Florida State is a 12.5-point favorite heading into Saturday’s season opener and Mike Norvell’s debut as head coach against Georgia Tech at 3:30 p.m. (ABC). The Seminoles enter the year looking to secure their first winning season since 2017. Norvell enters his first season in Tallahassee after compiling a 38-15 in record in four seasons as Memphis’ head coach.
Why winning the opener is important
A win against the Yellow Jackets, who went 3-9 last season, would give FSU some early momentum in a season that features Miami, 10th-ranked Notre Dame, 18th-ranked North Carolina and Louisville all on the schedule in the first six weeks. Starting the season with a win would continue to strengthen the players’ buy-in factor in how Norvell runs his program on a daily basis and help foster confidence and trust in the new staff.
Keys to Victory
Win the line of scrimmage – FSU enters the 2020 season with the belief that its defensive line is the strength of the defense and that needs to show up early and often against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will want to run the ball to allow their quarterbacks to ease into the game and take some pressure off them early. (They ran the ball 62 percent of the time last season.) The running game is the most productive part of their offense and what their personnel is best suited for. Forcing Tech to pass would put the game in the hands of one of their three young quarterbacks and that would be a difficult task on the road against what is expected to be an attacking style of defense used by coordinator Adam Fuller.
FSU’s offensive line must show that it can run the ball because of its offensive line and not in spite of it. Running back Cam Akers bailed the Seminoles’ offensive line out last season by producing positive yardage by creating holes and running room on his own. With a roster of running backs in 2020 that features four new faces, including co-starters Jashaun Corbin and La’Damain Webb, there is no guarantee that they will be able repeat Akers’ ability to make something out of nothing.
Get to quarterback – FSU generated 32 sacks last season, which was eighth in the ACC and 43rd overall in the FBS. The Seminoles also generated just 31 hurries. While Georgia Tech has not announced a starting quarterback, it will likely be sophomore James Graham or true freshman Jeff Sims. Graham completed just 45 percent of his passes last season and getting to him or Sims early could rattle their confidence and keep the Tech offense on its heels. The Seminoles must apply more pressure, especially off the edge. Joshua Kaindoh had just a sack before he was injured in game 3 last year, and Janarius Robinson finished with just three sacks. With the move back to a 4-3 defense, FSU’s edge player should be more effective in an area where they excel, rushing the passer. If they can complement FSU’s deep group of tackles, led by Marvin Wilson (five sacks) and Robert Cooper (two sacks), FSU should be able to produce three-and-outs and keep the Yellow Jackets’ still-in-rebuilding-mode offense on the sideline.
Stop the big plays – FSU was among the worst teams in the nation in giving up big plays last season and was one of the main reasons it lost to teams that were less talented. The Seminoles’ defense gave up 190 plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or more, which ranked 90th in the nation. FSU also allowed 61 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more which ranked 71st in the nation. The FSU offense must also not allow Tech’s defense to come up with big plays in the form of sacks, turnovers and tackles behind the line of scrimmage. FSU ranked 126th in sacks allowed last season, giving up 3.69 sacks per game and 127th in tackles for losses allowed, giving up an average 8.54 TFL’s per game.
Football Analyst Mark Salva: FSU 27, Georgia Tech 10
Football Analyst Patrick Burnham: FSU 28 Georgia Tech 17
Managing Editor Bob Ferrante: FSU 27, Georgia Tech 13