FSU’s performance last season was… disappointing, to say the least. However, 2020 is a new season. But what is there to expect? Can this team turn it around next year? We’ll find out, with a little help from an FSU expert: Saiem Gilani.
Saiem Gilani (@SaiemGilani) is an analytics writer for Tomahawk Nation, a current Georgia Tech graduate student in Analytics and a Florida State Mathematics alumnus. He’s a former math olympian turned data scientist and was a member of the winning 2020 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Hackathon team working with college basketball spatio-temporal tracking data provided by ShotTracker. You can check out some of his recent work using College Football Expected Points Added models here or his Tableau Visualizations here.
Overall, how do you believe the offense will compare to the 2019 season?
After subpar results and lack of progress led to the dismissal of the previous coaching staff, Mike Norvell is taking over at Florida State following a successful 4-year stint at Memphis. The 2019 FSU offense only managed 3.8 YPC on the ground, 7.3 YPA and 6.6 YPDB (drop-back) through the air and allowed 48 sacks (125 th nationally.) The implementation of the run game under Mike Norvell will be a fascinating experiment given that his offense at Memphis ran a creative, multiple array of zone and gap-based running schemes and considering the obvious challenges along the offensive line at Florida State. If the line proves up to the task in their run execution, there is latent talent more than capable of creating explosive plays in the open field.
The following visual is from an analysis I wrote over at Tomahawk Nation, showing
offensive passing and rushing expected points added (on a per attempt basis) for the ACC, any other major FSU opponents, and Memphis:
What is immediately clear is that Mike Norvell’s offense has been quite successful at
throwing the ball, averaging 0.27 Pass EPA/Att., which ranks second among the 19 teams selected. Meanwhile, Florida State’s 2019 offense finished the 2019 season at 0.04 Pass EPA/Att., so there should be some expectation that Mike Norvell’s offense at Florida State will improve over the prior year’s version. Based on the construction of the staff and the make-up of the returning roster, the likeliest avenue to creating efficient offense would be through the air, even accounting for roster/staff turnover and more challenging opponents on the schedule as compared to Memphis in the AAC.
What do you expect from the QB position in 2020?
James Blackman is now working with his fourth offensive coordinators in the past 4 years and he has played behind an offensive line that has performed poorly throughout his time as the starter. He’s not a consistent threat as a runner and he will be paired with a running attack facing likely regression. The good news is that his leading receiver from last year, Tamorrion Terry (2nd team All-ACC), is returning for his senior season. Averaging 7.4 YPA and 6.7 YPDB, Blackman will need to increase his decision-making speed to minimize avoidable sacks. This will help the FSU offense improve their success rate by staying ahead of the chains more often and allow him to personally rack up more yardage and scores through the air. If he spends a full season as the starter, I expect around 3200-3600 yards, 25-28 passing TDs, and 12-15 INTs with minimal contribution on the ground.
While Blackman is the projected starter and by far the most experienced in the QB room, Jordan Travis (r-So, 6’1”/200 lbs.) is occasionally used in sub-packages as a running threat. The younger brother of Iowa State QB Brock Purdy, Chubba (4* QB, #7 Dual Threat, 6’2”/210 lbs.), signed with Mike Norvell and the Seminoles in the early signing period as well as a highly regarded passer from south Georgia, Tate Rodemaker (3*, #25 Pro-Style, 6’4”/190 lbs.)
How do you see the workload at RB being distributed?
This is a position group mired in uncertainty heading into 2020, even outside of losing the now NFL-bound Cam Akers and his 1350+ yards from scrimmage (30 receptions, 225 rec. yds) and 18 TDs. The leading incumbent, Khalan Laborn (r-Jr), a 5* RB (#1 APB) out of Virginia Beach in 2017, returned from a serious knee injury suffered in 2018 to be largely unused with Cam Akers as the primary back. Over 10 games in 2019, he finished with a 4.7 YPC average on just 63 carries and 10 catches for 66 yards. Jones County JUCO RB La’Damian Webb could see considerable playing time if he is able to grasp the offense quickly. He could get his first crack at a consistent role in goal-line situations given his size and blend of speed/power. As it stands, a two or three back committee seems likely given the lack of a proven returning bell-cow.
The true wildcard in the group is Jashaun Corbin (r-So, 2018 SEC All-Freshman team), a transfer from Texas A&M, whose transfer waiver application process is still in progress. He missed most of 2019 due to injury, but Corbin would be a likely favorite as a three-down lead back if his waiver is approved. Early-enrolled freshman Jakhi Douglas (4* WR, 5’9”/187 lbs.) has been listed with the RBs in the spring and reports from the first portion of spring practice have been positive. Prized top-10 APB signee, Lawrance Toafili could be a factor later in the season. Anthony Grant (r-So) spent most of the 2019 season away from the team and looks predictably rusty after rejoining the team with the arrival of the new coaching staff.
How does the offensive line compare to the 2019 group?
According to Football Outsider’s offensive line metrics, Florida State ranked:
115th in Line Yards per carry – 2.25 (116th in Std. downs – 2.19, 96th in Passing downs – 2.45)
115th in Stuff rate – 22.6%
66th in Opportunity rate – 47.5%
105th in Power Success rate – 62.5%
115th in Sack rate – 9.6% (89th Std. downs – 6.1%, 119th Passing downs – 14.2%)
There is considerable evidence to suggest that last year’s offensive line at Florida State was not a strength. Florida State’s new offensive line coach, Alex Atkins, was the OC and offensive line coach at Charlotte. His unit last year ranked inside the top 30 in Line Yards per carry and Stuff rate, inside the top 10 in both Opportunity rate and Power Success rate, and inside the top 60 in Sack rate.
There is certainly some reason to expect improvement, but this is largely the same group returning as last year, so the long-term outlook is still cloudy until the coaching staff is able to sign more high caliber tackles. One of the tackle spots will most likely be manned by FIU graduate transfer Devontay Love-Taylor, with the other tackle spot slotted for Darius Washington (r-Fr). At guard, Dontae Lucas is a returning sophomore starter and the other guard spot will be a contested battle between the remainder of the non-tackle prospects. Center has arguably the most experienced returning depth, with Baveon Johnson starting and Andrew Boselli as the backup, both fifth-year seniors.
What do you think the distribution will be to the WR/TE’s?
Scary Terry is back for the Seminoles! He led the receiver group with 60 receptions (T-44th), 1,118 yards (16th), and 9 TDs (T-32nd). His 57.89 yards per touchdown reception led the NCAA and his six 60+-yard touchdown receptions last season tied for the highest mark since 2010. While it is unrealistic to expect that magnitude of explosion on a consistent basis, through his time at FSU, Terry is averaging a touchdown every 5.6 receptions. Production on a game to game basis could improve for Terry given Norvell’s emphasis on designing easy reads and throws off RPO-action or play-action to keep the chains moving. Perhaps an additional reception per game and one fewer touchdown would be appropriate to expect.
On the opposite side of Terry last year was his high school teammate, Ontaria Wilson (r-Jr, 6’0”/174 lbs.), a cornerback prospect turned reliable receiver. Wilson could be challenged for the starting role by guys like Jordan Young (r-So, 6’2”/208 lbs.) and Warren Thompson (r-So, 6’3”/201 lbs.). The slot receiver role is likely to be filled by one of Keyshawn Helton (5’9”/171 lbs.) or D.J. Matthews (5’10”/154 lbs). I could not reliably tell you which, if any of these receivers is the next most likely receiver to crack 500 yards. I will say this: if Jordan Young starts getting serious tick, I love his potential as a guy teams are forced to leave in one-on-one matchups due to the extra coverage being sent to Tamorrion Terry’s side of the field. He can be dominant in those situations and a nightmare for smaller corners to cover.
While Norvell’s offense is likely to have a tight end on the field in a significant proportion of the snaps, I am not confident that Camren McDonald will be given nearly as much opportunity to produce in the passing game, given the offensive line situation noted above. In future years, his role could diversify and grow.
For our dynasty owners, who are some young players that stand out as future breakout performers?
Chubba Purdy is the likely future QB for Florida State and appears to be a perfect fit with the RPO and spread concepts that Mike Norvell likes to run. Early reports from spring practice indicate that early-enrolled freshman Bryan Robinson (4* WR, 6’1”/198 lbs.) means to earn a substantial role this fall. If he can carve out a role for himself early on out of a crowded group, it bodes well for his long-term prospects. At RB, Toafili seems like a good bet to produce both as a runner and a receiver as early as the latter half of the 2020 season or in his second year. However, Corbin would be the pick at RB for 2021 if his appeal for immediate eligibility is denied and he is forced to sit out the 2020 season.