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Big Board: Short-yardage concerns

9/6/2012

After a 69-3 win over Murray State last Saturday, there were plenty of big numbers for Florida State's offense to celebrate, and the bulk revolved around the seemingly rejuvenated ground game.

The offensive line got a strong push, opened holes and the running backs took advantage. For the game, FSU racked up 285 yards rushing, seven touchdowns on the ground, and while the opponent didn't provide much of a stumbling block, the Seminoles were happy to proclaim it a big victory for their running game.

"I think we're much further along," Jimbo Fisher said. "We have much more diversity in our running game. … I thought the offensive line did a real nice job. We've got a long way to go, but it's much improved."

Beyond all the gaudy numbers and long runs, however, what may have been most noteworthy were the four 1-yard touchdowns runs FSU racked up in the game.

Why is that so significant?

"One thing we focused on this camp was running the ball and doing short yardage and goal line," said fullback Lonnie Pryor, who had two of FSU's 1-yard TDs against Murray State. "That was the main thing we focused on. Every day in practice we did it. Just the goal line and short yardage is one thing we struggled in. We needed it."

Indeed, for all of FSU's struggles running the ball last season, the short-yardage game was perhaps its most troubling.

Here's how the Seminoles stacked up in short yardage (2 yards or less for a first down) and goal line (inside the 2-yard line) situations in 2011:

(*Note: Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.)

Essentially what these numbers say is that Florida State's offense was relatively successful getting into short-yardage situations, but was among the ACC's worst at turning those situations into first downs and touchdowns. Had the Seminoles simply been league average in goal line situations, for example, they would have scored three more touchdowns last season. That, of course, doesn't sound like much until you realize that three of their four losses came by five points or fewer.

On Saturday, however, things were a good bit different from 2011.

Against Murray State, FSU found itself in short-yardage situations 11 times. The Seminoles converted 10 of those, including a perfect 9-for-9 on running plays and 4-of-4 at the goal line.

Now, the obvious elephant in the room when presenting those numbers is Murray State. The Seminoles' offensive line had a huge size advantage, and the Racers were in no position to make a goal-line stand against a team far bigger, stronger and faster.

And if we look back at last year's games against Louisiana Monroe and Charleston Southern, Florida State was solid in short yardage, too -- converting 10-of-12 in those situations in the two games.

But there was a difference in how FSU performed in those cupcake match ups a year ago and what the Seminoles did against Murray State on Saturday.

Against ULM last year, FSU converted 3-of-5 short-yardage situations, but two short-yardage plays were pushed back by penalties on the offensive line, and both of the failed conversions came at the goal line. Moreover, one of the three successful plays was a QB run. Overall, the running backs mustered just a 50 percent conversion rate.

Against Charleston Southern, FSU was much better, a perfect 7-for-7 in short yardage and goal line. But of those seven plays, three were passes by Manuel. The play calling was slanted away from the ground game, largely by the results Fisher saw in Week 1 against ULM.

Last week, however, all nine of FSU's conversions on the ground came via running backs and fullbacks. The play calling in those situations heavily favored the runners. The success rate on the ground was 100 percent.

It doesn't necessarily prove that Florida State has left its short-yardage problems in the past, but it's certainly a positive start, and as Fisher said, the Seminoles have clearly taken a step forward from where they began 2011.