The Goal for FSU’s O-line in 2019: Slightly Less Awfulness

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 6.18.49 PMIf you watched much Florida State football and you’re an astute, educated observer, you may have noticed a slight flaw in the Seminoles’ offensive attack. Turns out, their O-line was not very good.

OK, so this was no big secret. You’d be hard pressed to find an O-line that bad at a big-time program in recent history. The line was dreadful.

But no one wants to live in the past (except maybe Tennessee fans), so let’s ask the more pressing question: How much can FSU’s line improve in 2019?

Let’s start by setting the groundwork. Just how bad off was FSU?

Here are the numbers on the ground (not counting sacks, out of 130 FBS teams):

129th in yards-per-rush (3.73)
129th in % of runs stopped for a loss/no gain (25.8%)
130th in yards/rush before contact (0.74)
116th in third-and-short rushing conversion rate (56.5%)
114th in S&P+ rushing (88.6)
121st in Success Rate+ (85.0)

Here are the numbers when pass blocking:

85th in sack rate (7.3%)
77th in passing down S&P+ (98.3)
113th in non-blitz pressure rate (46.5%)
115th in QB contact rate (42.6%)
122nd in third-and-long conversion rate (18.4%)
130th in blown pass blocks (77)

Those numbers are bad, but I wanted something that really would sum up how badly a team’s O-line sucked, so I created the O-line suck rate. It’s a simple enough formula. Runs stopped for loss/no gain + pass plays under pressure divided by total snaps.

Florida State’s suck rate last year? 31.75 percent. Four teams were worse: Arkansas, ECU, Tennessee, San Jose State. That’s not good company.

But again, the question isn’t about whether last year’s O-line was bad. It was. The question is whether it can get better. So let’s look at historical precedent.

I calculated the suck rate for every team for each of the past five seasons. One interesting tidbit is the trend line for the average FBS team…

2014: 19.51%
2015: 19.11%
2016: 19.36%
2017: 22.06%
2018: 24.05%

In other words, the rate of penetration by the D-line is essentially 25% higher in 2018 than it was in 2015. Is that a product of scheme? And does Willie Taggart’s offense tend to lean into that scheme issue? It’s also worth noting that FSU, despite what was clearly a woeful O-line, ranked 111th nationally in use of 7 or more pass blockers.

Anyway, let’s look at the truly terrible blocking teams during the Playoff era. We’ll define that as teams that were more than 1.5 standard deviations from the FBS average in suck rate. Here’s your list…

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 6.17.43 PM
What does all this mean?

Well, the good news for Florida State is almost no one got markedly worse the following year. Partially, this is because — how much worse can it get? But mostly, teams saw real improvement. Nowhere to go but up, as they say. Of the 32 teams considered, 27 improved their suck rates from Year 1 to Year 2, 17 saw improvements of at least 10 percent reduction is pressured snaps, and six saw reductions of at least 20 percent.

So, history says Florida State will be, on average, about 12 percent better on its O-line next year.

But what does a 12 percent improvement mean?

Well, there’s the bad news.

First, of those 32 teams we considered, all but two remained worse than the FBS average in suck rate their follow-up year, so even getting back to the middle of the pack is an almost impossible task for really bad O-lines from one year to the next. Most were still at least 10 percent worse than the FBS average, which isn’t good. And in FSU’s case, even if it sees that 12 percent improvement, it would still have a suck rate of about 28 percent, which last year, would’ve ranked 113th nationally.

The problem is, most awful O-lines that blossom into decent units — see Wake Forest, Boston College and Missouri of late — are units that grow together over time. It’s rarely a quick fix. Even when there’s a massive overhaul, as FSU is likely to encounter this year, the new group needs time to gel. It’s not like there were a ton of top-tier free agents out there to be signed.

So, where does that leave the Seminoles?

The line is likely still going to be bad, and James Blackman is probably not the ideal QB to be playing behind such a woeful unit. But bad is relative. It won’t be as bad as it was in 2018. The coaching should be better. The scheme, one would hope, can adjust a bit to help. And some of the elite pass rushers FSU faced won’t be back for another round. All of that is the lipstick on this pig.

Truth is, the offense is going to have to work a good bit to make a big leap forward. With Cam Akers and Tamorrion Terry, that’s possible. And maybe the steps forward, however gradual, are enough to flip a few close games — though Miami was really the only close one FSU played that didn’t go in their favor a year ago, and it’s just as likely that improvements from other teams turn some close wins (Samford, Louisville, BC) into losses.

Best case scenario, FSU can get back to a bowl. That means something.

Does it mean enough to tamp down a potential inferno under Willie Taggart’s seat? Well, now that’s a really big question.

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