There is no question that an injury riddled offensive line was the weak link for Florida State in 2011, and when you dive into the numbers it becomes even more evident.
The unproven and ever-changing offensive line allowed 41 sacks last season, the most since allowing 67 (not a typo) in 1996, and third most in a single season in school history. With no running game to keep opposing defenses honest FSU quarterbacks lost 284 yards on sacks a season ago as they were brought down an average of 3.15 times per game.
After allowing 32 sacks in 2005 (when FSU attempted a school record 526 passes) the FSU offensive line hadn't allowed more than 27 sacks in a season prior to last season. FSU signal callers were hurried 17 times last season, the most since 2008 (21). In the last seven years FSU QBs have been hurried an average of 15.7 times per season, the lowest total was just six in 2010 and the highest was 27 in 2007.
Starting quarterback EJ Manuel took the brunt of the heat from opposing defenses as he was brought down 33 times for a loss of 230 yards. He was sacked five times in wins over Maryland and Notre Dame, and four times in another win over Florida.
Surprisingly in losses to Wake Forest, Clemson, and Virginia FSU QBs were sacked a combined seven times in those three games. During a week three loss to Oklahoma Manuel was sacked once before leaving the game with shoulder injury, while backup Clint Trickett was brought down five times.
The biggest injury that affected the pass protection was the loss of Andrew Datko. The Senior left tackle was only able to participate in four game before shoulder injuries forced him to shut it down for the remainder of the season.
With Datko out, true freshman Bobby Hart was forced into action starting at left tackle against Wake Forest before switching to the right side for the remainder of the season. Senior Zebrie Sanders never looked fully comfortable as he switched to the blindside, despite earning First-Team All-ACC honors.
In addition to Datko, FSU was also without fellow senior lineman David Spurlock for much of the season as he played in just six games. With injuries and lack of production along the offensive line, head coach Jimbo Fisher enacted a youth movement in the Champs Sports Bowl, starting four true freshman alongside Sanders.
The young offensive line struggled mightily at the start as Manuel was sacked four times in the first half alone. But the Irish were only able to get to Manuel once in the second half as FSU erased a 14-point deficit en route to an 18-14 win.
After playing five true freshman in 2011, adding two junior college offensive tackles, as well as athletic freak Cameron Erving from the defensive line, FSU should have much more depth up front in 2012. Improved blocking, along with FSU hopes are quicker decisions by Manuel in the pocket in his second season as a full-time starter, will help the Seminoles pass protection get back on track this season after a historically bad 2011.
Seven-year breakdown of FSU pass protection
Sacks Allowed: 41
Yards lost: 284
Quarterback hurries allowed: 17
Sacks per game: 3.15
Sacks Allowed: 27
Yards lost: 153
Quarterback hurries allowed: 6
Sacks per game: 1.9
Sacks Allowed: 20
Yards lost: 146
Quarterback hurries allowed: 15
Sacks per game: 1.5
Sacks Allowed: 26
Yards lost: 187
Quarterback hurries allowed: 21
Sacks per game: 2.0
Sacks Allowed: 22
Yards lost: 131
Quarterback hurries allowed: 27
Sacks per game: 1.67
Sacks Allowed: 26
Yards lost: 135
Quarterback hurries allowed: 11
Sacks per game: 2
Sacks Allowed: 32
Yards lost: 186
Quarterback hurries allowed: 13
Sacks per game: 2.5
Trends: Turnover margin another plus
Trends: FSU run defense dominating
Trends: Pass rush stays among nation's elite
Trends: FSU run game loses momentum in 2011
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