September 27, 2005
TALLAHASSEE -- Bobby Bowden is quick to admit that his Florida State football team could have been 1-2 just as easily at it was 3-0 after three games. That may be true, but the Seminoles have earned their stripes -- and victories -- by making some subtle improvements in areas that usually have troubled the team.
One season after finishing last in the country in third-down conversions, the Seminoles are third in the ACC, successfully converting on 17 of 40 opportunities (42.5 percent). Equally important, the team ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to collecting penalty yardage. FSU historically has been the league's most-penalized team, but it ranked sixth after three games, flagged for a reasonable average of 54.7 yards per game.
"You can call it discipline if you want to. I call it execution," Bowden said. "The penalty thing really surprises me. ...We've got to keep striving to get better and better execution, both offensively and defensively."
A significant amount of the credit should go to the offensive line and its first-year coach Mark McHale. Without a single player starting in the same position he did through the majority of the 2004 season, McHale has molded a group together that has been effective at worst, and dominating at times.
The Seminoles lead the ACC in sacks allowed, yielding just two for minus-nine yards. The importance of the vastly improved pass blocking, despite losing two tackles to the 2005 NFL draft, has not been lost on Bowden.
"You know, they surprised me," Bowden said. "Up to this point, I thought they had been better at (run blocking) than they were in pass protecting. But in this (Boston College) game, they were better pass protecting than they were in run blocking. That surprised me a little bit."
The improved play of the offensive front has contributed to all three statistical improvements. Some might say it begins with penalties.
FSU is converting more third-down opportunities in large part because they are not facing third-and-eight (or more) as frequently. You can chalk that up in part to a group of blockers who have mostly avoided flags for holding, having been whistled just twice in three games. Now compare that to the five holding penalties assessed against FSU in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia. A shortage of illegal motion infractions also has played a role.
Hart Hammers Replay Execution
The ACC's decision to utilize instant replay in 2005 had the full support of Florida State athletic director Dave Hart from the start, in part because he has not been thrilled by the quality of football officiating in the league during his 11 years at the school.
Hart, however, was infuriated enough by what appeared to be a blown call -- after a replay review -- in the Seminoles' 28-17 win at Boston College that he filed a complaint with the league office.
"If we're going to utilize this model -- if one person is going to have that type of unilateral authority -- he has one job," Hart said several days after the BC game. "Then he needs to do the job, and he needs to do it really, really well. We went to instant replay to get it right. Now if we still don't get it right, then I have a concern about that."
The disputed call came late in the third quarter, with the Seminoles trailing 17-14. Tailback Lorenzo Booker was stripped of the ball by BC end Mathias Kiwanuka, just prior to reaching the goal line. Lead official Ron Cherry ruled on the field that Booker had fumbled through the end zone and that the Eagles would be given the football on the 20-yard line.
ESPN television replays showed that the ball actually bounced off Kiwanuka's leg as he was falling out of bounds. But instead of awarding the Seminoles the ball at the BC one-yard line, the replay official declined to reverse the on-field call, halting the go-ahead drive.
"If a call was missed by the replay official -- and it's clear it was missed -- then we've got to have an accountability system that sends a message to the rest of the replay officials," Hart said. "We can't have them missing. We can't have, whoops.' That's why we went to instant replay, to avoid the whoops.' So we've got to get the instant replay calls right."
Through the league office, ACC coordinator of football officials Tommy Hunt offered a tepid statement that did not directly address the play in question.
"The replay officials' duties in the press box are to use the information they are fed from the video source," Hunt said. "His job is to take that information -- and that information only -- and base his decision as to whether irrefutable video evidence exists to change the call made on the field. If irrefutable video evidence does not exist, the call stands as made on the field."
Looking Ahead: Friendly Schedule
The Seminoles will play eight home games in 2006, a first for the program.
In addition to its four ACC home games -- against Boston College, Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest -- Hart has lined up home dates with Rice, Troy and Western Michigan. The Seminoles also will entertain Florida, in the regular-season finale.
While the relatively soft non-conference schedule is a departure from the norm at FSU, the Seminoles have a number of quality out-of-conference foes on future schedules, including Colorado, BYU and Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, Hart said the proposed 2007 game against Alabama at Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium remains a work in progress. Hart and other league officials met with executives from ESPN prior to the Boston College game in an attempt to work out a compromise that would appease the SEC for the 2007 date with the Crimson Tide.
SEC officials have been balking at the deal because its contract with CBS entitles that network the broadcast rights to any of the league's neutral-site games. In actuality, FSU has agreed to move a home game to Jacksonville in an effort to line up the deal, a move that has the approval of Alabama athletic director Mal Moore.
Since both the ACC and the SEC have contracts with ESPN, the network appears to be the key to unlocking the stalemate, though it remains possible that Moore could go against his league's wishes and schedule the game without their approval.
As for as the Seminoles' 2006 season opener at Miami, Hart indicated that it probably would be the final year for that opening matchup on Labor Day night. The only reason why the game got the green light for next season was because the Hurricanes were forced to reschedule their 2004 game with the Seminoles on Labor Day after a hurricane threat.