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Florida State Survives Without Jameis Winston; Work Remains for Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

Florida State’s 23-17 victory over Clemson without quarterback Jameis Winston wasn’t pretty. In fact, one could make a compelling argument that the Tigers outplayed the Seminoles on Saturday night.

Florida State was outgained 407 to 318, averaged only 4.8 yards per play, lost the turnover battle (2 to 1), allowed five sacks and finished with just 13 yards on the ground.

Even if Clemson outplayed Florida State, the Seminoles picked up the only thing that mattered: The Victory.

College football’s new playoff format has created plenty of uncertainty in how the final four teams will be selected, but it’s safe to say – just like previous years – teams just need to survive and advance in order to be in a position to have a shot at a championship.

Florida State accomplished that goal on Saturday night, but coach Jimbo Fisher has plenty of work to do in the coming weeks.

An offensive line with five senior starters was expected to be the best in the nation. But through three games, Florida State is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and has allowed seven sacks. The Seminoles played two solid defensive fronts (Oklahoma State and Clemson), but the offensive line has underachieved.

Along with fixing the offensive line, Florida State needs more from its rushing attack. Karlos Williams was projected to be a breakout player in the preseason and has just 177 yards through three weeks. Williams, Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook are a capable trio, but the offensive line has to clear the way for the rushers.

Seniors Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary have dominated the stat sheet, catching 38 of the team’s 71 passes. In order for Florida State’s offense to reach last year’s levels, it needs more help from the No. 2 and No. 3 options at receiver. Will Jesus Wilson or Christian Green emerge? Or could talented freshmen like Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph work their way into more time as the season progresses?

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Florida State’s defense stepped up late in Saturday’s game against Clemson, but this unit has clearly regressed since 2013.

New coordinator Charles Kelly had holes to fill at each level this preseason, and so far, the defense is a work in progress. The Seminoles are allowing 5.1 yards per play – a full yard increase from 2013.

The defense has recorded just two sacks and 15 tackles for loss, while opponents are converting 48.9 percent of their third downs.

Of course, getting Winston back immediately solves some of the offensive issues that popped up against Clemson.

But is the defense going to improve with time? What’s wrong with the offensive line?  

The Seminoles aren’t the same team they were in 2013, and this squad looks more vulnerable. Over the course of the next nine games, Florida State should improve, and it’s unlikely the offensive line will continue to struggle.

Fisher and his staff already navigated a huge speed bump to a repeat by winning without the Heisman Trophy winner under center. Can Fisher find the right fixes on the line and on defense to keep the Seminoles in the hunt to repeat?