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Defense controls offense in 2nd scrimmage of the spring

Florida State held its ninth practice and second scrimmage of the spring under humid and partly cloudy conditions this morning in Doak Campbell Stadium. The two-hour scrimmage featured both situational (two-point plays, short-field opportunities) and open-field situations in which the defense for the most part had its way with the offense. Approximately 400 people were in the stands for Saturday’s scrimmage, with several dozen high school prospects among them.

The offense did manage to score on its opening drive in the open-field portion of the scrimmage but was only able to produce two field goals in its last 16 possessions that featured the first- or second-team offense going against the first- or second-team defense on a day in which the offense was dominated.

“I thought they did a good job for the most part,” head coach Mike Norvell said of his team after the scrimmage. “I thought the defense was dominant today. The first drive, the offense was able to go down and get a touchdown, lost contain on a couple of rushes, quarterback scrambles, things that we’ve got to improve on and eliminate those mistakes. But the response from the defense was really good. Offensively, not very sharp today. Had more penalties, pre-snap penalties, mistakes, missed assignments throughout the scrimmage, especially in critical situations. Some guys that hadn’t been in the rotation are kind of forced into some action, had some early rookie mistakes. Also had some missed opportunities there offensively.

“As you go through it, there were a lot of good things we saw from the offense in the first scrimmage and the defense had some mistakes I thought they got corrected today. Much better in the open-field tackling. There’s still some tackles we’ve got to get down, but especially in the first group, I thought it was much improved in that aspect. The guys that have performed and played well throughout the spring for the most part are continuing to grow. Jermaine Johnson and Fabien Lovett both stood out. Dennis Briggs had some good plays, (Derrick) McLendon. I thought all those guys were working hard up there on the defensive front, creating some havoc. I thought it was a positive day for what we saw defensively. Got to continue to build and grow off of that and then the things offensively that we’ve got to get corrected, we’ve got to see that response.”

Quarterbacks Jordan Travis and McKenzie Milton alternated drives with the first-team offense for the majority of the practice, while Tate Rodemaker led all but two drives with the second-team offense. None of the quarterbacks had particularly strong days in the passing game.

While the quarterbacks did find some success on perimeter and intermediate throws it couldn’t find many big plays downfield in the passing game. By the Osceola’s count, Travis completed 9 of 13 passes, which included completing 5 of 6 passes thrown 15 yards or less in open-field situations. Travis made several nice runs on scrambles, picking up 45 yards on four carries to keep drives alive during his series with the first and second-team offense. Milton completed 2 of 8 passes but was not helped by either dropped passes or wide receivers not completing routes at full speed. Rodemaker completed 5 of 9 nine passes in open-field situations and has the most success pushing the ball downfield. He had one completion of over 30 yards and another that was dropped in the end zone by true freshman Malik McClain.

“Hard to tell, we were put in a lot of bad situations today,” said offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham when asked how the quarterbacks performed. “Us as a whole offensively had too many MAs (missed assignments). We put some younger guys in there and too many MAs. We couldn’t develop, we developed a rhythm, but I talk about it all the time as an offense, you’ve either got to be elite efficiency, which means you got to be able to go on 10-, 12-, 15-play drives and score or you have to be explosive. Well, today, we would start drives, get a first first down and get a penalty. And then we didn’t hit on the big balls. So when you’re not explosive and you combine that with you’re hurting yourself to be efficient, you’re stuck in no man’s land offensively. As a quarterback room, we’ve just got to understand in a scrimmage you’re not going to be able to extend the play as much, so try to find and work your check downs more and a little bit quicker.”

The strength of the offense at this point, as it was last season, was the running game. Running back Jashaun Corbin ran the ball 13 times for 57 yards during the open-field portion of the scrimmage. Lawrance Toafili ran the ball six times for 14 yards while walk-on running back Treshaun Ward continues to push for a role in the backfield this spring after rushing for 45 yards on 11 carries. Both Corbin and Toafili had nice days catching the ball out of the backfield and were the most productive pass catchers on the day.

“I wanted to see some extensive work from Jashaun,” said Norvell of Corbin. “Last week, we kind of limited him on the rep count. He had a really good set and I wanted to see some of those young backs get some good work and they did. Jashaun, I thought did a really nice job today, with and without the ball in his hands. He is a great leader, a guy that is very consistent. He wasn’t perfect in all things that he did today, but he’s definitely extremely consistent. It means the world to him and every day he’s showing up, showing some really good flashes. Had some really good runs and catches out of the backfield.”

Ontaria Wilson, Kentron Poitier and Malik McClain all flashed at times during the course of the scrimmage but the offense is in need of one or more players from the three-wide receiver slots to emerge as true go-to guys.

The defense forced several three-and-outs during the open-field portion of the scrimmage and was very successful getting to the quarterback. In the open-field portion of the scrimmage the defense recorded 11 sacks with seven of those coming against the first-team offense. McClendon and Fuller, along with Briggs, all recorded multiple sacks.

“I think we played well,” said defensive coordinator Adam Fuller when asked about the defensive line. “I think we played well inside. Early on we let a bunch of balls out in the scramble game, and that’s been a big emphasis for us. This spring, just creating rush lane discipline and then winning one-on-ones but understanding where the space is to win the one-on-ones. Because if you open up those lanes, and you’re playing certain coverages, there’s a lot of space for those quarterbacks to see throws. So it’s just about compressing the rush. We all want sacks but within getting sacks there’s a disciplined way to do it. Coach JP (John Papuchis) and coach (Odell) Haggins, they’re doing a great job of making sure our guys can answer when it’s not good enough, not effort, but just the execution, when they should come back on a block, when they got to sit down a speed rush, when they got to go to power, and just the ability to cage the pocket. And there were some really poor examples early in the scrimmage. But I thought we got better as it went on, the four-man rushes and some of the five-man rushes as well.”

Fuller was also encouraged by the execution of the defense as a whole and its ability to win one on one battles across the board.

“I think last week the offense came out and they did a great job,” said defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. “This week, won the day, whatever that means. But I think we executed better, we had less miss fits with the linebackers. I think we did a better job of just caging the quarterback in our pass rush. We won some one-on-ones. And, listen, we got really good coaches on the offense, we got good coaches on defense. And they coach the guys up. And then there are some one-on-one plays that Treshaun Ward makes Travis Jay miss in the open field. That’s a win for the offense. Travis Jay gets Jashaun Corbin down or Treshaun or whoever that is. It comes down to those plays sometimes. And that’s what you want to see in these scrimmages. You want to see some competitive excellence, whether it’s a one-on-one with a guard and a three-technique or it’s a corner and a wideout, linebacker-tight end. There’s several one-on-one battles on every play that if played with the right technique and played with good effort, then it comes down to who wins those matchups sometimes. And I think that’s what these spring scrimmages are for.”

“The defense won the day,” said Norvell. “They did what they needed to do. At the end of the day, if you don’t execute offensively, defensively or in special teams, it doesn’t matter, you’re hurting yourself. If somebody executes really well, you’ve got to do your job and still win the rep.”

Cornerback Jarvis Brownlee, defensive tackle Josh Farmer and tight end Wyatt Rector were players who didn’t participate in Saturday’s scrimmage who did practice the last time the media was allowed to attend.

Names and faces

2021 quarterback commit Nicco Marchiol was in attendance today as was former FSU tight end Dave Roberts. Roberts is now the offensive coordinator at South Walton (Fla.) High School and was accompanied by his son, Cade, who plays wide receiver for this dad and is currently being recruited by Norvell and staff. Former FSU graduate assistant Mike Owens, who is now an assistant coach at Thomasville (Ga.) County Central High was also in the stands.

Next week’s Practice Schedule

FSU will practice twice next week before taking the Easter weekend off.

“Next week is going to be a little bit of an adjusted week, Monday and Wednesday,” said Norvell. “We’re coming off this scrimmage with Good Friday and Easter next week, we’re going to be off for the weekend. That’s our plan for the week moving forward.”