Well, that didn’t take long. Just a week after a heartbreaking loss to No. 9 Notre Dame in the season opener, which produced about as much enthusiasm for FSU football as a loss ever has for any college football team, the loss to FCS program Jacksonville State on Saturday has left that same FSU fan base searching for answers as to just how much potential this team has now that it’s back on it heels after an 0-2 start to the season. The game and the way it ended has left us all with a lot to think about. So here are 11 things I think, I think as FSU heads into its ACC opener at Wake Forest on Saturday:
1) It appears last week we read too much positive into a close loss to Notre Dame and maybe by the end of the Wake Forest game we will realize that we have read too much negatively into the ugly and avoidable loss against the Gamecocks. Because what we have come to realize in just two short weeks is this is still very football team — 37 of the 53 players on its two-deep last week were redshirt sophomores or younger. It’s like a box of chocolates — you never know what you are going to get. Like you, I can’t wait to see you what this team has to offer us in Winston-Salem. A Sod Game win would be sweet for a fan base and team that is trying to get the bitterness of this past Saturday out of its system.
2) First, back to Jacksonville State. At this point it’s piling on and I will try to make it quick because I haven’t talked to anyone who agrees with the last defensive call by FSU. I have read quotes from Mike Norvell and Adam Fuller about the game’s last play, which resulted in a 59-yard TD pass with six seconds left and JSU with one time out left. Norvell and Fuller know more about modern day football and what Jacksonville State’s tendencies were than I do but I will never agree with the decision to defend the field goal as opposed to defending the goal line. It would have required a very quick completion, a quickly called timeout and a long field-goal attempt to tie the game. A touchdown was the only way you could lose the ball game, so you protect against that. It’s that simple. And I bet in retrospect they are second guessing that decision and will for a long time.
3) But if the offense had played complementary football, the defense was more than solid except for JSU’s last two drives — and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The optics of the last play of the game have overshadowed the offense’s poor showing. The unit played with a lack of discipline (drive-killing penalties) and focus (too many drops) and the inability to finish drives or wear down a team playing with 22 fewer scholarships.
4) Speaking of drops, two McKenzie Milton dimes on FSU’s first drive were dropped, one of which almost certainly would have resulted in a touchdown. Again, in retrospect, it makes you wonder if the tone of the game might have been different if FSU had scored on that drive.
5) Offensive lineman Brady Scott caught some criticism on social media for proposing to his girlfriend on the field after the game against JSU ended (family and friends were watching from the stands). If you are one of these people criticizing you should be ashamed. This was likely planned for weeks, if not months. That moment will have a bigger impact on his life than a game that FSU had no business losing in the first place. By the way, his proposal might have been the highlight of the night for the FSU offense.
6) There were several things that did stand up from one week to the next. FSU’s defense was strong against the run and offensively FSY was able to run the ball effectively in both games. Those two very positive things the team can build off of moving forward. Alex Mastramanno is turning into quite a weapon as a punter and special teams overall has been a strong point for this team. And while you can question the focus and intensity the team played with against JSU, I don’t thing you can question their resolve or effort.
7) Coaching can be a brutal business when things aren’t going well. USC fired Clay Helton on Monday just two games into this season. Having been “inside” the business of college football for 11 years, and around it my entire life, criticizing coaches is not something I get much enjoyment out of but it is sometimes warranted in my role with the Osceola. And the end-of-game decision Saturday night was one of those times. One bad decision doesn’t encompass the totality of who an individual coach or staff is or how good he or they may be. It’s impossible to be right all the time as a coach but the decision FSU made on the last play Saturday night will always be a head scratcher to me.
8) McKenzie Milton has been named as the starter for the Wake Forest game and he is the better of FSU’s top two quarterbacks but I sure hope we see Jordan Travis with the ball in his hands about a 10-12 times against the Demon Deacons. He is still one of the team’s most explosive players with the ball in his hands.
9) The Wake Forest game was always going to be pivotal to FSU’s 2021 season and it’s importance is even more magnified after the JSU game. Get a win on the road and you come back home to play very beatable Louisville and Syracuse teams on back-to-back weekends. And at least two games into a young season North Carolina, NC State and Miami have not played up to their preseason expectations. So it’s not all doom and gloom for FSU. The team needs to move forward from last week’s loss and so do fans. Still plenty for this team to play for, and plenty to look forward to, with the ACC schedule in front of this FSU football team.
10) The Wake Forest offense, which returns 10 starters from a season ago, will likely be the biggest test the FSU defense has faced this season.
11) As for the rest of the ACC games this weekend, I think I like Michigan State over Miami, Clemson over Georgia Tech, UVA over UNC, Northwestern over Duke, Pitt over Western Michigan, NC State over Furman, Syracuse over Albany and BC over Temple. I also like Bama big over the Gators.