TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State entered the 2017 season hoping that the talented combo of Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers could help ease the departure of superstar Dalvin Cook.
Those hopes started coming to fruition during Saturday’s game against Miami.
Riding Patrick early and Akers late, the Seminoles put up 203 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry during their 24-20 loss to the Hurricanes.
And, with 23 sack yards removed from the equation, that number climbs to 226 and 5.8 yards per carry.
“They’re doing a really good job,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They’re pounding the ball up in there. We run-blocked well. … (The offensive line was) banged up and bruised up and played a heck of a defensive line, and we ran the ball really good.”
Perhaps the most encouraging sign was the way Patrick and Akers accumulated their yardage, each with a mixture of long gains and shorter, move-the-chains scampers.
Patrick, a junior from Orlando, got things started early with a pair of 30-plus yard runs in the first quarter – a 34-yarder on the second play of the game and a 30-yarder that led to an FSU field goal.
He would go on to finish with 91 yards on 11 carries (8.3 YPC) while fighting through an injury suffered late in the first half.
“Just trust,” Patrick said when asked what clicked for the running game this week. “We have a great running backs coach in Coach (Jay) Graham. It happens during the week for us in the way we practice. I would say this past week was one of the hardest we have ever worked.”
That’s especially true for Akers, a freshman who over the last few weeks has received a crash course in the transition from being a high-school All-American to a college rookie.
After uneven games against NC State and Wake Forest, Fisher said that Akers needed to learn how to hit holes for easy yardage rather than dance behind the line in hopes of breaking a big play.
Take what the defense gives, Fisher said, and the big plays will eventually come.
Akers seemed to heed that instruction on Saturday. He was quick and decisive in his cuts, was brought down behind the line of scrimmage just twice, and finished with career highs in both carries (20) and yardage (121). It was the first 100-yard game of the former five-star prospect’s career.
The 5-11, 213-pound Akers, sometimes presumed to be the lightning to the 6-3, 234 Patrick’s thunder, also showed that he can get physical when the situation calls for it:
HIT. STICK. CAM. pic.twitter.com/4MLLclpzKV
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) October 7, 2017
That big play came, too, just as Fisher predicted.
With the Seminoles trailing 10-3 at the start of the fourth quarter, Akers split through Miami’s defensive line, shook his ankle free of Hurricane defender and bounced to his right for a 46-yard gain down the right sideline.
A few moments later, the Seminoles were in the end zone and the game was tied.
“We worked hard on that during the week,” Fisher said. “Taking runs and making three yards, six yards, eight yards. Being patient and pounding up in there, and then they kept breaking out.
“You’ve got to keep doing it. With (Akers’) size and strength, he’ll break tackles. Especially later in the game.”
Saturday’s game marked the fourth straight game that the Seminoles showed improvement on the ground.
After rushing for 40 yards in the opener with Alabama, FSU has since run for 104 yards against NC State, 149 in a win at Wake Forest and 203 on Saturday.
Patrick doesn’t plan on slowing down, either.
“Our running brings energy to the offense,” he said. “We try to bring that in any way we can.”