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Takeaway Tuesday: QB gives offense identity, defense still searching

Another week has come and gone for FSU football and in college football. The Seminoles fell to 1-3 after losing to Notre Dame 42-26 on Saturday in South Bend. Mike Norvell’s team showed progress in some areas and also showed it had a lot further to go in others before it will compete week in and week out with the teams at the top of the ACC pecking order.

This past weekend also featured four matchups with ranked teams facing off against each other, as well as several upsets and a lot of high-flying offenses. Whether its today’s new-age offenses, impacts of COVID-19 or just bad football, it was a tough weekend to be a defensive football coach.

Nevertheless it was another great college football weekend that surely had an impact on what we think about FSU and college football on the national landscape. Here are some of my thoughts coming out of week four of FSU’s season and week six of the college football season. And I am already looking forward to seeing what this week will bring and what I will be thinking next Tuesday.

  1. We have talked a lot on the Osceola about the fact that you might not be able to measure FSU’s success in Mike Norvell’s first season in Tallahassee by the win-loss record. There are a number of reasons for this, no spring practice to speak of (two days in shorts, one day in pads), no traditional off-season, no way for coaches and players to meet in-person over the summer. There was a fall camp that featured the early practices with safe guards built because of Covid-19 and one that at times had limited roster availability due to the virus or contact tracing, not to mention normal injuries. And the more we get into the season the more I think this is true. Norvell and his staff were forced to not only have to implement their entire offensive and defensive systems in fall camp but also try to build a culture and change the mindset of the players in the FSU program at the same time. I think there has never been a more challenging time to be a first-year staff but I do think we are starting to see the program takes steps in the right direction even if it’s not as fast as some would like. There are no moral victories in college football, winning is the name of the game, but this year for Norvell and FSU was always going to be about laying the foundation for the future and the circumstances surrounding the 2020 campaign have even made this more so.

2. I think Jordan Travis has given the FSU offense an identity and toughness it has lacked over the last several years. He might not be the perfect fit for what Norvell has traditionally done with his offenses but I think he is the perfect fit for this offense, this year. There just seems to me more energy from players on that side of the ball and he has made his teammates better.

3. I think the group that has benefitted most from Travis being in the lineup has been the offensive line. Travis’ ability to produce in the quarterback run game has given opposing defenses another ball carrier to account for and at times this has occupied a defender and gives FSU another blocker. Norvell was also more committed to the running game against Jacksonville State and Notre Dame and the more FSU runs the ball in games the better his mostly young offensive line should get. FSU has run the ball 93 times in its last two games vs. 71 rushing attempts in the first two games. And I am not saying that this unit is anywhere close to where it needs to be but I think it has improved as much as any position group on FSU’s roster. FSU averaged 3.83 yards per carry last year with a running back (Cam Akers) who was selected as the 52nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. In 2018 the Seminoles averaged 2.79 yards per carry. This year FSU is averaging 4.1 yards per rushing attempt. I think that’s progress.

4. I think the FSU defense could use a little bit of whatever the offense is taking. One of the biggest questions coming out of the Jacksonville State game: Would the improvement we saw on defense against the Gamecocks carry over against Notre Dame? Simply put, it didn’t. Notre Dame had 240 yards on the ground at halftime. Nobody expected the FSU defense to hold them to 63 yards like they did against JSU but I didn’t thing the Irish would run for 353 yards. The production from FSU’s defensive front four has been disappointing, baffling and really non-existent. And I think this is stunting the growth of the entire unit, especially a young group of linebackers who had shown Norvell and the defensive staff promise in camp. The most surprising thing about the front four’s woes this season is that it’s the most experienced group on the team and several players up front are determining their draft status based off what they put on film. The offense seems to have found its catalyst in Travis, meanwhile the defense is still waiting for its veteran leadership to emerge in the form of relentless effort and production.

5. Our publisher, Jerry Kutz, told me this summer that the average fan wouldn’t take into consideration all the circumstances surrounding this season if FSU struggled out of the gate. I told him that FSU has one the most educated fan bases in college football. I think he was right and I was way wrong. Not that Twitter is the intellectual epicenter of social media, although it can be both entertaining and maddening, sometimes both at the same time. There are a lot of people venting on that platform and wanting Norvell to make changes on his staff. I am not sure whether I find this concerning, laughable or ridiculous. But I do think it is wrong. This staff is just four games into building this program. I think we should all circle back to this sometime in December and see how we feel.

6. I think we saw some fight out of this team on Saturday against Notre Dame. FSU fell behind 14-3 in the first quarter but fought back to take a 17-14 lead going into the second quarter only to find itself trailing 35-20 at halftime. With the Irish rolling on offense I wasn’t sure what kind of performance we would see from the Seminoles in the second half but they played tough. The FSU offense drove 75 yards in seven plays to score and make it a 35-26 ballgame on their first drive of the third quarter. I am not sure we would have seen that response last season. I think this team is starting to show signs of mental toughness. Unfortunately Notre Dame answered with a score to make it 42-26 after its first drive of the second half.

7. I have been Mullen it over since I heard about it but I don’t think I have ever seen crocodile tears quite as large as the one Florida’s head coach had after the Gator’s 41-38 loss to Texas A&M this past Saturday. Dan Mullen said the crowd at Kyle Field (all 30,000ish of them) gave the Aggies an advantage and that he wanted the University of Florida administrators to allow maximum capacity at the Swamp this weekend against LSU. The optics of this are bad on so many levels, but I think Mullen should worry about putting a defense on the field instead of fannies in the Swamp.

8. Speaking of the Gators. I can’t think of a better person to go gator-giggin with than Jimbo Fisher. He is now 8-1 against Florida in his career.

9. It took just three weeks in the SEC for someone to sink the Pirate’s battleship. Mike Leach’s Mississippi State offense was held scoreless in a 27-2 loss to Kentucky this weekend. Of course, we should have known, it’s always harder to sail on bluegrass than it is the blue bayou.

10. I am not sure anyone woke up this past Saturday expecting the forecast in the Sunshine State to include torrential scoring for defenses but that’s just what we got. FSU, Miami, Florida and USF all gave up 41 or more points as all four teams lost. It’s Florida, it’s football, so I think there are brighter days ahead for these defenses.

11. I think I am going to stand pat on my CFB Playoff top four from a week ago: Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame. Bama and UGA play each other this weekend and that will have playoff ramifications. It is the only game of the week featuring ranked teams playing one another.

12. I think I am fired up about this week of college football. There are four televised games between Wednesday and Friday, three of which feature a team ranked in the top-25 and gives us an early start to the football weekend.