Joyner (US Presswire)

Following three straight losses, the last one totally unacceptable against Wake Forest, Florida State is now an insignificant team only a month after being considered a national-championship contender.

The first loss was understandable. It was Oklahoma, after all.

The second loss, at Clemson, caused concern.

The latest loss, however, at Wake Forest, has set off sirens, enraged the fan base and sent the Seminoles' season into another salvation mode.

After being ranked No. 5 and carrying national-title-race hopes one month ago, Florida State struck rock bottom with a demoralizing 35-30 defeat in Winston-Salem that has raised a variety of questions about the future and direction of the program.

For the first time in his two-year stint as head coach, Jimbo Fisher is facing backlash and likely fan apathy for a team that has gone south in a hurry.

Following a third consecutive loss, the Seminoles (2-3, 0-2 in ACC) are fortunate with a schedule that has them playing at Duke on Saturday in a game they have to win to stop the bleeding.

"Very disappointing. Very disappointing performance," a glum-faced Fisher said after the Wake Forest game. "We have played well on special teams at times, we've played well on offense at times and we've played well on defense, but what we haven't done is played well together. One side is not feeding off the other side. The bottom line is we've got to coach better. We've got to coach better and take responsibility for what we're doing. It starts with me. And I said that last week, but it dadgum better start. That's for sure."

What's happened? A variety of things.

The Seminoles have been greatly affected by injuries, which again speaks to a problem the program has encountered for the past decade. They may have lost two starters, running back Chris Thompson and left tackle Andrew Datko, with season-ending, maybe career-ending injuries.

Thompson's injury occurred during the game. Datko's injury prevented him from playing in the game.

Couple that with the receiver injuries and starting quarterback E.J. Manuel's injury situation, and it has made for a long month.

With Datko out and others struggling, the Seminoles' offensive line has been plagued with penalties and inconsistent effort in run blocking and pass blocking. With Manuel forced back into action -- the Seminoles were hoping to rest him one more week -- he showed his rust with overthrows and underthrows.

But the biggest problem of all with this team is on defense. The Seminoles defended Oklahoma well for much of their highly-publicized game on Sept. 17 but have not played well since that game. They are getting torched in the secondary and committing frustration penalties that have aided Clemson and Wake Forest to sustain scoring drives.

All of this has pointed a finger at Fisher and his staff to fix the problems fast. The Seminoles still have a favorable schedule. They don't play Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech this season.

"It's not effort. We play hard," said Fisher, defending his team's approach to the Wake Forest game. "When you're playing hard and grab a guy by the facemask or don't get your feet in or get a hold, I don't think it's hunger. I don't. Because you look at the film, and the effort and that's not it. It's playing intelligently. We don't play intelligently. There are three I's: immediacy, intensity and intelligence. You have to be immediate. You can't wait for tomorrow. You have to be intense and play for a whole 60 minutes and lock in. You have to play intelligently, and you have to teach them that."

For their season's sake, it must happen fast for the Seminoles.

NOTES AND QUOTES

Like so many other head coaches, including his buddy Will Muschamp at Florida, Fisher stayed coy all week about the quarterback situation. In this case, the rumors were about Manuel. Fisher never said Manuel would start the game despite the upbeat reports from practices all week that media members can only see for 10 minutes.

Sure enough, redshirt freshman Clint Trickett started. And for the first time in the three games he played, Trickett looked like a deer in headlights. He looked like a redshirt freshman with limited experience. He threw two interceptions -- one on a sideline route that FSU was lucky didn't go for a touchdown -- and lost a fumble in less than two quarters.

The desperation situation moved Fisher to summon Manuel, who he was hoping to rest one more week to heal his left (non-throwing) shoulder.

"[Team medical staff] told me that if he took one good shot, we could set him back six weeks," Fisher said. "And that was the debate I was having all week with [the media]. He's throwing the ball. But getting hit, that's a different line, and the doctors said in an emergency. And I didn't think we had any chance to win it the other way, so we went with it and had a chance. But it was a little too late." ...

The Seminoles have been flagged for 24 penalties for 233 yards in the past two games. There were holding calls that nullified big gains and personal-foul penalties that aided Wake Forest drives.

"We gotta coach better and work our technique better and look at the film and see what they are," Fisher said. Blocking they used to say in coaching, we need to block better and we need to coach better. But that's the truth. You need to get back to fundamentals." ...

TB James Wilder Jr., a heralded true freshman, scored the first touchdown of his career with a 3-yard rush through tackles in the first quarter.

But it was one of only two carries for Wilder, who did not have a carry in the second half. He apparently struggles enough in pass protection and blitz pickup that FSU is not eager to use him more. ...

WR Rashad Greene continues to impress unlike any freshman player that FSU has played in a long time. He is the first FSU receiver since Talman Gardner in 2002 to have a touchdown catch in five straight games. He caught his sixth TD pass of the season vs. Wake Forest and finished the game with a career-high 12 receptions for 163 yards.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Christian Green -- While Greene, a true freshman, has made the biggest impact among newcomers and is arguably the best player on the field right now, Green, a redshirt freshman from Tampa Catholic High, showed his potential against Wake Forest. He caught four passes for 102 yards, including a 41-yarder. With Bert Reed and Kenny Shaw still recovering from injuries, it's Greene and Green that need to carry the load.

LOOKING GOOD: Not much. But the only area of consistent performance has been the kicking game. K Dustin Hopkins has made all eight field-goal attempts and all 19 extra points. He has consistently put kickoffs into the end zone. Sadly for the Seminoles, they have not been able to take advantage of his accuracy to win any game with his leg. P Shawn Powell is averaging 45.2 yards a punt. This tandem is as good as any in the country, but the Seminoles haven't been able to benefit.

STILL NEEDS WORK: There are so many areas. Where to start, really? OK, let's go with the defense, specifically the secondary. The Seminoles have allowed seven touchdown passes and 607 passing yards in the past two games. They have zero interceptions in these two games. They have repeatedly allowed long conversion passes. Wake Forest and Clemson combined to attain 45 first downs against this group. The Seminoles' same old malaise continues in their secondary with a lack of depth, lack of talent and lack of success. Until FSU can play man-to-man coverage and not get beat deep, teams will have their way against this group.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's very surprising, just with the high expectations coming into the season. But it's about opportunities now. You count the wins and losses, but right now is a good chance for our team to [find] our identity. We're still having trouble finding that as a team." -- Florida State S Lamarcus Joyner after the Seminoles' third consecutive loss Saturday against Wake Forest.

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