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Meet Florida State, the magical mystery of a football team

Who am I? How did I get to this quarter?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Louisville at Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Folks, step right up, step right up, and behold the Florida State football team—it looks like any other football team, but in fact it is among the world’s greatest mysteries. Who are these men? What mystical powers have they accidentally unlocked? We may never know.

Florida State’s strange journey began with a season-opening loss to Boise State, and for the first time the Seminoles demonstrated the depths of their unknowableness: they were up 24-6 and alter 31-13 on the Broncos during the first half, and then the offense disappeared. Boise scored 17 points in the second half to pull out the 36-31 victory.

In the following game, FSU once again put together an excellent first half and took a 24-7 lead on Louisiana-Monroe into halftime. The Seminoles ended up needing overtime to fend off ULM, 45-44.

And just last week, FSU strolled to a 21-0 lead on Louisville in the first quarter before surrendering 24 straight to the Cardinals, which required yet another fourth-quarter rally to win, 35-24.

What, exactly, is anyone supposed to make out of all that? Florida State has both had the lead and trailed in every fourth quarter it has played this season. From one quarter to the next, the Seminoles have not only been capable of looking different, they’ve been capable of looking extremely different. Every 15 minutes an existential crisis of some kind.

Perhaps the explanation is just as simple as noting that Florida State’s offense (No. 19 in SP+) has been quite good while its defense (No. 98) has been quite bad.

James Blackman has been excellent as a passer this season, and is completing nearly 70 percent of his pass attempts. He is fifth among ACC quarterbacks in both passer rating and yards per attempt.

Florida State’s offensive line was a well-discussed disaster last season, and it’s not surprising that with just a little improvement there, the Seminoles have more effectively moved the ball. The offensive line still isn’t good, but it has made the step up from out-of-control tire fire, which is helpful indeed.

Blackman has some really talented targets to work with, sophomore Tamorrion Terry the most notable among those. As a freshman, Terry managed to rack up 744 receiving yards on only 35 receptions (21.3 YPC), and he’s been nearly as explosive this season, with 307 yards on 16 grabs (19.3 YPC). FSU spreads the ball around well: five different guys have at least 10 catches.

But Blackman suffered a sprained MCL against Louisville, and while he’s been practicing this week, it’s not clear how much that may affect his performance if he plays on Saturday night. If he can’t play or suffers a setback in the game, the Noles will have to turn to Alex Hornibrook, who played great in relief against the Cards but has an unremarkable track record from his time at Wisconsin.

And the ground game is still a problem, even though the Seminoles have a fantastic running back in Cam Akers. Hey, there’s only so much this offensive line is gonna be able to do even with the improvements there. FSU is averaging 3.7 yards per carry as a team, which ain’t so good but sure beats its 2.8 per-carry average in 2018. Baby steps!

Defensively, the Seminoles have been hit by some key injuries: starting defensive end Josh Kaindoh and starting linebacker Jaiden Lars-Woodbey have been lost for the year. Kaindoh is third on the team in tackles for loss, while Lars-Woodbey is fifth in tackles.

FSU has surrendered at least 30 points in three of its four games, and opponents are averaging more than 300 yards passing per game. The run defense has been solid, at least.

There is reason for optimism in all of this about NC State’s chances on Saturday night, but the Wolfpack’s offense will have to play cleaner and execute better to actually take advantage of FSU’s flaws defensively. I don’t know that there’s reason to believe that will happen.

Who knows, maybe Florida State will be inclined to help us out. It wouldn’t be the first time the Noles have done that for an opponent this season.