Mike Norvell has never played this many true or redshirt freshmen before. But he and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said Monday that Florida State is putting its best 11 on the field and it just happens they are often younger players.
“We’re in a unique situation,” Norvell said. “I think it’s even been asked about a youth movement or things like that. Every day that we’re out there, we’re trying to put the best guys on the field that help us win games. That’s been our focus. I know we’ve utilized Emmett Rice as an example of a fifth-year senior who’s continuing to grow, playing his best ball. Getting better. It’s the same investment in him as the true freshman who’s running out there for his first career start. But as we’re growing as a team, you want to see response. That’s how I judge that growth. Like, do you see a response in all aspects?”
Freshmen and sophomores make up 73.7 percent of FSU’s roster, the highest underclassmen percentage in the country, according to research by FSU sports information.
The offense, though, is an example of where the coaches are leaning on true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or players who are in the first year at FSU. Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker at quarterback. Jashaun Corbin and La’Damian Webb at running back. Ja’Khi Douglas got the start at receiver. Walk-on Preston Daniel and converted quarterback Wyatt Rector at tight end. Four offensive linemen (Robert Scott, Thomas Shrader, Maurice Smith and Darius Washington) are true or redshirt freshmen.
And it can even be argued that leading receiver Ontaria Wilson, who caught seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in the loss at NC State, is a younger player as he is in year 2 on offense after moving from defensive back. Every FSU run was by a first-year player and every throw by a true freshman.
Dillingham was asked about how FSU coaches grade the players and referenced alignment, assignment, footwork and productivity.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t align right, if you don’t do your job, your assignment right and fundamentally you’re not sound, but you still get the job done, well, guess what? You need to be on the field,” Dillingham said. “And right now, that’s kind of the issue, the place we’re in. Starting all the youth. It’s not a youth movement. Those the best players we have in those positions. … We’re playing the best players on this football team to win. And right now those are the people that are the most productive.
“Now, their alignment, their assignment and their footwork, their grades are not always the best because that’s part of being young. But those are the best players we have on the roster. And we just got to continue to develop them, continue to get better. And when we improve their grades that we grade, you’re going to see a better football team.
Jashaun Corbin ran 14 times for 77 yards in the 38-22 loss to NC State. He also had a 28-yard touchdown run. Corbin looks like he has gained more confidence as he has had more time to recover from the knee surgery in Sept. 2019.
“He’s a tough back, he does all the things you want a running back to do, he’ll protect, he plays on special teams, catches the ball out of the backfield,” Norvell said. “He embraces his role and the work that goes into development in all of those areas. But he’s also been a great leader for the offense. You’re talking about a guy who’s a sophomore so it’s not like he’s the most seasoned vet, but he definitely has experience playing the game at a high level.”
Jordan Travis’ status
Norvell said the FSU coaches went into the NC State game planning as if they would not have Jordan Travis. Now, the redshirt sophomore quarterback is expected to return to the practice field leading up to the Clemson game.
“We’re excited about getting Jordan back out there and working this week,” Norvell said. “It was something that we were watching as it developed last week, but we really went into the week planning as if we didn’t have him and we were going to react to the opportunity to get him back. I think Jordan has done some remarkable things this year. He’s continuing to learn.”
Norvell did not commit to starting Travis or Chubba Purdy against Clemson.
Analysis of Purdy
Dillingham mentioned that FSU had just four possessions in the first half, plus the drive late in the second quarter. “We strategically tried to shorten the football game and limit possessions,” Dillingham said.
FSU clearly opened up the offense, and the passing game, in the second half. Purdy was just 5 of 8 for 29 yards in the first half and then was 10 of 15 for 152 yards with two touchdowns in the second half, displaying more comfort later in his first start but also likely benefitting from facing some of NC State’s backups.
“There were a couple plays that he came over on the sideline and was very open and transparent about the things that he saw and maybe a couple things that he didn’t see,” Norvell said. “His demeanor is incredible. I know I mentioned that after the Pitt game. His approach to not only the leadership role that he has as a quarterback, but trying to make others around him better, I really was impressed with him. I think there were a lot of positives that we can take out of his first start. I think guys have a lot of confidence in him and that’s just going to continue to grow as we move forward.”
Dillingham saw some problems with Purdy’s footwork but praised his decision-making.
“I thought he operated well,” Dillingham said. “He still got the ball to the right guy. And I think that was the biggest positive — his feet may have been all over the place but, at the end of the day, he got the ball where it was supposed to be thrown to on the majority of the throws. There were throws and reads that we left out there. But I was really pleased with how we progressed.”
FSU is 2-6 with three games to go but the prospect of playing in a bowl game is there for any FBS team due to the NCAA ruling that there are no win requirements in 2020 for bowl-eligibility.
“When it comes to bowl situations, we know this is a unique year,” Norvell said. “There’s a lot of other factors that can probably fall into place when it comes to that. Right now, with where we are as a program, our focus has to be on the moment. We’re going to continue to work to develop our guys, to continue to help build a foundation of where we’re going by being our best today.
“If we get an opportunity here in the future to play another game, obviously that’d be something that I’d be extremely excited about. But we have to focus on today and this week, what we’re trying to do to go out there, put ourselves in the best position to be successful this week.”
The Seminoles may need to pick up another win or two to catch attention. For what it’s worth, bowl projections by the Sporting News and CBSSports.com don’t list FSU in their scenarios (ESPN.com had not updated its projections by mid-afternoon on Monday).
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