Photo courtesy of Florida State athletics
The game happened.
It is what it is. Florida State is 0-1 for a fourth straight season after a 16-13 loss to a Georgia Tech team picked to finish last in the ACC.
It’s not all “woe is me” or at least it can’t be. First-year head coach Mike Norvell will be judged, according to the standard and not the previous regime — at least when it comes to these writings.
FSU will have a week to wash the bad taste out of its collective mouth and get ready for in-state rival Miami. As we gear up for this match-up, let’s take the time to look at positives as well as things that coaching can correct.
The special teams unit as a whole looks exponentially better than it has the past three seasons. FSU hadn’t had a blocked field goal or extra point since 2017 and none in ACC play since DeMarcus Walker’s “Block at the Rock” against Miami in 2016.
Against Georgia Tech, the Seminoles had three. The seven points stopped the game from being an even more embarrassing loss.
Travis Jay seems to be someone who might be electric back on returns, more so kickoff than punt returns, but nonetheless, it felt good to see fielded and returned kicks. Punts and punt coverage looked better. Kicker Parker Grothaus missed one field goal, but also hit a 53-yarder.
Overall, the special teams unit didn’t look like the most neglected unit on the football team. That’s a sign of good coaching that the head coach takes so much pride in that.
The offensive line — at least the original starting five — didn’t play anywhere near as poorly as one might have expected. The coaches would like to have eight healthy bodies to move around. It’s an impossible task to keep them healthy all year.
The FSU defense gave up 400 yards of offense to a team led by a true freshman at quarterback. The good news is it did have two interceptions and played stingy in the red zone. Ultimately, yards don’t matter — points do. Holding a team to 16 points should be an effort good enough for a victory.
Obviously losing to a team that was predicted to finish last in conference is concerning, but two units were noticeably passive and not up to standard this game. These were considered FSU’s strengths coming into the season.
The defensive line, with its top interior lineman, was heralded to be one of the best units not just in the conference but the nation. We saw top talent get pancake blocked and at times, create very little pressure to rattle an 18-year-old true freshman quarterback in Jeff Sims. This was against an offense that wasn’t good last season.
Add to the fact that depth got exposed at the defensive end position when Joshua Kaindoh went down with an injury. Once that happened, setting the edge against the run was non-existent. This is the best and most experienced unit. The play has to increase to the NFL-level talent it has for coordinator Adam Fuller’s defense to run effectively.
The wide receiver room just has to get consistent with drops and creating separation. Tamorrion Terry was not really a factor at all in this game. Blame it on scheme and James Blackman? There’s certainly a case to be made.
With that said, interject the fact that big-time players make big-time plays in games. Terry had the one beautifully ran route and throw, but it was just simply dropped. Warren Thompson also showed his flashes but had two critical drops. Drops can be drive-killers. One of Thompson’s early drops forced FSU to settle for a field goal instead of 1st-and-goal.
Blackman is taking a lot of flak, but he’s an easy target. All in all, these two units were most disappointing, because they had the highest expectations.
What Just Has to Get Better
As mentioned above, the defensive line and wide receiver play has to improve. That’s as easy as receivers being more focused and the defensive line playing to its ability. But overall, the quarterback play just has to improve.
Blackman is in his fourth year of college football. He is on his fourth coordinator, which is difficult. But the areas where we should expect him to improve have nothing to do with football intellect or IQ but more to do with maturation level.
Football is a game of ebbs and flows. You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to make some great plays. Don’t get too high and don’t get too low. Be patient and take what they give you.
The first interception had zero to do with scheme as much as it had to do with a player not being patient and trying to operate outside of what he was taught to do. This happened at least five times on Saturday.
Blackman has to have a better understanding of down and distance and what he is trying to accomplish with the play in relation to that. 3rd-and-short doesn’t mean go deep. At this point, just get the first down and extend the drive.
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He has to get better because, at this point, the season is determined on his mind and his arm. Many in the fan base would like to see another option at quarterback and who can fault them? But the options are limited to Tate Rodemaker and emergency quarterback Travis Jay.
Rodemaker probably isn’t ready for this kind of action just yet and the stretch of games outside of Jacksonville State is brutal to bring in a true freshman. Jay is an amazing athlete, but he’s probably not an FBS quarterback. Jordan Travis the other option. Travis has shown nothing as a passer, but is a great runner.
We’ve also got to see an improvement in the running game. It was non-existent and FSU seemingly gave up on it. Jashuan Corbin probably will get better as he gets more game reps coming off his injury at Texas A&M, but there weren’t any huge holes to begin with.
What stuck out about the ground game at Memphis was the running backs’ abilities to locate holes and accelerate through them. Unfortunately, at least until this line improves on that aspect, you need a Cam Akers or Dalvin Cook-type back. Those guys won’t be running out of the tunnel against Miami in a few weeks.
Maybe it was first game jitters for Norvell. His team got punched in the mouth. Let’s see how he deals with a extra week of preparation and gets the Noles back in focus.
Good coaching gets guys to forget about the past and focus on the future. The mistakes aren’t insurmountable, but they have been consistent over the past few years. Discipline is about doing the right things consistently more than stupid penalties. If these guys stay locked in, they can still have a season that’s up to “the standard”. That’s not what the previous regime came close to living up to.
Trust the process, get 1% better every day and “Climb” is not just rhetoric, but mottoes that this group of Seminoles needs to embody. Norvell has said all the right things, but FSU needs results.