TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is facing a tougher quarterback decision than he faced preseason.
On the immediate horizon Saturday is No. 1 Clemson, presenting an opportunity for No. 16 Florida State to take control of the ACC and make a statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
As of Tuesday night, Fisher was still mum on who would start against the top-ranked Tigers. Everett Golson, who missed Saturday’s game with a concussion after a 6-1 start, practiced Monday and Tuesday but still needs to see a doctor Wednesday. Fisher said he’ll work on a decision of whether to start Golson or Sean Maguire after that visit.
Fisher ought to stick with the hot hand and start Maguire against Clemson.
It’s not a knock on Everett Golson. The senior transfer has played well in October as the offense shifted to passes closer to the line of scrimmage that put the ball in the hands of Florida State’s best athletes.
However, the Tigers are pretty strong against short throws and screen passes, ranking 22nd among Power 5 teams in yards per attempt on screens.
There seems to be more of the needed downfield passing threat with Maguire. One game is a small sample size and Syracuse is among the worst teams defending the pass and big play, but Fisher gave Maguire opportunities to take deep shots on play action, from the shotgun and in wide-open sets. Fisher was comfortable with the redshirt junior taking repeated shots at the Orange defense, and Maguire connected on several of them, including a couple for long touchdowns.
Clemson is among the country’s best defenses, but there is the potential for chunk plays against the Tigers. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer had six completions of 20 yards or more against the Tigers on Oct. 3, and 63 percent of his throws went for at least 10 yards. No team came closer to upsetting Clemson than the Irish.
The Tigers are 24th among Power 5 teams having given up 22 completions of 20-plus yards, and against Syracuse Maguire’s average throw traveled almost 10 yards through the air. He finished with an average of 9.74 air yards per attempt, while Golson’s average is 6.76 but drops to 5.24 over his last three starts.
Florida State won’t have much of a chance if it can’t accumulate a few big plays, because the Tigers don’t offer up long drives to opposing offenses. So far this season, they’ve allowed one drive lasting five minutes or more. The Seminoles are 19th with nine drives of at least five minutes on offense, but none came Saturday. Maguire’s longest scoring drive was 3:32, and four drives lasted fewer than 90 seconds.
Of course there is a reason Golson was brought to Florida State in May. Maguire struggled in the spring game and left the door open for Golson to come in and take the starting job. His passes were routinely off target in the annual spring scrimmage, and Fisher wasn’t overly impressed with either quarterback during preseason camp.
Maguire doesn’t have Golson’s mobility either, and that mobility would benefit the Seminoles against Clemson considering the fearsome pass rush the Tigers possess.
Florida State could also be without two starting offensive linemen. If the offensive line can’t hold its own against the Tigers, it won’t matter which quarterback is under center. And Clemson’s defense isn’t any better or worse against a quarterback inside or outside the pocket, statistics indicate. The Seminoles have not run Golson much this season on designed plays, so how much his legs would factor in the play calling isn’t known either.
Another road performance like the Seminoles’ first three road games won't be good enough to upset the nation’s No. 1 team. The Seminoles have only seven 20-yard completions on the road. They’re averaging almost half as many yards on the road (275 yards per game, 57th among Power 5) as they are at home (524, sixth) against Power 5 competition.
Golson didn’t play poorly last month, but it might take the hot hand of Maguire to knock off Clemson.