No. 12 Florida State struggling in pass protection

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State’s offensive line was thought to be strength at the beginning of the season, especially with a mobile dual-threat quarterback. Instead it has been a disappointment.

The 12th-ranked Seminoles (5-2, 2-2 ACC) go into Saturday’s game against No. 3 Clemson with one of the worst pass protection units in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They have allowed 21 sacks, which is 106th out of 128 teams. It is also tied for third-worst among Power 5 schools.

Things won’t get any easier against the Tigers (7-0, 4-0). With 25 sacks, Clemson is tied for third among Power 5 teams and tied for fourth nationally.

“You have to get in front of them and block them. It’s that simple. Put a hat on a hat and get an attitude,” coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Fisher and some of the linemen have pointed to technique as the root of the problems, but it is a variety of things.

“I think it is communication sometimes. Some plays we just have mental lapses or missed a call or assignment,” tight end Ryan Izzo said. “I think it is really frustrating. Sometimes you get in a groove and have a mental lapse that stalls the drive.”

Not all of the pass protection problems can be blamed on the offensive line. Quarterback Deondre Francois is a freshman and has had periods where he has held on to the ball too long, especially on deep routes. However Pro Football Focus, which grades offensive lines, has Francois being pressured on nearly one-third of the times he drops back to pass.

Francois has taken his share of hard hits this season, including two in the Oct. 8 win at Miami where he was out for a series. Fisher has lauded Francois’ toughness, but everyone knows there are limits.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s hit one time or 40 times, he’s frustrated. I would be frustrated too if my offensive line didn’t protect me, and I got hit multiple times during a game,” left tackle Rod Johnson said. “He doesn’t show his frustration though. I tip my hat off to him, but we’re going to keep those sacks to a complete minimum.”

Francois hasn’t shown his frustration, but Fisher has on occasion. During an episode of Showtime’s “A Season Inside” series, Fisher got in each offensive lineman’s face during halftime of the Oct. 15 game against Wake Forest and challenged them.

A major focus of practice the past two weeks has been on trying to fix the mistakes.

“It’s halfway through the season. We’ve made mistakes,” left guard Kareem Are said. “Sometimes it has been a little bit sloppy, but now we have to take that to the next level.”

Despite having two defensive lineman drafted in the first two rounds, Clemson has one of the nation’s toughest defenses again. Of the Tigers’ 25 sacks, all but 5.5 are by the defensive line.

“Clemson’s a really good defensive line,” Are said. “They’re big guys. We just have to make sure we play physical and hold the point.”

Clemson will be focused on getting pressure on Francois, but some of the players think another key will be trying to contain running back Dalvin Cook.

Florida State’s run blocking has improved since the beginning of the season as Cook has rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games. But a lot of his big runs have come on stretch plays as yards inside the hashmarks have been difficult.

The Tigers enter the game allowing only 3.3 yards per rushing play, which is 20th in the nation.

“They are most similar to NC State last week, just the stretch plays they run,” linebacker Kendall Joseph said. “They have an exceptional talent in Cook and do a good job getting the ball in his hands.”

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