Mike Norvell and the coaching staff saw plenty that they liked when they reviewed the film on Sunday and Monday. And also moments where they saw room for improvement — points not added to the scoreboard and mistakes.
But it’s more palatable for Norvell, the staff and players to review it following a 31-28 upset victory over No. 5 North Carolina. In a game of big plays, early momentum for the Seminoles and a late surge by the Tar Heels, Norvell felt his team was a few plays better.
“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,” Norvell said. “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. The reality of it is we made that game a lot more interesting than it needed to be.”
FSU played about as dominating a half of football as fans and media have seen in years against an FBS program, let alone one ranked in the top 5. Even with the second-half run by UNC, the Seminoles can point to their best running attack (241 yards, 6.7 yards per carry), plays by Jordan Travis in the run and pass game, a defense that scored a touchdown and held UNC to 2 of 11 on third-down plays and 0 of 3 on fourth-down plays as well as a pair of special-teams blocks.
“I thought the first half for 30 minutes, probably played as good of football as you’re going to see,” Norvell said. “All three units made a major impact. … In the second half, we stubbed our toe multiple times. Had penalties that derailed us in moments, missed a couple opportunities there with our field-goal team. Got in the red zone, wasn’t able to capitalize. We’ve got to stay focused on those critical factors, what it is to play winning football.”
Norvell said strength and conditioning coach Josh Storms said a few words to the team after the game and handed the sledgehammer to him following the win. Norvell took a couple swings at the concrete paver in celebration of FSU’s win.
“You give me a hammer, I know what to do with it,” Norvell said. “The problem is I guess I need to lift weights more because I’m a little sore from it. I got a couple good swings in. That was for this team. At the end of the day, the work that our guys have put in, the commitment to growth, the commitment to change, the commitment to just trying to be the best version of them, that’s what we’re all striving for.
“One of the great things to come out of that game Saturday night is that even though there were some unbelievable moments, we have yet to put together a full game of what I believe that we’re capable of, but you see the flashes. The challenge for us is just to continue to work at a very high level, coaches, players, everybody involved, to give all that we have for each other.”
Jordan Travis suffered an apparent left arm/shoulder injury late in Saturday’s game but is “doing fine,” Norvell said. “He was a little sore there (Sunday). But he played hard.” Norvell mentioned Travis did a better job of sliding and getting out of bounds when he could.
Travis’ passing numbers were just 8 of 19 for 191 yards, a touchdown and an interception, which doesn’t look all that efficient on paper. But Norvell was pleased with Travis’ confidence, how he checked in and out of plays and is growing in the offense.
“You can see his confidence, can see through every opportunity and experience that he has, that he’s getting better,” Norvell said. “How he’s preparing mentally and being able to understand some of the checks that we have, some of things that we’re looking for, whether it’s protections or run game, he had a couple of really nice checks throughout the course of the game off things we had studied and kind of pinpointed that we wanted to do. That also provided some big-play opportunities for us.”
Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said he saw one big sign of growth from Travis in his second college start — a pass-first mind-set even when flushed out of the pocket.
“When he got out of the pocket this week, it wasn’t, ‘Let’s just to run,’ ” Dillingham said. “We talked about it all last week when you get out of the pocket, extend passing plays. Don’t turn passing plays into runs. And I thought he did a great job of extending those passing plays.”
One of Travis’ worst decisions was forcing a pass into coverage while on the run in the second half, which resulted in an interception. Dillingham underscored the importance of knowing when to take risks.
“There’s times to force the ball and then there’s times to be ultra conservative,” Dillingham said. “And that was just a learning situation for him that based off the time and the score and the situation in the game that’s not a time to be aggressive. That’s a time that we’re calling a shot to be wide open or not. It’s not a forced decision. That’s a wide-open-or-not situation. So great learning experience for him.”
Wide receiver Tamorrion Terry did have crutches pregame but also tossed them aside to catch passes. He was able to put weight on both feet, which is significant considering the left knee surgery he had on Thursday. Norvell said he’s looking forward to seeing Terry back “soon,” but did not offer a specific timetable for his return. With a bye week following this week’s game at Louisville, it’s possible Terry could play in November games against Pitt (Nov. 7) or NC State (Nov. 14).
Defensive tackles Fabien Lovett and Tru Thompson did not dress out but were on the sideline for Saturday’s win over UNC. Norvell said he thinks both will return for the Louisville game.
Receivers have ups, downs
Playing without Terry, there was a necessity for FSU to find a mix of receivers, running backs and tight ends who could help the offense complement the ground attack. Six players caught eight passes, with Ontaria Wilson grabbing two for 61 yards and Keyshawn Helton adding two for 43 yards. Warren Thompson also had his first big play of the season on what was Travis’ best pass of the game, a 33-yard toss.
There was also a drop and miscommunication but Norvell said he liked that the receivers “showed up in big moments.”
“It’s easy to point when the ball’s in their hand, but also what they’re doing when the ball’s not in their hand, how they’re blocking,” Norvell said. “Making sure that they’re doing the things necessary to help the quarterback, help get others open depending on what the coverage is. Those guys are coming along. I think we’re getting better, I think coach (Ron) Dugans is doing a nice job with their development. We’ve been thin at that position throughout the course of the year. We’re hopeful that we get Bryan Robinson back this week to help provide a little bit more depth. I do want to mention Jordan Young. Even though I don’t think he came up in the statline this week, his preparation and how he’s working in practice, I’m excited about what he’s going to bring.”
Webb has first 100-yard game
La’Damian Webb has put together three good games in a row for FSU. The junior-college transfer had 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns vs. Jacksonville State, 59 rushing yards and a TD run at Notre Dame and then 12 carries for 109 yards against North Carolina. Webb’s 100-yard rushing game is the first by an FSU tailback (Lawrance Toafili was close with 99 rushing yards against JSU).
“If you had one word to describe him — competitor,” Dillingham said. “Because every single rep, he wants the ball, and if he doesn’t have the ball, he wants to do his job better than anybody else in America. And when he has that success, it feeds everybody because he’s a guy everybody roots for. And when he has those big runs, when he’s running down the field blocking for our quarterback, when he’s in pass protection, stepping up and hitting a 250-pound linebacker in the chin, those fuel everybody. I love seeing him succeed because he deserves it. Because the passion he plays the game with is how all 11 should play all the time.”
Webb has 262 rushing yards and three touchdowns in four games this season. (He missed the Miami game.)
Defensive line production
FSU’s defensive front four played its best game of the year, delivering with sustained effort. Tackle Marvin Wilson (six tackles) as well as ends Janarius Robinson (three tackles, two sacks) and Joshua Kaindoh (three tackles, interception return for touchdown) had their best games.
“I was proud of the front,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “We’ve been on them. Just from an execution standpoint, it hasn’t always been the effort we want but just the execution overall. And not just with the front, but the entire team. We play with better fundamental technique, we had some real good effort plays from a number of guys in the front. And it starts there — you need to win the line of scrimmage. I don’t care what level of football you have. … We had some really good performances up front. That needs to continue and it needs to build from there.”
The line was in flux on the interior with tackles Fabien Lovett and Tru Thompson out. FSU also lost Cory Durden to a targeting penalty in the first half for the remainder of the game. But FSU also got a welcome return of defensive tackle Dennis Briggs Jr., who had opted out but opted back in recently and had three tackles in his first game this season.
“We didn’t have a lot of time with Dennis as a player but over this COVID we had a lot of time with him as a young man,” Fuller said. “We were in sync with him and we knew Dennis was going to come back. We had some depth concerns going into that week and it kind of worked out that way. We always have a plan, especially in the first quarter, ‘This is going to be the rotation.’ But with Cory (Durden) going down and then just the way things were playing, with us being four down in that game it made it where there was an opportunity for him. And he didn’t hurt us. He earned those reps throughout his short week of prep, but then during the course of the game, too.”
FSU-Louisville on regional sports networks
FSU’s game at Louisville on Saturday will be broadcast at noon on Fox Sports Florida and Fox Sports South. For the full list of regional sports networks, go to the Osceola’s message board.
FSU’s history lesson
According to FSU’s research, there have been five wins by an unranked FSU opponent vs. a top-5 opponent. Beyond Saturday’s win over UNC, there were four others:
2007 — FSU 27, No. 2 BC 17
2005 — FSU 27, No. 5 Va. Tech 22 (ACC title game)
1965 — FSU 10, No. 5 Georgiaa 3
1964 — FSU 48, No. 5 Kentucky 6
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