The more things change, the more the stay the same and that was certainly case for FSU, North Carolina and Mack Brown this weekend. The Seminoles did what they usually do against the Brown-led UNC squad and beat the blue out of the Tar Heels for the second consecutive year and for the 17th time in 21 meetings between the two schools.
FSU’s 35-25 win in Chapel Hill gave us a lot to look back on and forward to as the Seminoles head into their bye week. Like all weeks in college football this past weekend had me re-evaluating my beliefs about this 2021 squad and changed my line of thinking in a couple of areas. Generally the shelf life of any one Takeaway Tuesday is exactly seven days. This week I get to enjoy being right and being wrong for two weeks. And I am fine with that. When I was a recruiting analyst for Fox Sports and Scout.com, I always wanted high prospects to out play my expectations as they developed as players in college. The same can be said of my expectations or lack of them when it comes to FSU football. And, boy, did a couple of players and position groups do that this week. So here is what I think, I think about FSU football after the UNC game.
1. FSU played its most complete game of the season and Mike Norvell has found the key to manufacturing wins with a young team that lacks a ton of experience and is thin in depth and in quality at some positions. The Seminoles ran the ball with great success against UNC. They also kept the ball the majority of the game after UNC’s second score to take a 10-0 lead. FSU needs to continue to be stingy with the ball and play keep away from its opponents while keeping its own defense off the field. After watching Louisville and Syracuse run upwards of 80 plays or more on offense and each possessing the ball for 14 possessions, respectively, UNC managed just nine possessions on offense and totaled just 68 plays. That’s a big deal given that FSU has been very prone to give up long plays that go for touchdowns or that have set up scores. FSU is likely to be underdogs in the majority of its remaining games and I am sure Norvell and staff will have plenty to teach from on the tape from the UNC game but the formula for success was found on Saturday in Chapel Hill.
2. One area of the defense that benefitted from FSU’s ability to keep the ball away from UNC was the secondary or back seven. It was by far the Seminoles’ best job of defending the pass since Adam Fuller and Marcus Woodson have been in charge of the defensive backfield. Sam Howell completed just over 50 percent of his passes (17 of 32) for 204 (his lowest output of the season). FSU’s secondary only allowed UNC four pass plays that gained 15 yards or more. That was by far its best performance of the season in that regard and it did it against a quarterback who is supposed to be among the best in college football this season.
3. I was wrong, part one. I said on last week’s Osceola Seminole Sidelines podcast that I thought FSU would need outstanding performances from both Jordan Travis and McKenzie Milton in order to beat the Tar Heels. It didn’t. We have long said that Travis was the team’s most dynamic player and he is. We all know he can run the ball but there were lingering questions about just how much improvement he had made as a passer since last season. His performance passing was extraordinary against the Tar Heels, completing 11 of 13 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. That being said FSU’s schedule doesn’t get any easier moving forward and he will need to have more good days than bad throwing the ball if FSU is going reach six wins and a bowl game.
4. I was wrong, part two. I would have bet my salary (and I bet a whole lot of other people would have too) that FSU wouldn’t have an offensive linemen win an ACC player of the week award this season. It did happen. Congrats to Dillan Gibbons. FSU has shown that it can be successful offensively when it can produce consistency and big plays in the running game. Just another example as to why I don’t interact much with the boys in Vegas.
5. I was partially right, partially wrong on this. We said running back Treshaun Ward was one of the surprise and feel good stories coming out of spring practice. However, I (and maybe others at the Osceola) had concerns about whether this story would have much of a shelf life. He continued to stand out in fall camp and has just continued to get better with each week. He is second on the team in rushing with 374 yards on 49 carries and runs with surprising power for someone slight in stature. One of the great things about college football is seeing someone beat the odds of walking on to a major college football team, earning a scholarship and then becoming a difference maker from his team.
6. But sometimes two and half wrongs do make a right. And thanks to UNC’s head coach I was right — this was a game FSU could win. UNC has not won a game vs. FSU with Mack Brown as head coach in his two stints in that role. We said going into this game that UNC wasn’t as good this season as it was last year and FSU was a better team than it was a year ago. That more than played itself out on Saturday. Brown deserves a complimentary Golden Chiefs Booster membership for his Gifts-in-Kind to his alma mater. Granted Brown’s UNC teams in his first stint as Tar Heels head coach played some very tough FSU teams in the prime of the Seminoles’ Dynasty years. That being said his 2020 and 2021 UNC teams were both heavy favorites over FSU and Brown’s last two losses have left a lot of people in North Carolina scratching their head and a lot of FSU fans with frost on the pumpkin the morning after these games. I am pretty sure that Brown will petition the ACC not to schedule FSU as long as he is at the helm of UNC. Likewise, Mike Norvell might want to petition the ACC to have the Tar Heels permanently placed on FSU’s schedule as its annual homecoming opponent. Once again we were all reminded of: What Brown Can Do For FSU.
7. More math. So FSU stands at 2-4 on the season with six games left to play: UMass, Clemson, N.C. State, Miami, Boston College and Florida. FSU needs to win four of its final six games to become bowl-eligible. UMass seems like a sure win. Miami is struggling and just lost D’Eriq King for the rest of the season so the Canes look more beatable now than they did last week. Let’s assume you win over UMass and Miami but you only get one more win between Clemson, NC State, Boston College and Florida. That gives you five and the reason you aren’t going to a bowl is because of a single play — the last play against Jacksonville State and a defensive call that never should have been. I am getting way ahead of myself but if the math does equal 5-7, it will be very hard to swallow for FSU fans who will likely suffer from a Gamecock flashback at the end of the season. But Seminoles have no one to blame but themselves and I am not talking about the players. FSU will have to get to six the hard way, without the benefit of a win over its only FCS opponent, but then again that would be quite a story. Stay tuned, it has been a really strange football season and might only get stranger.
8. That being said a win over at least one of FSU’s rivals — Miami, Clemson or Florida — would be just what the doctor ordered in lieu of a bowl and I think there is a very good chance the Seminoles knock off Miami at the very least.
9. This week in the ACC I like Syracuse over Clemson, Duke over UVA, Miami over UNC, Pitt over Virginia Tech and Boston College over NC State.
10. I know FSU’s bye week comes at a much needed time. There are a whole bunch of players that need to get healthy. It would have been nice to ride that momentum into a game this Saturday but with the next game being against UMass it is kind of a wash. It gives the team a couple of extra days to work on Clemson this week while getting healthy with a long weekend and rebuild that momentum with a win over UMass in a game that should be over in minutes.
11. I hope all of you like me enjoy this restful weekend of college football as we prepare for what is sure to be a roller coaster ride of a finish to FSU’s season.