Growing pains clear as FSU makes youth movement

Florida State played without a preseason All-American defensive tackle, most productive receiver, most versatile lineman and starting quarterback.

Remove some of the big pieces of the offense (Jordan Travis, Tamorrion Terry, Devontay Love-Taylor) and defense (Marvin Wilson) and it’s an indication of how difficult the matchups were in the Seminoles’ 38-22 loss at NC State. FSU was also without defensive tackle Cory Durden and safety Renardo Green did not play.

The offense started four true freshmen — quarterback Chubba Purdy, running back Ja’Khi Douglas (at receiver), left guard Thomas Shrader and right tackle Robert Scott — as well as redshirt freshmen like Maurice Smith and Darius Washington. 

Coach Mike Norvell said he couldn’t recall any point in his career starting six freshmen on one side of the ball. The Seminoles (2-6, 1-6 ACC) also started two more true freshmen, linebacker Stephen Dix Jr. and punter Alex Mastromanno, with a few more seeing extensive playing time in backup roles.

“I actually feel like it’s getting them ready,” defensive back Jarvis Brownlee said. “Just throwing them in there, just seeing how it is out there, seeing the environment. We’ve just got to keep working to put those guys in position to make plays and being comfortable out there. So you know, it’s going to get better. And we’ve been working with them each and every day. Each week. They’re progressing every week, and we’ve just got to keep getting better and better every week. And eventually it’ll come out to where we want it to be, and we’ll start winning.”

That hasn’t happened. Not yet. After the upset over No. 5 UNC, the Seminoles have suffered lopsided defeats to Louisville, Pittsburgh and NC State. But if there are two positives, it’s that the Seminoles showed some fight to the finish and got freshmen on offense playing time.

Among those freshmen were Purdy, who made his first career start. Purdy was just 5 of 8 for 29 yards at the half, while Tate Rodemaker was also 3 of 5 for 19 yards on his first two drives. In the third quarter, with FSU trailing 28-3, Purdy was able to get the offense going with a pair of scoring drives. Jashaun Corbin broke away on a 28-yard TD run, while Purdy went deep to Ontaria Wilson on a 69-yard TD pass. He also connected with Warren Thompson late in the game on a 24-yard TD pass.

Purdy finished 15 of 23 for 181 yards. He said he has been watching film and practicing as if he would be the starter, regardless of where he has been on the depth chart. With Travis sidelined due to injury, it was Purdy’s chance on Saturday.

“During practice the whole week, we’ve had all these freshmen playing and practicing,” Purdy said. “I feel like we were all confident with what we were going to out there and do. I think we did a great job actually with all the young guys that are playing. I feel like every day and week of practice we get better, every game we seem to get better as the young guys keep stepping it up.”

True freshmen also played in backup roles, from walk-on tight end Preston Daniel to Rodemaker. Sidney Williams also saw extensive playing time at defensive back, recording eight tackles, and D.J. Lundy played at linebacker.

Fans and media speculated that FSU would need to turn to freshmen if veteran players hadn’t bought in. Whether it’s due to buy in or the injuries and opt outs, Norvell and the staff have gone all-in with the youth movement.

Norvell said he is seeing growth from young players as well as seniors who have bought in. But he also acknowledged the turnovers and mistakes add up during the course of a game.

“We’re here to win the game,” Norvell said. “And we did not do a good enough job collectively as a team to get that job done. And it starts with coaches. It starts with the work that we’re doing throughout the course of the contest. I believe in these players regardless of what their age is.”