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Running backs stand out in FSU’s spring game

The Florida State Seminoles annual Garnet and Gold spring game took place on Saturday evening in front of just over 30,000 people.

After 14 practices, this was the public’s first taste of what is to come in the 2022 season.

“I’m coming out of it really excited about some of the things we were able to see tonight,” Coach Mike Norvell said. “I thought it was great competition. The defense started fast; I loved seeing the guys flying around. You see the confidence being built in what guys are being asked to do and the way they are respondonding in certain situations.”

This year’s Garnet and Gold game resembled more of a traditional scrimmage instead of the popular pickup game format where two separate teams are drafted. This was mostly due to injuries. The Seminoles instead participated in two quarters, one of 15 minutes and the other 12 minutes, in which the first-team and second-team offenses and defenses traded off drives against each other. The second-team offense switched quarterbacks between Tate Rodemaker and freshman AJ Duffy every other series.

Both teams got seven drives of offense, with Tate Rodemaker getting an additional series with the first-team offense towards the end of the scrimmage.

One of the biggest storylines coming into the spring game was how the revamped offense with incoming transfer talent would fare against a strong returning defensive line. Florida State will continue to be a run-first offense with Alex Atkins being elevated to offensive coordinator and Saturday was the public’s first eye as to how that offense has matured. 

Despite being dominated by the defense for the first half of the scrimmages, the running game eventually found its legs and the teams scored a combined 38 points over the course of the afternoon. Transfer Trey Benson (Oregon) was extremely impressive, running for 77 yards on only seven carries. He broke off multiple runs that surpassed 15 yards while often dragging tacklers with him.

“I felt like I did good,” Benson said. “But I have got to score on some of those runs. I’ve GOT to score.”

“Trey is fast,” Jared Verse added. “If he gets to the corner he is gone. When I look at him, I’m hesitant if I can catch him or not.”

As the afternoon wore on and the defense began to tire, more and more runs began to break through that the defensive line could not plug up. Out of the top 10 tacklers on the day, six of them were defensive backs. It’s typically not a good sign if your defensive backs are getting the most tackles but, with that said, Florida State does play the corners and the read option frequently.

The entire running back room found some success in the second quarter, with redshirt freshman C.J. Campbell and true freshman Rodney Hill working as a second team ‘1-2 punch’ similar to how Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward operated last season. Campbell and Hill ended with 46 and 37 yards, respectively. Campbell averaged 7.7 yards per carry. 

While the success running the ball was great when it arrived, when it came time for Florida State to throw the ball is when things looked less than appealing. The first- and second-team defense combined for seven sacks, with transfer defense end Jared Verse (Albany) accounting for two of them. Verse also blocked a field-goal attempt. 

Sacks are to be taken with a grain of salt in spring due to quarterbacks being protected by no-contact, but the pressure was enough to affect all three quarterbacks. The only quarterback to have a completion percentage over 50 percent was Jordan Travis, who was 7 of 13 for 71 yards. Rodemaker was 5 of 11 for 64 yards and a touchdown and AJ Duffy was 1 of 8 for four yards. Duffy looked understandably green. Some of this if definitely due to the injuries among the offensive line, but some of the quarterbacks just simply didn’t have a good day.

In the goal-line drills before the actual scrimmage began, the defense intercepted three passes. Rodemaker threw a dart to Sam McCall on the very first play the public saw and Duffy opted to throw up a floater to the back of the end zone instead of running out of bounds two plays later. 

The QBs certainly weren’t helped by their wide receivers, who once again are a major concern coming out of spring practice. Whereas the spring game last year somewhat calmed the fears of the wide receiver room, this year has only worsened them. There were at least five dropped passes on Saturday by receivers and running backs. Transfer Johnny Wilson (Arizona State) dropped both balls thrown to him — both of which would have extended drives. He ended the day without a single reception.

Mycah Pittman on the other hand looks to be a valuable addition. The transfer from Oregon is only 5-foot-11 but he plays with tremendous speed and toughness that can easily make him the most valuable asset for Travis this season. Pittman hauled in four passes for 25 yards and had a rushing touchdown on a reverse sweep.

“Coach Norvell has been a very key aspect in believing in me,” Pittman said. “He’s built more confidence within me because he believes in me. When you have a coach that believes in you and truly invests in you, you start to pick up that confidence. Coach Norvell, Dugans, Atkins, they all continue to remind me who I am and what I am capable of doing.” 

Florida State will need production from more than just Pittman and the returning duo of Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Wilson if this offense is not going to get stalled when the run game isn’t working.

With a look at the Seminoles through practice and the spring game, it looks very much like a team with similar qualities to last year’s squad — which is both good and bad. The good is the transfer talent has seemed to once again be a hit for Norvell. The bad is that some of the same issues that affected last year’s team have returned with a vengeance.

If the season began tomorrow then it would be cause for concern. But since Norvell and his staff have the summer, injuries should heal and hopefully hands can develop in the wide receiver room. 

“At the end of the day this is just practice,” Travis said. “This is a practice game. Obviously we would love for them to make those catches and we need to give them better balls on some of those throws. But it’s practice. We are getting better every single day and we need to keep that positive mindset.”

FSU’s spring game stats can be viewed in PDF format here