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Florida State’s offense will get better ............................. in like 2019 or so

There are simply no solutions available for some of these problems.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

You could pick just about any stat in order to show how bad Florida State’s offense is. Let’s go with third downs, for starters.

In the 30-7 loss to Syracuse, FSU converted only once on third down, failing on 13.

Through three games, FSU is converting 23 percent of its third downs, second worst in the country. FSU has only converted 10, second worst among FBS teams that have played three games. The median nationally is usually about 40 percent.

It might be getting worse, too. In the season opener, the Noles converted five; against Samford, four; and against Syracuse, only one. That’s while facing a nearly identical amount of attempts each time.

Florida State’s average third down distance is 8.4 yards, showing the problems start on first and second down.

Drives build upon themselves, and FSU’s foundation isn’t good. Its offense is consistently behind schedule.

Against Virginia Tech, FSU had 10 third down plays of nine-plus yards, and against Syracuse, they had seven and an average distance of 8.6.

My colleague, Bill Connelly, hit on this abysmal conversion rate when broken down by distance. Success rate here refers to a team gaining the necessary yardage on each down in order to steadily build toward first downs:

Nothing is coming easy in Taggart’s “Gulf Coast Offense.” Blue-chip sophomore running back Cam Akers’ rushing success rate has plummeted from 46 percent as a freshman to 25 percent as he seemingly seeks home runs. Only one of his first 28 carries of the season has gained more than 20 yards. Veteran Jacques Patrick is faring better, but only slightly: his success rate has merely fallen from 42 percent to 30 percent.

Of the 43 total third downs FSU has faced through three games, 23 have been third and longs (seven-plus yards). They’ve converted four of those.

(And that means they’ve only converted six of 20 on third and medium/short.)

The good news is that Florida State has time to rectify their problems on offense.

The bad news is that the offensive line will place a hard cap on just how much improvement is even possible this year.

Aside from the center position, the offensive line has seen a number of different players fill holes due to injury or poor play. The lack of consistent starters has certainly been detrimental to the offense as a whole. There is no cohesion and at times players look utterly lost. Taggart is still searching for the answer to the puzzle.

“We’re just trying to find guys to get in there and block someone for us,” Taggart said. “We only have so many and we’re working with the ones we have and we’re trying to get something done. We have to find the right five guys to help us be more efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Right now we don’t have that yet, and we have to find it.”

FSU QB Deondre Francois was visibly frustrated at times as he laid on the turf against Syracuse. Taggart said Francois deserved to be frustrated because the team has been that bad on the line.

Plays like this show how total the failure has been. As Florida State’s right guard, Cole Minshaw, is trying to pull so that the Noles can run a play-action pass, the center, Alec Eberle, gets shoved into the pull track. Meanwhile, the right tackle just gets absolutely blown by, and Francois is sacked.

But that right tackle (Derrick Kelly) isn’t even supposed to be there, and it’s why he has a hard time blocking a Syracuse speed rush.

FSU had a true guard (Landon Dickerson) playing right tackle in the season opener. He got hurt, so they had to put another true guard at right tackle (Kelly). Then he got hurt, so FSU was down to its third-string right tackle (Brady Scott).

At right guard, Florida State has a converted defensive end, and at left guard they’re also dealing with injuries.

And about at left tackle? Well ...

[Josh] Ball was a starter on the 2017 team, and was suspended for and ultimately removed from the program for a 2017 dating violence incident. Ball was a national top-100 recruit who had two years left to play. While his removal was no doubt the right call, and an important one, his absence has exacerbated FSU’s depth problem. He would be FSU’s best tackle by a wide margin.

Ditto for Brock Ruble, who transferred to Toledo to finish his senior year. Ruble was never an excellent player, but he could at least play offensive tackle, which is more than the ’Noles have right now.

It’s a question of depth, and the answer is doubtful to come this season.

So guess what? The offense will continue to struggle its way to third and longs.

And try the thing you have to try on long third downs: pass.

There’s a chance that Florida State can still be at least fine running the ball because you can eventually gain yards with converted guards and Akers is still a gamebreaking talent, but passing really can’t get much easier.

If opponents can pin their ears back and come after Francois, creating consistent pass-rush with only four players against a patchwork offensive line, then they can drop seven into coverage — making life harder for Francois and his receivers — and create coverage sacks.

That means the offense isn’t staying on the field as much as it should be, which further taxes the defense. It also means the offense isn’t putting up as many points as it should be, which also taxes a defense.

And all of that is a big reason why this season should be considered a Year 0 for Willie Taggart and the Noles.

This isn’t a Fire Taggart as much as it’s a loud thud back to Earth for a program that had been a huge part of the national title discussion.

Florida State is not close to what it has been over the past few seasons, and this will be much more of a rebuild than a reload for Taggart.