Mike Norvell says the moments are often painful. But in his view they are the growing pains of a young football team, one that is older and more experienced than in 2020 but still features true and redshirt freshmen across the depth chart.
“We’re having to go through some painful moments,” Norvell said. “It’s challenging. We are a young team. We’ve got guys that are being put in positions where, with all the right intentions, are learning some tough, tough lessons that they haven’t experienced. And for us we can’t allow the pain of some of our failures to go wasted. And that’s what I told our team (Sunday). We’ve got to learn the lessons and we got to apply the lessons. Because it’s painful to come up short, it’s painful to play to less than your capabilities and you got to give credit to Wake Forest and the job that they did.”
On FSU’s updated depth chart, which was released on Monday, the offense lists 12 true or redshirt freshman among the 25 players as well as 11 freshmen among the 29 defensive players. That’s 42.6 percent of the rotational players on offense, and it’s not factoring in redshirt freshmen who are kickers, punters or returners.
The mistakes aren’t limited to just the freshmen. McKenzie Milton had interceptions and a fumble, and Jashaun Corbin had a fumble in the loss at Wake, for example. Redshirt freshman Darion Williamson’s roughing the punter penalty was costly, putting the defense back on the field in the first quarter.
Norvell indicated what is being engrained in practice often isn’t reflected on a game day.
“The thing that’s challenging, a lot of things that are showing up on game day are not showing up on the practice field, that you see you have confidence building through the week but then in the moment, with all the right intentions, we’re not executing on to the level that we’re capable of,” Norvell said. “Everybody’s accountable to it. As a coaching staff, we’ve got to continue to put our guys in a better position.”
Norvell described part of the process for addressing the mistakes the Seminoles (0-3, 0-1 ACC). He said players have a “positive anxiety” and badly want to make a play but need to also remember what they were taught as well as the fundamentals.
“As a coach, you sit there, you point it out, you work to get the correction, you continue to drill it,” Norvell said. “And as a player, you take that lesson, and you’ve got to build confidence, even through some of the painful moments that you experienced. And it’s the same thing for us as a coaching staff. There were some good calls that might not have worked out the way we wanted to, and there’s some bad calls that we made. And those are things that we’ve got to make sure that we’re getting better.”
Norvell said after Saturday’s game that Jordan Travis tried to play in the second half at Wake but “couldn’t get back in.” On Monday, Norvell said Travis was sore on Sunday.
“With Jordan, we knew going into this past week, we wanted to get him good work,” Norvell said. “And I know I addressed that a little bit after the game, but he wasn’t available all week last week. So he’ll continue to work through what that looks like. And obviously this week we’ll see where that goes.”
Milton remains the No. 1 at quarterback on the depth chart and is in line to start against Louisville on Saturday. But the injury history for both players would also indicate coaches are preparing both quarterbacks during the week, if available, but those plans would shift if one is not able to play in a game.
“It’s been one of the challenging things here at the beginning of the season is knowing the availability and consistency there at that position,” Norvell said. “We’ve got to play better at quarterback. We got to coach better and we’ve got to do all those things. I definitely believe in the guys that we have and what’s ahead of us. And we’ll get a better sense of where Jordan is as the week goes on.”
Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said the plan was to start Milton but go to Travis on the second drive.
“We did have a plan early to kind of go drive, drive, and then kind of roll with the hot hand from there,” Dillingham said. “That’s something we’re going to continue to evaluate.”
Norvell said Monday that he and Dillingham, who is up in the coach’s box on game days, share in the conversation with play-calling in game plans established during the week and on Saturdays.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Norvell said. “Coach Dillingham does a great job in that. We try to be very specific on our thoughts throughout the course of the week. I believe in what we do and I believe in how we do it. We go back and we continue to evaluate all things and every call and there were some really good play calls that didn’t work out well and then there were some play calls that we’ve got to be better at.
“You guys know my background, it’s on the offensive side of the ball. I’m always going to be heavily, heavily involved in what we’re doing, whether that’s calling all the plays, calling some of the plays, calling none of the plays.”
FSU struggled on third down at Wake, going 1 of 6. What stings is the shortcomings on third-and-short. Norvell said “it’s probably one of the worst things that we’ve done offensively just in our conversion in those third-and-1 or 2 range.”
Dillingham took responsibility for shortcomings on third downs as well as other areas of the offense.
“At the end of the day, everything is a reflection of myself,” Dillingham said. “And I’ve got to find a way to score points. I’ve got to find a way to help our guys, put them in a better position to score points and find a way for us to stay out of our own way because we didn’t get penalties this week but we had five turnovers. Technically six, but I don’t count a Hail Mary. Five turnovers in a football game, that’s not a recipe for success. 52 plays is not a recipe for success.
“When you have four drives that last two plays or less, one-play touchdown, two first-play touchdowns, second-play turnover, you’re really playing a game in a nine-drive game. When you have a nine-drive game, you’re really playing two and a half quarters of football in that situation, then you don’t score when you get down to the half-yard line, all those things add up to 14 points in a football game, which is unacceptable.”
Re-visiting the question of identity
Last week, Norvell was asked about FSU’s identity and said he had a feel for it but it was impacted by penalties and turnovers. Dillingham spoke of the offense’s inconsistency week to week on Monday.
“With all the shuffling of injuries or quarterbacks/offensive line shuffling, I don’t think we’ve established a true identity of what are we good at,” Dillingham said. “Because every week, it could be something else. One week we’re elite at third-to-1 or 2, we line up in the Wildcat and score vs. Notre Dame. The next week we line up in the Wildcat vs. Jacksonville State and go 0-for-4. So that question is what we’re figuring out. What is our identity? What are our strengths? And that changes week by week based off availability of guys. I’ve got to do a better job of ‘We think these two guys (Scott and Smith) are going to come back for the game, so we think the plan is based on these two guys.’ “
Use of referees in practice
The Seminoles are among the nation’s most penalized teams, ranking 120th among the 130 FBS teams. FSU has committed 27 penalties for 233 yards in three games (six at Wake).
While it’s common for the Seminoles to have referees on the sidelines in August practices, that hasn’t been the case in practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the media is allowed to observe.
“It’s something we definitely have talked about and making sure that you get both sides of field in practice, offensively and defensively,” Norvell said. “So in camp a little bit easier just with the number of officials you can have out for a practice but now having two separate groups it’s something that’s a little bit more challenging to do.”
Norvell said he saw improvement at Wake in regards to “focus penalties,” which often take place pre-snap.
“Had the false start penalties, the alignment issue and one where we got our tackle was called for being too deep in the backfield once,” Norvell said. “Those penalties were reduced. The killers in the game, there was two penalties with the running into the punter, that being a 15-yard personal foul, extended a drive. We were off the field, huge play in the game. And then the third down where we got called for that unnecessary roughness. That’s an absolute judgment call. There’s no intent, my opinion, in that. And those are two major, major plays in the game, that we just have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in the right spot.”
Norvell went on to say “we address every (practice) penalty with accountability there as we’re seeing it in practice.”
Plan A, B and C
FSU coaches went into the Wake game shorthanded on the offensive line when center Maurice Smith and left tackle Robert Scott were not able to play. Those injuries, coupled with Baveon Johnson going down with an injury for part of the game, forced dramatic shifts along the line.
“There were some availability issues that we were working through,” Norvell said. “We felt that there would be a good chance to have a couple of guys back and it didn’t work out that way. And so you have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. I think we found and hit all plans throughout the course of our prep. And it’s one of the things that as a coach you get to adapt and adjust to it. I think there’s four or five lineups that we had with the offensive line throughout the course of the game there on Saturday. And that’s not something that you really want to do.
“But we’re trying to find those best combinations for us to go out there and be able to execute at the level that we’re capable of and make sure we’re putting our guys in the best position to have that success. So hopefully this week we’ll be able to add to those guys (Smith and Scott) of who’s able to play on Saturday and just continue to help grow and have those plans available because (injuries are) the game of football.”