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Final thoughts: On Purdy’s decision, refs protecting QBs

On Fridays in football season, we’ll offer some final thoughts on Florida State, NC State or the matchup ahead of Saturday’s game with the Wolfpack (4 p.m. on ACC Network). 

In-season transfers

The transfer portal is a positive for college football but has come with pitfalls and is a revolving door. If a coach can opt to take another job, then a student-athlete should have the chance to transfer once in a four-year window without penalty. 

The portal is very much similar to free agency in pro sports and it is a fundamental change to college football as well as how coaches build their roster. It has allowed coaches to expedite a rebuild, and we’ve seen Mike Norvell use it to their advantage while others (Clemson’s Dabo Swinney) opt not to do so.

Unfortunately, the NCAA has left a loophole in allowing a player to enter the transfer portal during the season. (Thankfully, a player can not immediately enroll at another school and play that same football season.) But Chubba Purdy’s decision on Wednesday was magnified for the obvious reasons: It happened roughly 10 days after he played for the first time this season against UMass, it happened with four games remaining in the 2021 season and it happened when he may have been needed as Jordan Travis and McKenzie Milton have well-documented injury histories. And it happened when he could be competing for the starting job in 2022, in the preseason and in August camp, where he would go head-to-head with Jordan Travis and likely A.J. Duffy, who plans to enroll in January.

So here it is: I wish Purdy well and hope he finds the right spot for his career, academically and on the football field. But I can’t escape the feeling that he quit on his teammates and the coaching staff by leaving midseason. There’s nothing wrong with him announcing a decision after the Florida game, were the Seminoles to make a bowl game, if he wanted to play elsewhere and not stick around in December.

If this is purely about Purdy wanting to play for another coach, in another system or just be closer to his parents or home in Arizona, there’s nothing wrong with that either. But it’s not lost on many of us that Purdy has passed up the chance to compete in the short term and long term with Travis and Duffy. Purdy’s growth since he has been healthy in August, September and October is undeniable. The trajectory may not continue at such a rapid pace, but he had the chance to progress in 2022 and surpass Travis. If Purdy is truly transferring over playing time, which it feels like he is, then why not compete against Travis and Duffy? 

The problem with having a promising young quarterback like Purdy is his talent but also the knowledge that coaches must pick the best one to lead the team and ultimately give the Seminoles a chance to win on Saturday. And with the losses in 2020 and ’21, it’s reasonable to expect Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to lean on a quarterback with some level of experience to stabilize the offense. Based on what we’ve seen on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in practices, Purdy was often a better option than McKenzie Milton but Purdy lacked the experience of a Milton or even Travis (who is just shy of 300 career attempts at FSU). Milton doesn’t consistently throw tight spirals or with accuracy on the run at practice, but he’s also been viewed as a gamer and not as a quarterback whose skills show up in practices.

Purdy’s career at FSU has been anything but smooth. He arrived in June 2020 and was injured in the team’s first scrimmage in August. The shoulder / collarbone injury required surgery and a subsequent infection then needed a follow-up procedure. Purdy opted to rehab this spring so that he would be 100 percent by August but he also went home to Arizona this summer to do so instead of investing as much (if any) time in Tallahassee this summer to take part in offseason workouts with receivers and other offensive players. Finishing rehab in Arizona is fine but there’s also the need in a year-round world of college football to be connected through the offseason with teammates, working out with them in the strength room and on the field.

There is one more consideration: Purdy may know where he wants to go, maybe to follow his brother, Brock, up to Iowa State. But if that isn’t the fit for him perhaps he wants college coaches to know he’s available and to dissuade them from pursuing other transfer quarterbacks. If that’s the case it’s almost similar to dismissing a head coach and wanting to be able to contact agents to gauge the interest of coaching candidates, getting out ahead in the search instead of waiting until the gap between the end of the regular season and the bowl season.

Unfortunately, this news on Purdy broke after Mike Norvell spoke following the Wednesday practice (one in which we thought Purdy may have had the flu bug that has hit the team). And for now Purdy isn’t talking. If there’s one question we would all want Purdy to answer it’s “Why did you opt to leave midseason?” But there’s also a reason why another college coach should ask Purdy the same question. 

When is a QB no longer a QB?

Of all the penalties from the FSU-Clemson game the one that hits home should be the subject of offseason discussion among coaches. DJ Lundy ran to the sideline and looked to tackle D.J. Uiagalelei, who was in bounds at the time of the hit.

Lundy was flagged for a personal foul, a 15-yard penalty that set up Clemson at the FSU 21-yard line. On the ensuing play, Will Shipley ran in the touchdown. Penalties like these can swing momentum to the detriment of the defense. Lundy was doing his job and ensuring Uiagalelei did not continue to run down the sideline. It’s also similar to a Jordan Travis run down the sideline late in the win over Syracuse, one where that defender opted not to make a tackle and Travis kept running.

Why was the flag thrown? FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller suggested it was because Uiagalelei is a quarterback. “DJ Lundy is playing as hard as he can on that rep,” Fuller said. “And at the end of the day, it’s a quarterback, and it’s a sideline.” Fuller was not being critical but opened up a sideline sightline that we need to distinguish.

If the goal of the ACC’s football coaches, athletics directors and the league office is to protect a quarterback, by all means it should be done. And the rules at the college and NFL levels suggest as much. But Uiagalelei is no longer a quarterback when he runs beyond the line of scrimmage. He is a runner. Lundy did not hit Uiagalelei high and there was no malice intended on the linebacker’s part. In a sport where the emphasis is on quarterbacks with some level of mobility this is a gray area for referees but also one where coaches and administrators should meet in the offseason to discuss.

Channeling Mickey

Norvell reflected on some thoughts Mickey Andrews mentioned to him in 2020, not long after he arrived in Tallahassee. And when he spoke earlier this week Norvell drew a parallel to what the longtime defensive coordinator said and applied it to the 2021 season.

“The thing we can control is what’s in front of us,” Norvell said. “Like I told the guys, one of my first couple months being here, we’re going through our Tour of Duty. Coach Andrews came out. And as we’re going through the drills, he came up to me. The drill where we’re emphasizing getting up after, whether it’s a seat roll or belly flop. Coach Andrews goes ‘It’s not a sin to get knocked down. Your butt better just be getting up before you hit the ground.’ I think that is unbelievable wisdom of how you should approach things.

“Our team, it was a challenging first month but we got up. We responded. We pushed forward. There were four weeks of positive momentum, a lot of things we’re growing and building upon. Obviously Saturday, we got knocked down again. The only sin is if you stay down on that ground. We’re going to jump up and move forward, and we’re going to attack every day how we can to get better and be the team we’re capable of being. That’s the mindset. That’s the approach.”

The Seminoles are still a young program. There are true and redshirt freshmen playing in high priority positions. There are lessons to be learned for the players as well as a group of young assistants and a relatively young 40-year-old head coach. Nobody is happy with 3-5, not Norvell and not a coach like Andrews who helped set the standard at FSU, but there is growth that we can see as media and fans in how competitive and how much effort the Seminoles are showing.

Weather wonders

It won’t be Chamber of Commerce weather on Saturday for fans who will sit in the stands at Doak Campbell Stadium. But could the weather be just what Norvell and Fuller would welcome? If the grass is slippery and slows down what has been an efficient NC State pass game, it could force the Wolfpack to run. Ricky Person and Zonovan Knight combined have 1,000 rushing yards but wouldn’t the Seminoles prefer the chance to have the weather make the Wolfpack more one-dimensional? What if Person and Knight struggle with their footing or the ability to cut? And it could induce some turnovers, something NC State hasn’t done much of in 2021. Of course, FSU will have to make tackles on a slippery field and that could allow Person and Knight to gain yards after contact, but the forecast of rain is a variable and a storyline to watch on Saturday.