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First Impressions: 1st-team offense springs to life in Garnet & Gold game

For much of the spring practices the media has been allowed to observe, the FSU defense had been dominate against either the first- or second-team offense. That was not the case in the Seminoles’ annual Garnet and Gold game this afternoon. The open-field portion of the scrimmage lasted for two quarters with the the first and second teams getting six series’ worth of work.

The first-team offense scored on the first four of its six possessions and totaled 20 points for the half. The second-team defense didn’t allow any points against the second-team offense, ending one drive with an interception by true freshman CB Kevin Knowles II and forcing five punts.

Travis, Milton Stand Out

Jordan Travis and McKenzie Milton led three series apiece with the first-team offense and both were as efficient and productive as they have been all spring. Travis led FSU to 10 points on his first two drives, which included a 44-yard touchdown pass to freshman WR Malik McClain on the opening series of the game. Milton followed suit, leading the offense to 10 points on his first two drives, which included a 16-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman WR Bryan Robinson.

Travis completed 8 of 14 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown in his three series. Milton completed 6 of 11 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. McKenzie completed several passes in tight windows and both quarterbacks showed the ability to buy time and make plays with their legs, which proved beneficial given the pressure they faced from the defense’s pass rush this afternoon.

Seminole Sack Party

One thing that was consistent with what we had seen in the previous practices was the offense’s inability to protect the passer. While FSU’s offense looked as good as it has all month. it gave up 11 sacks in 12 offensive series in the first two quarters. The first-team defense totaled six sacks against the first-team offense, including two by UGA transfer DE Jermaine Johnson and two by defensive tackle Dennis Briggs Jr. The second-team defense recorded five sacks against the second-team offense, including two apiece by defensive linemen Malcolm Ray and Josh Griffis. The offensive line was without Devontay Love-Taylor, Brady Scott, Thomas Shrader and Chaz Neal on Saturday. Love-Taylor is projected to be a starter once he returns from injury in the fall, while Scott had been running with the first-team prior to missing this week with a leg injury. Shrader and Neal were missing from the second-team line.

Ward Strong, Toafili Slippery

Running back Treshaun Ward has been one of the stories of the spring, consistently standing out in the practices we have attended and that was the case again today. Ward, who was placed on scholarship this semester, led the running backs with six carries and finished second on the team with 41 yards. Redshirt freshman Lawrance Toafili carried the ball five times for 46 yards, snaking his way through the defense while averaging 9.2 yards per carry.

Linebackers making progress

Publisher Jerry Kutz paid particular attention to the inside linebackers and wrote the following observations.

With Emmett Rice going down with a leg injury the second week of spring, Amari Gainer began to spend his time in the middle of the first unit defense with Stephen Dix. Redshirt freshman DJ Lundy and Kalen Deloach played with the second unit throughout the spring.

It was disappointing to lose Rice this spring, who steadily grew as a linebacker in 2020. FSU has not released when Rice wil return. All eyes have been Gainer and Dix, who certainly look the part. Both have the size, speed and intelligence to help this defense. Productivity becomes the next step.

What I saw that I liked Saturday were linebackers who were engaged, actively trying to communicate with the front and back end of the defense, especially Dix and Gainer. I thought the tackling was cleaner than last year and I liked seeing Gainer getting all the way to the sideline to make tackles. What I have not seen yet is high productivity; especially big plays. When you look at the stats sheet, you see too many zeroes in terms of fumbles caused or recovered, passes broken up or intercepted. That’s been an issue for the the defense as a whole, and there was only one INT and one PBU in this scrimmage again.

To be fair, this was a shortened practice with two quarters rather than four, so if you multiply the tackles in this scrimmage by two, they are pretty normal for tackles (6 to 8 tackles in a full game is productive) but still lacking in terms of big plays (none). The first team played six series (your average game has 12 ) with the second team playing six series. Gainer recorded four tackles, three of which were solos (a couple of those tackles were after a catch). Dix had three tackles (one solo) against the first team offense. Deloach three tackles (two solo), Jaleel McCrae three tackles (one solo) and Jayion McCluster (1 solo) against the second team offense.

The scheme FSU is running (4-2-5) also brings a corner-safety-nickel into the box, to fill a “linebacker” role from time to time. South Carolina transfer Jammie Robinson has had a very physical presence in that role throughout spring, including Saturday.

Frequently, FSU’s tight ends split out wide which forced the linebackers to walk out there in space and drop into coverage. For the most part, Gainer and Dix held their own, running with the tight ends. On several occasions, the tight ends made plays on short throws and the backers made clean tackles for little yardage. Of more concern were the few occasions when they lost leverage on deeper post routes.

Saturday’s performance was solid — if lacking the spectacular — which is a good place to start.

Secondary Still Primary Concern

One position group we expected to see improvement from with additions of transfers Jammie Robinson and Brandon Moore was that of the secondary, but the first-team unit struggled against Travis and Milton. The pair completed 14 of 25 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Travis’ touchdown pass to McClain came against a busted coverage where he found himself wide open in the middle of the field. Travis finished the game with a QB rating of 149.7, while Milton had a rating of 157.9. All three quarterbacks combined to go 26 for 45 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

There were a couple of standouts in the secondary, however. Knowles, an early enrollee, made several nice tackles (four total) in the open field in addition to his interception. Jadarius Green-McKnight led all FSU defenders with seven stops while Robinson’s six was second-most in the game.