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Takeaway Tuesday: Tigers Tales, Ripple Effects, Flag Day

It’s hard to believe that we are entering the 10th week of the college football season already. Where does the time go? It seems my clock and calendar move at twice their normal speed once August arrives. We are now to the point in the ACC season where much of the league is playing for either bowl eligibility or bowl positioning. And while FSU’s 30-20 loss made the task of getting to a bowl that much more challenging with a 3-5 overall record, the Seminoles still have a mathematical chance to get to one if they can win three of their last four games. While that was one of the things we learned about FSU football coming out of its game against the Tigers, there were plenty more takeaways about this team coming out of the hard and evenly-fought game in Death Valley. Here are my takeaways from the weekend that was for FSU and college football as a whole. And as always what I reserve the right to change my mind on any of these points next Tuesday.

  1. Whether you are using FSU’s win-loss record, the eye test or a combination of both, the FSU football program is getting better in head coach Mike Norvell’s second year in Tallahassee. Wake is the best team in the ACC this year and played like it. That being said, the program to whom all other teams measure themselves to is Clemson and has been for a while. Granted, Clemson isn’t the team it was in 2018, 2019 or 2020 but neither is FSU. The Seminoles have already equaled last year’s win total in one less game. But taking the Clemson game by itself, it was a game where FSU stood toe-to-toe with with the Tigers for a full 60 minutes and had more than a puncher’s chance to win deep in the fourth quarter. I am not sure how many people honestly would have predicted that prior to the start of the 2021 season. But his still young football team is starting to build and play with confidence. Norvell has stuck to his plan and message and the buy-in factor seems to be greater than ever. This team plays hard and has been more than competitive all season despite its shortcomings and depth issues at certain positions, not to mention its youth. It is something we have come to expect from this team and seems to be a given 17 games into Norvell’s tenure in Tallahassee. They are competing and playing with tremendous effort where at times last season that was not the case.
  2. Let’s be honest: FSU should be 4-4
  3. The Clemson game was emotional, similar to the Notre Dame game, and it would be hard to bounce back from this game even if had won. But the game against NC State is just another chance to see how much this team has grown. Will it come out ready to bite back at the Wolfpack from the time toe-meets-leather or carry the hangover into the next week and play sluggishly like it did against Jacksonville State?
  4. FSU never found the balance it needed offensively to knock off the Tigers and it had to in order to win. It was certainly a key to victory for the Seminoles going into the game and was one of the keys coming out of the game. FSU’s two first-half scoring drives combined for 150 of their 241 total offensive yards in the game but only accounted for 11 of the team’s 56 offensive plays from scrimmage. That means FSU managed just 2.02 yards per play on its other 45 offensive plays. The defenses were always going to get tougher as the season went along and the schedule more difficult. FSU needed to find a passing attack to complement its running attack in Death Valley. It found little of either.
  5. Finding balance offensively will be key again this week against NC State’s defense. The Wolfpack have the 16th-best rushing defense in the nation and have held opposing quarterbacks to completing just 55 percent of their passes this season, which ranks 17th-best in the country. FSU’s offense must find a way to have some success throwing from the pocket, even marginally so, to get its fourth win of the season.
  6. The calls against FSU’s defense on Clemson’s game-deciding drive were “iffy” at best if you are an FSU fan. And I do understand the frustration. The call on the sideline against DJ Lundy could have easily been a no-call but the pass interference because of what amounted to face-guarding was something you see called every game in college football. The 50-50 ball has almost become a 33-33-33 ball. The offense catches it, the defense catches it or it gets called a penalty. I don’t prescribe to the “ACC officials conspiracy against FSU theory” but the zebras need to be a little less noticeable and let the boys in shoulder pads and helmets work it out.
  7. Jermaine Johnson made one of a hell a play on the sack, strip, fumble and return for touchdown but you can’t throw the football 50 feet in air and 20 yards back in the other direction. It did play a factor in field position. Clemson started its next drive on its own 38-yard line and when it punted the ball away pinned a struggling FSU offense inside its own 20-yard line. FSU needed any and all yards it could get, even the hidden yardage that gets accumulated on plays like this. The Seminoles went three-and-out on that series and punted where Clemson took over on its own 42-yard line, not quite a short field but not as long as it possibly could have been. The Johnson touchdown could have created a huge wave of momentum for FSU but the ripple effects of the penalty lasted for several series and played a crucial role in the outcome of the game. Situational awareness was needed at this key moment. Yes, some of the rules including the celebration rule in college football are silly but college coaches and players should know they’re going to see a hanky when this situation is presented to officials. The first words out of my mouth when Johnson threw the ball, “What are you doing?” Of course, there were dozens of plays in a game this close that had significant impact on the overall outcome and FSU has benefitted greatly because of Johnson.
  8. Florida head coach Dan Mullen is prone to say some really interesting things in his weekly pressers. This week he said that he and his staff would concentrate on recruiting once the season is done. That’s not how it works and he knows and the guy asking the question knows it. I hear college coaches talk to their players about having composure. Certainly Dan had three days to regain his after getting rolled by the Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday. Could it be a sign that things are heating in Hogtown. Whatever it is, it certainly shows a lack of maturity from Mullen.
  9. Former FSU defensive tackle Cory Durden will be back in Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday up for the Wolfpack. There will be those who suggest he will give NC State an advantage because of his knowledge of FSU’s personnel and schemes. NC State coach Dave Doeren said in his weekly press conference that he will “listen” if Durden thinks he has any info that will help the Wolfpack but he doesn’t think it will have much relevancy. Doeren went on to say that both teams are very different programs than when they met last season, and I agree with him on both counts. He also said the first thing that stands out when he watches tape on the Seminoles is the defensive front four.
  10. This week in the ACC I think I like Boston College over Virginia Tech, Wake over UNC, Pitt over Duke and Clemson over Louisville. As far as projecting the ACC Championship Game after week nine of the college football season, I will continue to ride with Wake, which is 5-0 in conference, and either Pitt or UVA in postal coastal.
  11. Silly Season Update: I talked to a college football coach earlier this year who said he thought it would be a big year for turnovers and, boy, was he right. TCU is the latest program to announce it will be looking for a new head ball coach after agreeing to part ways with Gary Patterson at the conclusion of this season. All Patterson did was go 181-79 since taking over the Horned Frog program in 2000. I guess the grass is always more purple on the other side. There will be more turnover because of all the turnover moving forward. LSU, USC, Texas Tech, FIU, Georgia Southern, Washington State and UConn are also in the market for a new head coach. And I am sure this list will grow. LSU and USC will have huge ripple effects if they hire sitting college head coaches.