Sizing up the Seminoles: Could FSU’s plan at QB include Milton and Travis?

The presumption has been a given since December: McKenzie Milton will win Florida State’s starting quarterback job ahead of the 2021 season. But Jordan Travis has shown improvement as a passer this spring and his playmaking ability (threat to run, ability to escape pressure, throwing on the run) can help the Seminoles. Which raises a big question:

How can FSU best use McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis? 

Pat Burnham: This question has intrigued me since Milton announced he would finish his career at FSU. Head coach Mike Norvell has one of the most productive and winningest quarterbacks in recent football history, McKenzie Milton, and one the most dynamic playmakers in the ACC a season ago, Travis, to choose from as his starting quarterback in 2021. The addition of Milton certainly changed the dynamic of the quarterback room for the Seminoles to a position of strength. Now how do Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham use the players’ talents this season to maximize the potential of the 2021 FSU football team?

The battle during the spring was a little closer than anticipated but Milton did seem to gain an advantage coming off a limited but solid spring game performance. He made several throws in the Garnet and Gold game that we just haven’t seen by an FSU quarterback over the last several seasons. Milton showed the ability to make anticipatory throws into tight windows where only the wide receiver could make the catch. The deeper FSU got into spring practice the better Milton looked after showing some signs of not having played competitively for the last two seasons during the first two weeks of practice in March. However, the spring game you began to see signs that Milton was starting to knock the rust off his game as he showed flashes of being the passer and player he was when he was leading UCF to wins in bunches.

Travis certainly showed improvement as a passer this spring and certainly earned the right to continue to battle with Milton heading into fall camp. He continues to be, in my opinion, the most dynamic offensive threat FSU has with the ball in his hands. We all saw his ability in the quarterback run game last season — he is simply spectacular as a ball carrier. And once again this spring Travis showcased his ability to make plays with his legs when pass protection broke down or he couldn’t find an open receiver.

I don’t think there is any question that Milton is the better passer of the two and the more reps he gets in the offense, the sharper he will look in the passing game this fall. He is not as mobile as he was at UCF prior to the knee injury he sustained at the end of the 2018 season but he did show this spring that he can buy time in the pocket if needed. I also don’t think there is any question that Travis is improving as a quarterback but is still the biggest threat FSU has with the ball in his hands. He is capable of ripping off huge chunks of yardage and is still the team’s biggest big-play threat. And what we do know is that both players are considered to be warriors by their teammates, past and present. So how do you use both players in 2021?

If Milton continues to shake the rust off and can remain healthy in camp I do believe he will be FSU’s starter heading into the Notre Dame game. And because of Travis’ aforementioned attributes combined with the fact we didn’t see him lineup anywhere else in the spring he will also see significant time behind center in 2021 and he should. His ability to make defenses account for an extra gap and ball carrier will help FSU’s run game on first-and-10 situations as well as short-yardage and goal-line situations while at the same time still hold them accountable against the pass.

The big question to me is if Milton clearly asserts himself as the starter in fall camp and knowing that Travis is most dangerous playmaker with the ball in hands will Norvell utilize both players on the field at the same time? Or will he deem it too big a risk from an injury standpoint to have both on the field together?

Milton and Travis’ skill sets complement each other very well and having them on the field at the same time could be a game changer for the FSU offense in 2021. If Milton is the clear-cut starter coming out of fall camp, I believe the goal should still be to put the ball in Travis’ hands 10-15 times a game whether he is lined up at quarterback, wide receiver or running back. I believe that Milton was brought in to be FSU’s starter but that having Travis on the field as much as possible gives the Seminoles their best chance to find the big-play offense Seminole fans are looking forward to seeing under Norvell.

Anyway it works out, I think both players will have their numbers called while under or behind center in very important situations this season that will help determine the success of the 2021 season. Having said that I think FSU’s offense could be most dangerous with both players on the field at the same time. The question remains: Do Norvell and Dillingham plan to use both on the field together? And if they do, I can’t wait to see how they use them, an opinion I am sure ACC defensive coordinators won’t share with me.

Jerry Kutz: The Seminoles have already benefited from McKenzie Milton’s presence in my opinion with the development of Jordan Travis this spring. Travis became a better quarterback this spring than we’ve seen before and Milton is more mobile than I thought he might be.

Let’s look at this question three ways: first, a traditional starter and backup; second, situational packages; third, using both at the same time.

If Mike Norvell chooses to be traditional and use one as a starter and one as a backup, the Seminoles will be in better shape at quarterback than they’ve been in years in terms of depth. I believe it will take both quarterbacks to get through this year as injuries are not uncommon in college football and Travis’ style does lend itself to getting nicked. If FSU chooses this route, having Milton in reserve unties their hands to let Travis do what Travis does.

Let’s suppose they decide to start Milton, with Travis in reserve, which I think is likely. I’ve heard concern about the offensive line not giving McKenzie the protection he needs but I would argue Milton can help the OL by getting the ball out on time. Milton may not be back to his Houdini quickness but he’s still agile enough to keep plays alive. The bigger question that needs to be answered: Will receivers get open for those quick throws? Will they catch it?

I believe Travis can run this offense should the need arise, either because it isn’t working with Milton or because of injury. Having two quarterbacks allows the coaches to play without fear of injury, no matter which one they start in a traditional offense.

Situational packages: I like the idea of giving a defensive coordinator a situational package to use practice time to prepare for, even if it is an hour or two of the 20 allowed. I also like the idea of putting the best players in position to make plays and, let’s be frank, Travis is FSU’s most-dynamic offensive weapon. Milton is the best passer, no question. Travis, the best runner. Have packages prepared with Travis for those situations, whether they be in the “Wildcat” formation, on first down, or in short-yardage situations. And Travis is a good enough passer to keep a defense from loading up against the run when they see him come in.

Both in the game at the same time: It is a romantic idea to get your best players on the field and I do think Travis is your most-dynamic offensive player. I just don’t know how you do it. If anyone would know, it would be young, offensive-minded coaches like Kenny Dillingham and Mike Norvell. And if there was ever the necessity to innovate, this might be that moment. I think Travis has the athleticism to develop into a receiver but not without investing a lot of time in teaching him routes and blocking assignments. Same with playing in the backfield. The guy who lines up in the backfield, next to the quarterback, is just as important to pass protection as an offensive lineman. I suspect there will be times where you could see them in the game at the same time, a situational package, I just don’t think you can make a living with Travis trying to be a receiver or a running back on a full-time basis, not against the likes of Notre Dame, Clemson, Miami or Florida. 

Bob Ferrante: Milton has more arm talent and experience than Travis and, given what we saw in open practices in the spring, it would be a surprise if Milton is not the starter against Notre Dame on Sept. 5. Travis is too much of a playmaker to have on the sideline watching, although it’s obvious he will learn by listening on the headset and watching Milton play.

One scenario: Play Travis often on first down. FSU has often been off schedule, struggling on first down and leading to second-and-long as well as third-and-difficult. The goal should be to get four or five yards on first down, and an intriguing wrinkle would be to have Travis lined up alongside Milton in the shotgun. (Jashaun Corbin or Lawrance Toafili could line up on the other side of Milton or behind Milton.) The options with Travis — runner, passer or receiver — are what will keep the eyes of defensive players looking his way pre-snap. Is he going to get the ball — and how?  Is he a decoy? Yes, and often will be a good one. The goal is to be in second- or third-and-manageable, which will put the offense in position to score more points.

Mike Norvell and Kenny Dillingham have had a full offseason to contemplate how to use Milton and Travis. It’s not realistic to expect Milton to keep the ball on option plays, third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 situations. This isn’t to say Milton should not be on the field in those situations. It’s just to err on the side of caution and limit his hits as a runner.

Using Milton and Travis on first down admittedly is non-traditional. Going with two QBs on the same play could limit the playcalling and open up pass-protection concerns, although a healthy Jordan Wilson at tight end gives the Seminoles a plus as a run and pass blocker.

The bottom line is the Seminoles must be creative, finding ways to move the ball effectively and sustain drives. While not conventional, being creative with Milton and Travis as well as how to use them in various down-and-distance situations will lead to more points per game. That’s also complementary football, keeping time of possession in FSU’s favor and taking pressure off the defense.

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