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Takeaway Tuesday: Short fields, short-handed, QB bingo

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It only took until the first week of November but every conference in major college football was back in action thanks the PAC-12 and MAC starting their seasons this past week. And while week nine of FSU’s season was disappointing after the Seminoles 41-17 loss to the Pitt Panthers on Saturday night, the college football weekend was anything but that for college football fans. There were a number of big, close games from coast-to-coast this past weekend that reminded us why we all love and follow college football so closely.

It was certainly an interesting weekend in the ACC, the Big Ten, SEC and PAC-12. A weekend that left us all with lots to think about when it comes to Florida State and college football at-large.

Here are 12 things I think, I think after week nine of FSU and the ACC’s season, week six of the SEC season, week two of the Big Ten season and week one of the PAC-12 season.

  1. I said last week in this column that one of the keys to the FSU-Pitt game might not be who was on the field but who wasn’t. And I think I was right but I also think I was wrong. The comment was made in regards to the unknown status of Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett heading into the game. We thought he would be a difference maker in the game and he was. They were also without their leading tackler in safety Paris Ford, who opted out of the season prior to this past weekend’s game. We thought those two not being on the field would afford Florida State a better chance of coming out of the game with a win. But what we didn’t know was how impacted FSU would be, especially on defense, by who wasn’t on the field and that list was long and full of players who could have had a significant impact on the game. Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and safeties Travis Jay and Renardo Green, defensive end Josh Griffis and cornerback Meiko Dotson all missed the game. FSU was so thin at safety that at times defensive coordinator Adam Fuller had to play with three corners in the game in non-nickel and dime situations. Things didn’t get any easier for the offense during the game when offensive tackle Devontay Love-Taylor left the game with a leg or knee injury in the first half and didn’t return. Pickett did start and was the difference maker for the Panthers offense we feared he might be. His replacement in Pitt’s previous two games, Joey Yellen, had completed just 44 percent of passes but with Pickett back under center the Panthers completed 77 percent of their passes against FSU. Anytime a quarterback has that kind of efficiency he is going to be hard to beat. Fuller had said before the game he thought Pickett was one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC. I think he was right but I think injuries in the secondary for FSU certainly didn’t make it any easier for the Seminoles defense.
  2. And I don’t think the defense got much help from its offense and at least in one situation its coach. In looking back at the game, FSU’s defense played better than I thought given the totality of the injuries and the situations it was put in by turnovers by the Seminoles and at least one big play by the Pitt defense that was aided by a coaching decision by FSU coach Mike Norvell. Pitt scored 24 points off four possessions that started in or near FSU territory where it had to drive a total of just 125 yards for those four scores. That doesn’t include a pick-six by Pitt off an errant throw by Chubba Purdy for the Panthers’ last score. Pitt’s first touchdown drive came after getting the ball on FSU’s 32 following a Jordan Travis interception. Pitt’s next two scoring opportunities came of fourth-down stops, which can be classified as big plays or turnovers but certainly as momentum changers. FSU went for on fourth down three times in the game but converted just once. They got away with the first unsuccessful conversion with Pitt missing a field goal after getting the ball at their own 47-yard line. I understood the decision to go for it being inside Pitt’s territory and with a lead. Norvell has always been aggressive this season on fourth down and with timeouts to ensure he gets an extra possession on offense especially late in the first half of games. It’s the last decision to go for it on fourth down that I question. And, yes, it is easy in hindsight to question this decision because they didn’t convert and I will explain my thought process. FSU was down 17-14 late in the second quarter but Norvell decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 47. The Seminoles didn’t convert, Pitt took over on FSU’s 47 and found the end zone three plays later in what would be the deciding score in the ballgame. I know analytics play a huge roll in coaching decisions these days but I also think you have to know what your team and your opponent is capable of and what the “feel” and “flow” of the game is like. FSU has shown that it struggles playing from behind and it would seem to me you would want Pitt to have the drive the length of the field to go up by two scores not hand them a short field. At that point in the game the Panthers had slowed down the FSU offense considerably. I think that play and decision was the turning point in the game as FSU went into locker room down 24-17 at the half. That decision was only magnified at the start of the second half when James Blackman threw an interception in his only attempt of the game in replacing an injured Jordan Travis. Pitt got the ball at the FSU 20 and scored to make it 31-17 and pretty much end the ball game as the Seminoles offense managed just 45 yards of second-half offense. The defense was struggling coming into the game and it did play better but it didn’t get any help from its offense or from Norvell’s decision to go to the fourth-down well one too many times.
  3. After missing the Pitt game this past weekend, Marvin Wilson’s name was missing from the two-deep depth chart Norvell released on Monday as the team prepares for NC State. Norvell said he would address all player personnel questions on Wednesday so I guess we will have to wait to find out officially what Wilson’s status will be for this week and the rest of the season. But if I were a betting man and, for whatever reason — injury, concerns about Covid-19 or an early start in NFL draft preparations — I think we have seen the last of the defensive tackle on the field this season.
  4. I feel like that FSU has two really good quarterback prospects in Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker but everyone seems much more infatuated with the former rather than the latter and I don’t think I understand that quite yet. Rodemaker was just as impressive, if not more-so, in his debut against Miami than Purdy was in his debut against Louisville. Rodemaker’s action against Jacksonville State came with pressure and expectations of being Florida State’s starting quarterback. Purdy was playing with house money against Pitt and he did complete 12 passes but for just 38 yards. He was the fourth quarterback used in the game and by that time FSU’s offense had been rendered helpless. We may find out sooner, rather than later, about either one of these two youngsters depending on Travis’ injury and availability for NC State and the remainder of the season, but I think we should all wait until we have a bigger body of evidence before we begin handing definitive opinions one way or the other as to what may lie ahead for these two in the future.
  5. Speaking of quarterbacks, with Wyatt Rector taking a snap under center (and scoring a touchdown to boot) it looks like I have won the equivalent of Osceola Quarterback Bingo. In one of our preseason Seminole Sidelines podcast I predicted that Rector would line up at quarterback in at least one game for FSU this season. Of course, I thought the reason would be Covid-related and because of a shortage of players at the position. Either way, I think it feels good to be right especially when Jerry, Bob and Mark thought I had been drinking because I brought this up as a possibility.
  6. I think of all the seniors and/or upperclassmen on FSU’s defense that one that continues to flash and seemingly get better each week is Emmett Rice. It is easy to see his passion for the game and I think it is a good sign for FSU fans to see a senior “buy in” to what Norvell and Fuller are trying to do with the program and the defense given the team’s record and struggles on that side of the ball this season.
  7. I think true freshman defensive back Sidney Williams accounted for himself well despite some unexpected playing time against Pitt. Williams had four tackles in the game. I am not sure why linebacker Amari Gainer hasn’t played more snaps than he has in the last several games but I think he is very productive when he is the game. He was second on the team in tackles against Pitt with seven stops.
  8. I think the Clemson-Notre Dame game might have actually been the game of the year. What a finish and it took the Fighting Irish just seven weeks to rise to the top of the ACC in their first, and maybe only, season in the ACC. They control their own destiny as it relates to the ACC championship game and the CFB Playoff. Win out and they are in both. But they aren’t quite there yet. They have road games at Boston College and North Carolina on the schedule the next two weeks and a likely rematch with Clemson. Barring something unforeseen happening, the Tigers would have Trevor Lawrence back at quarterback. My guess is the Irish won’t be so lucky the second time around and could get stuck in the clover this week or next.
  9. The Big Ten is just in its third week but I still can’t believe my eyes when I look at the standings. Indiana is tied with Ohio State for first place in the East with Maryland in second, Michigan is next last with one win and a winless Penn State team in last. The West is just as confusing with Northwestern and Purdue at the top and Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska all in the lower half of the standings with a combined 2-6 record. This really is a weird season.
  10. I think the PAC-12’s 9 a.m. local time kickoffs work for their crowd-less 2020 games but there was no reason to have your marquee game of the week, USC-Arizona State, on that early in the morning on the west coast. Now, I think there are some games on the east coast that might deserve a 9 a.m. start depending on the matchup that would allow for some of these better west coast games to be played in the late afternoon or in primetime in the eastern time zone.
  11. My picks in the ACC this week are Virginia Tech over Miami, UNC over Wake, Notre Dame over Boston College, Virginia over Louisville and Pitt over Georgia Tech.
  12. My college football playoff four would be: 1) Alabama, 2) Notre Dame, 3) Clemson and 4) Ohio State. I think Texas A&M deserves consideration for the fourth spot given the fact that Ohio State has played just three games but the Aggies’ showing against the Crimson Tide earlier this season doesn’t warrant a rematch.

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