FSU head coach Mike Norvell had been seeing improvement in his football team. His staff could see improvement in their football team. We could see improvement in the football team. It was coming in small doses but it was noticeable. We thought it would be pay off at some point in the form of a win. We just didn’t know when. We do now. The Seminoles shocked everyone but probably themselves on Saturday night by cruising to a 31-7 halftime lead over then 5th-ranked North Carolina and then holding on in the second half for a 31-28 victory in a game that featured a furious finish.
It was a big step for a program that hadn’t beaten a ranked team since November 2018 when it beat 20th-ranked Boston College or defeated an FBS opponent since November 2019, also against Boston College. It was big for Norvell and his staff to get their players to believe in what their coaches were asking from them. It was big for his players to believe in themselves. It was big for the FSU fan base to believe the program was moving forward. It was big because the team played with the kind of effort people that have followed one of the most storied programs in modern day college football have come to expect.
And as big as it was there is still a lot of room for improvement. The defense came up big in a number of very crucial situations but it also gave up 558 yards, including 184 yards on the ground. The offense came up with a number of big plays that either resulted in scores or set up scoring opportunities but committed some crucial penalties that could have proven more costly than they did and only converted 33 percent of its third-down attempts. The special teams came up with two big punt blocks, one that set up the first FSU touchdown but only made 1 of 3 field-goal attempts on the night.
Now comes the biggest task for a mostly young football team, doing it again this Saturday against Louisville. And Norvell and his staff know there team must continue to get better in the process.
“Obviously coming off the game Saturday night, getting a chance to watch the film, go through practice yesterday (Sunday), really pleased with our football team to do the things necessary to win the football game,” said Norvell in his opening statement when meeting with media on Monday. “Like I mentioned, you tell guys all the time ‘you never know when that one play is going to make the difference.’ Through the course of that contest, there were a lot of plays that made an incredible impact. On the flip side of it, I thought there were a lot of things that we’re going to have to continue to clean up, continue to address and stay focused on.”
FSU played its best football of the year in the first half of the game against the Tar Heels but Norvell knows there is room for improvement. He also knows his team has to learn how to handle success but was matter of fact about his team needing to continue to work hard to improve itself.
“We’re excited about the win that we just had, but you go watch that film, and there’s a lot of things that really kind of pissed me off that I saw that we’ve got to get corrected,” said Norvell. “What I appreciated about our team, I thought Sunday we came in and I think they’re really buying in to that mentality, that work ethic. There were a lot of guys who played a ton of snaps, but they came in yesterday, got a good work session, we watched film, we emphasized some of the corrections and celebrated a lot of the positives. It’s two-fold of what we’re doing, you’ve got to be able to point out the things that are meeting the standard of what we’re trying to do, but then addressing the things where we need to improve.
Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham would also like to see improvement from the offense as the team moves into the second half of the season. And he knows the game film will give him more than enough ammunition to preach to his players to protect them from being over confident after such a big win.
“Obviously, you always want to get better,” said Dillingham when asked if was an advantage to be able to teach from those mistakes heading into Louisville. “So I would rather have had two halves like the first one and had a little less film to teach off of. But every time you step on the field, there’s an ability to get better. And we can look at the second half. And that’s what we really focused on yesterday (Sunday), I think we had a correction period yesterday in practice. We had 17 corrections. And that’s not even all the corrections, but 17 plays in that football game, I think we had around 58-60 snaps, somewhere in that in that area. And 17 of those we have to fix in corrections.”
Dillingham has seen glimpses of both explosiveness and consistency from his unit but would like to see them coupled together.
“For all the good and all the explosiveness we have there’s a lot of room for growth,” said Dillingham. And that’s what excites me. Because if we continue to get better, we’re starting to become more explosive. And I said it earlier in the year good offenses are either extremely consistent or they’re explosive. We weren’t consistent on Saturday, but we were explosive. Now we need to find that balance where we can be explosive and consistent. Right? And that’s what great offenses are — explosive and consistent. We showed at Notre Dame we can be a little more consistent. We showed this last week, we can be explosive. We got to find a week and put it all together.”
Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller was in lockstep with Norvell and Dillingham. He was happy with how hard his defense played against North Carolina but also recognizes his unit has to sustain that intensity game in and game out to get to maximize its potential.
“The effort in the game was a direct correlation to the constant push of the effort during the week of preparation,” said Fuller. “We’re not there yet, but it’s just constant and the one thing you got to be able to rely on is your energy level, your effort. That’s something that’s never based on the opponent. It’s always based on self evaluation, and what you’re willing to give in the course of practice, in the course of the game, to be able to achieve what you’re trying to achieve. So it was better. It’s still not there yet. But it was better throughout the course of the four quarters.”
The biggest game is always the next one on the schedule. And that is definitely true for a young FSU football team going on the road while trying to find consistency in how to play winning football. The UNC game and win were certainly big but all it did was make the Louisville game that much bigger. FSU’s coaches know their team will have to play with the same effort this week as it did last but it also must improve as it prepares for the Cardinals to give themselves a chance to validate the win over the Tar Heels and give FSU its first two back-to-back wins over ACC opponents since last September.