Photo courtesy of Florida State athletics
One of the most adored quotes for those in the sporting world who also indulge in a good movie or two is: “I live my life a quarter mile at a time, for those 10 seconds or less I’m free.”
We can apply that simple statement to so many aspects of life. Today, we apply it to Florida State football.
There’s not too many positive things to say after an 0-3 start. That start includes the first-ever defeat to an FCS opponent and a blowout loss to Wake Forest. So, for the moment, it is safe to say that this quarter-mile has not been great to us. The beauty — or the pain — is that we have three quarters to go.
Not Living Up to “The Standard”
Regardless of what has transpired, we do have an opportunity to make the next quarter mile better than the last. If it’s not, well, we know how this story goes. We can harp on all the common thoughts of “fire this coach and that coach or the entire staff”. But let’s first agree and accept that is not fiscally or systemically intelligent.
I want to preface this column with one common theme you’ll find throughout: “Mike Norvell does not need to be fired.” Now, I fully understand that a lot of my peers, supporters and associates will not necessarily agree with that approach but “The Standard” that the administration created where 6-6 is not good enough — which led to the firing of a previous coach — has now come back to rear its ugly head in the conversations about the state of the program today.
However, not only is it unfair to the fan base to suffer week in and week out, it’s totally unfair to hold Coach Norvell and staff to a standard that they did not create or approve. They walked into this situation being told, at least, that they would be given the time needed to turn this program around.
Not Every Story is the Same
Coach Norvell very well might not be our next Bobby Bowden or even Jimbo Fisher. But he still deserves the time and opportunity to install his vision. I know many will revert to Ole Miss or Boston College but every story isn’t the same. We are not at those programs.
We don’t know what was passed down. Instead, we are only looking at their programs from a very vague view — which is wins and losses. To many fans, that’s all that matters. But if you dive into the support factor from boosters, fans, etc., you will see those programs have been given a jumpstart which has helped those coaches worry less about behind the scenes and focus more on football and recruiting.
Every podcast, article or tweet endorsing the firing of staff will do nothing to turn things around. A coach, who must look over his shoulder in fear of being let go, is a stress nobody can perform well under. We must support this team, support this staff and support the school, so that we are able to give all things needed for success — whether that happens with this staff or another.
My approach would be to give Coach Norvell and staff three or four years. That would allow him an opportunity to get his guys in the locker room. It would allow a full cycle of his guys in his strength and conditioning program and a cycle of his guys performing on the field. Only then, can we fairly evaluate the program.
As the beloved Marvin “Shade Tree” Jones said on our roundtable talk “Inside Drills”, nobody on the team has been part of a winning season at FSU. We must truly learn how to win; we must develop the culture of winning. Now that we have three games’ worth of footage, we will begin to dive into some fundamental things the team is doing from in all phases of the game — good, bad or indifferent.
After watching the offense rally to the tune of 24 second-half against then No. 9 Notre Dame and tallying more than 400 yards of offense and a 45% conversion rate on third down, nobody could have forecast the next two weeks of putrid offense. A week after scoring just 17 points against FCS opponent Jacksonville State with a whopping three coming in the second half, we watched this offense produce just 14 points against Wake Forest.
One could point to many things. Despite success, FSU has failed to stay committed to the running game. Additionally, few pass catchers have stepped up thus far.
Many of us felt unsure last week against Wake Forest after the defense set the offense up with great position and the offense proceeded to fumble two plays later. To make matters worse, the play had potential. It may have even been a touchdown if Jashaun Corbin held onto the football.
However, that is not where the discomfort truly kicked in. As a former player who understands momentum swings, rhythm and building consistency, my displeasure came from the quarterback change on the very next drive. To me, that started the beginning of the end.
It may have been already planned.
But from a fan’s perspective, it’s possible that teammates viewed it as a panic move. The move ultimately culminated in the running quarterback keeping on a couple draws for no gains. The game pretty much did not get any better from that standpoint. Before we give you another write-up on everything FSU has done wrong, let’s walk down a tunnel where there is opportunity to do better.
We talk about building a culture and establishing consistency but that must start at the top. Regardless of whether FSU names McKenzie Milton or Jordan Travis the starter, we should establish a game plan where he can function and give him the opportunity to play through early struggles.
When and if Milton/Travis displays inefficiency, you could then replace him with the other scholarship quarterbacks in hopes of getting a better result. Check back to earlier statements about the stress of a coach and not being able to perform well. It applies to the players as well.
I listened to the coach’s presser and heard Coach Norvell speak about not liking some of the play calls like using Milton on a quarterback power. Coach Norvell has already admitted that he reviews the entire game and has a grading system for the play. It will include down and distance and personnel on the field. The last part, I’ll assume, is whether the play worked.
A Track Record Worth Mentioning
One of the brightest spots in hiring Coach Norvell is that he has a history of being a good play caller. This predates his time at Memphis. He was calling plays at Arizona State and had a very similar situation to his current one at FSU.
In Tempe, Norvell had two different style of quarterbacks and was able to get production from both based upon their strengths. For FSU to turn around the next quarter, we will need that version of Coach Norvell to step forward. Coach Norvell has taken a back seat in the effort of designing and calling plays with offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.
They work together to create the game plan. However, we must remember not to get caught up in a game plan that does not feature highs and lows, emotions, weather conditions and simply cannot tell you on that given day what is working and what isn’t.
I certainly believe in Coach Norvell’s annotations that he is evaluating this staff and team intensely with hopes of immediate results. I can’t tell you that means he will call plays going forward or appear to be more instrumental in game-day play calling, but I’m very sure that he feels the heat coming from disgruntled fans, players, and administration.
We’re three games into the season and we have two running backs with at least 25 rushes. Both average better than six yards per carry. TreShaun Ward has 25 carries for 169 yards. Corbin has 37 carries for 280 yards.
FSU does not have a receiver with more than 100 yards. While rushing is down to 183 yards per game compared to 202 per game last season, passing is down to 179 yards per game compared to 196 in 2020.
Perhaps the biggest sign of struggles is that first downs are down to 17 per game compared to 20 last year. Turnovers, on the other hand, are up to 3.3 per game compared to 1.9 per game last year. A common suggestion amongst supporters and probably in that locker room, is that we need to run the ball more, control the clock and control the ability to use play-action. That could go a long way in taking some pressure off the guys out on the edge.
On the contrary, the defense has shown massive improvement in spurts. Other times, it looks like the same story from last year. One major observation is the focus on being a better run defense. Relax fans, I’m not saying we are great, especially after our showing against Wake, but we are improved.
Last year, FSU gave was giving up 200 yards per game on the ground at five yards per carry. This season, that’s down to 132 yards per game and just three per carry. There is still opportunity to improve. So far however, the difference has been vast.
The pass defense has been picked apart. Big plays have cost the Seminoles dearly. FSU has allowed opponents’ passing yards to hover at 289 yards per game compared to 257 last year. With more focus, teaching and instruction on some of the zone coverages and responsibilities, those numbers can be reduced.
We have seen and liked the additional pressure that the defense has decided to bring this year. It has has provided some good dividends. FSU already has more sacks (12) in three games than it had all of last season (10).
The biggest reason for improvement there comes with Georgia transfer Jermaine Johnson. Johnson leads the ACC in sacks with 4.5 and tackles for loss with 6.5. He’s also FSU’s leader in total tackles with 28 through just three games.
While linebacker play was a concern coming into this year with the injury of Emmett Rice, the linebackers have not played great. but there is development. We appear to be keying in faster and getting downhill on recognized runs; we just need to finish the play and make those tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage to avoid giving up cheap yards.
Kalen Deloach has certainly shown improvement in his second year on the defense. Outside of a targeting call against Jacksonville State, he appears to be the vocal leader on defense for recognition and alignment.
While the score was 35-14 to end the game against the Demon Deacons, 27 of those points came before halftime. Wake’s Sam Hartman finished with 259 passing yards. 208 of that came in the first half. The defense needs to get better and needs to become dominant while the offense figures itself out. That appears the only way to pick up wins and momentum.
In conclusion, we will continue to provide insight as the season progresses for FSU.
We are officially at the bottom, so there’s only one way to go from here. As we said when we started this article, we live a quarter-mile at a time. And we need to get free.
We need to be free while we are running around making plays on defense, free while the offense is moving the ball and scoring touchdowns, free while we are winning. That must start this week against Louisville. As Coach Norvell has stated, “we’ve got to continue to focus on ourselves and we’ve got to continue to get better in everything we’re doing. It’s top down.”