TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State has rediscovered that its offensive identity is as a running team. Of course, that works best with a successful ground game.
For the best results, Florida State has often found the more the better. This year is no different.
The Seminoles have received major contributions from Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers over the past three games, which has taken the pressure off freshman quarterback James Blackman and an inexperienced passing game.
Going into Saturday’s game against Louisville, Patrick and Akers have combined to average 6.3 yards per carry over the past three games. Last Saturday’s 17-10 win at Duke also marked the second straight week where Florida State had over 200 yards on the ground.
”Offensively we’ve developed more of an identity. They both are running the football hard,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. ”We’ve got to feed off those guys.”
This is the third straight season that Fisher’s offense has taken on more of a grounded approach. The past two seasons though it was due to the dynamic abilities of Dalvin Cook as he rewrote the school’s rushing records before leaving for the NFL.
During Fisher’s first four seasons in charge at FSU, he relied on more than one running back, including the national championship season of 2013 when he had Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder, who all went on to the NFL. Fisher on Monday compared the way Akers and Patrick complement each other to how Freeman, Wilder and Williams all got their opportunities.
”One of them makes a play, they are more excited for the guy than they were for themselves,” he said. ”It’s supreme confidence in yourself, and I think it’s been passed down.”
Patrick, a 6-foot-3, 234-pound junior, has rushed for 90 yards or more in three straight games, including 120 yards in a 26-19 win at Wake Forest on Sept. 30. He had two key third-down runs in the Duke win, including one on the opening drive where Florida State (2-3, 2-2 ACC) scored a touchdown.
What has pleased Fisher the most about Patrick though is picking up on the intricacies of the offense, including pass blocking and chipping. Fisher pointed out a play against Duke where Patrick was able to seal off a free blitzer, that gave quarterback James Blackman enough time to find Nyqwan Murray for a completion.
”What’s better, he takes pride in it. All those guys are better understanding how to really play team football,” Fisher said.
Akers is starting to show why many recruiting services pegged him as the nation’s top running back prospect in the Class of 2017. The 5-11, 213-pound freshman has rushed for over 100 yards in two straight games. His first collegiate touchdown (46 yards) also proved to be the difference against the Blue Devils.
After trying to get the big gains early by forcing things, Akers has done a nice job the past couple games of reading blocks up front and waiting for the holes to develop.
While many backs might worry about sharing carries, both have done a good job of dividing things. Akers has 49 carries over the past three games to Patrick’s 48. They have also combined for 22 carries of 10 yards or more during that span.
The consistency in the running game has also helped Blackman gain more confidence. The freshman’s fourth start last week showed he was more in command of the offense, completing 18 of 21 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Blackman became the starter following the season-ending injury to Deondre Francois in the Sept. 2 opener against Alabama.
Florida State could have more success this week against a struggling Louisville defense. The Cardinals (4-3, 1-3) allowed 364 rushing yards against Boston College in a 45-42 loss.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said on Monday that the lapses against Boston College summed up to a ”little bit of everything” and that they have to make a lot of adjustments quickly.
”On tackling we have to come in and be physical,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. ”I think it’s going to be really important that we set edges, because they like to run the outside zone play, and they do a really good job of it.”
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