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Takeaway Tuesday: Waking up 0-3, what’s in the Cards moving forward

Another week of FSU and college football has come and gone. FSU is now 0-3 and has lost each game in remarkably different ways. That has left me, like all of you, trying to figure out what to make of the Seminoles after a 35-14 loss to Wake Forest and a two-game homestand in front of it starting on Saturday against Louisville. The less-than-ideal start to FSU’s season has given us all a lot to chew on and certainly has us resetting what we think about this team from one week to the next given that football kind of exists in a vacuum with each week seeming like a season all by itself. That being said here are 15 things I think, I think after the Wake Forest game and week three of the college football season.

  1. As it pertains to the game against Wake Forest, the best team won the ballgame. There are plenty of ways this was proven over the course of Saturday’s game both on the field and on the stat sheet, but the best football team won the game. We thought Wake would be the best offense that FSU would face in the first three weeks of the season, and it was — hands down. We thought we would see a disciplined bend-but-don’t-break defense from the Demon Deacons and they were that — and for most of the game much better than that, playing dominant football at times. FSU looked like a team still trying to find its identity, offensively rotating McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis at quarterback for various reasons (lack of productivity or injury) throughout the Wake game until Travis was hurt at the end of the first half. Defensively FSU struggled to find any type of consistency against the run or the pass. After coming into the game as one of the better run defenses in the country, allowing just 86 yards per game, the Seminoles gave up 225 yards rushing to Wake Forest. The one thing FSU needed to do was shut down the Wake rushing attack and it never quite learned how to defend Wake’s delayed read-zone RPO offense, which only opened more opportunities for Wake in the passing game. Wake looked like a team that knew exactly who it was and what it needed to do to win on Saturday. FSU looked like a team that is still trying to find out exactly who it is and what it can do well consistently.

2. It’s only human to try to find the bright spots and talk about the “what ifs” after losing a football game and I have heard a lot of that after the first three of FSU’s season. Everyone does it, fans, players and coaches. Those sentences start in our heads with words like, “If this hadn’t happened,” or “If we would have done this or not done that” and they do give us some consolation. We look back at turnovers, penalties, drops, questionable calls (by officials and coaches) and try to find the ones that if they had not happened, maybe the outcome of the game is different in some way, be it making the game more competitive or reversing the outcome all together. The problem with this line of thinking is the winning team will watch film and look at its deficiencies and mistakes and wonder how much better it could have played and how much bigger the win could have been. It works both ways. As an ex-girlfriend once told me as we were ending our relationship, sometimes it simply is what it is. You can spend time looking back and trying to find out where it went wrong and you might identify the one key turning point in the game or in a relationship but by the time the clock hits double zeroes its too late and simply is what it is.

3. Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham says the plan going into the Wake Forest game was to give quarterback Milton the chance to lead the opening drive and then put Travis in the game on the second series and so forth and so-on to try to identify who had the hot hand between the two signal-callers. I am not totally against the hot-hand theory but not crazy about the application. There are too many variables involved (counting on 10 other players, defenses doing something situationally different than what you thought you’d see coming into the game) to decide who is best suited to lead the team for the majority of the game after one series a piece or alternating series until someone does actually show that hot hand. Milton and Travis will face enough pressure from opposing defenses each week and simply by being one of FSU’s starting quarterbacks. Giving them one or two alternating series to prove they are hot in an offense that has lacked rhythm and consistency seems somewhat shortsighted to me.

4. All of that being said, and after an 0-3 start, I think FSU coaches should give whoever has the best week of practice between the two the start and give him the majority of the game to validate whether or not he is the guy. Plus it might give the offense some consistency. But after saying that, I believe if both can play, Travis was held out of the second half against Wake after being injured, Norvell and Dillingham will play both, trying to see who has the hottest hand. Here is to hoping whoever starts gets more than one series to prove themselves.

5. FSU has a chance to win its next two ballgames at home against Louisville and Syracuse. But lets focus on the Cardinals. I don’t think they are as bad a football team as they were against Ole Miss and I am not sure they are as good as they looked against UCF. They are probably somewhere in between. Plus let’s face it, this is college football and almost anything can happen from one week to the next and the Seminoles are at home with their backs against the wall.

6. Everything for Louisville’s offense is predicated off the stretch zone. Cards coach Scott Satterfield loves the stretch zone and runs everything in his offense off of it. FSU front four should match up favorably against the Cards’ offensive line, which doesn’t look near as good to me as Wake’s. FSU needs to force Louisville into a lot of third-and-long situations where the Seminoles can then pin their ears back and try to get after Cards quarterback Malik Cunningham, who has improved since becoming the starter in 2019 but who has also thrown 14 interceptions in his last 14 games. FSU also needs to be physical with Cunningham when he runs. He is second on the team in carries and yards gained rushing, so FSU will get chances to give him reasons not to want to run the ball.

7. Of course, none of that really matters unless FSU can do something about its opponents being ultra efficient and ultra successful in the passing game. The back seven has to play some complementary football for any of the above to matter. FSU ranks 116th in the country in passing yards allowed (289), 94th in completion percentage allowed (62.5) and 123rd in pass plays allowed of over 20 yards. I don’t have the answers and, luckily for me and you, I don’t have to, but these numbers need to start trending in the other direction starting this week.

8. FSU should stay committed to the running game versus Louisville. It is what FSU does best offensively and Louisville ranks 87th in rushing defense and just gave up 212 yards on the ground to UCF on Friday. Success in the run game will open up opportunities in the passing game for either of FSU’s quarterbacks while also helping camouflage the Seminoles’ struggle to protect the passer by allowing the offense to run off play action.

9. We thought this was a 5-7 to 7-5 team coming into this season and, if not for the Jacksonville State loss, most people would still be on that train. That being said when you start looking at the schedule and doing the math there is no downplaying the significance of the Louisville and Syracuse games with road tilts in October against UNC and Clemson on the horizon. Someone snickered at me the other day when I said FSU was facing two must-win games in the next two weeks. Their response was that every game is a must-win game and they weren’t totally wrong. My point was that some games are more winnable than others and these are two of those such games when you look at the totality of the schedule. I was an English/History guy in college so I will let you, “Do the math.” And tell me I am wrong if your high-water mark like mine was six or seven wins and a bowl appearance in 2021.

10. I don’t understand the scorched-earth reaction to how this season has started. Has it been a bad start? Well, everyone was fired up after Notre Dame. Ultimately the Jacksonville State game came down to one play and it shouldn’t have. And except for one inexplicably called coverage on the last play (oh, boy, I have reverted back to Takeaway No. 2, see how easy this is to do?) some of the handwringing and despair is gone because you got beat by two teams who are better than you are. The optics of how FSU lost to JSU and Wake have magnified the 0-3 start. We knew coming into this season that this program has a long way to go before it could become as competitive as everyone would like it to be (contending for the ACC championship). We also knew that despite the influx of some key transfers that this particular team had some shortcomings: inexperience, depth and personnel issues at a couple of spots prior to the season starting. But don’t take this to mean I don’t understand the frustration and even anger some fans and even friends feel this week and dating back to last. On some levels it’s justified and on others not so much. However, something tells me we didn’t and aren’t using the same baseline for this team’s potential. I can’t wait to hear former Osceola editor Dan Densmore’s reaction to this.

11. Speaking of 0 for 3. Thanks to Alabama and to Michigan State for making it a wee-bit easier to wake up on Sunday morning for FSU fans. Misery loves company.

12. If you are really searching hard for positives at least FSU’s offense has been an absolute juggernaut compared to Clemson’s. The Tigers have scored just 24 points against their two FBS foes (Georgia and Georgia Tech) while FSU totaled 52 points versus Notre Dame and Wake. Can you imagine paying an offensive coordinator $1.6 million for that. Talk about lack of ROI in the the heyday of the RPO offense.

13. I don’t know about you but I think Wake, at least through the first three weeks of the season, is a better football team than Notre Dame.

14. This week in the ACC I like: Wake over Virginia, Liberty over Syracuse, NC State over Clemson, BC over Missouri, UNC over Georgia Tech and Duke over Kansas. I stayed away from picking the games where an ACC team is playing and FCS team. I have said for several years now that Power 5 schools should only be playing other FBS schools. College football with all the money involved (coaches’ salaries, booster contributions, season ticket prices, cost of travel for fans, etc.) has now moved past these type of games. I feel this way more than ever now but for an unexpected reason.

15. Nonetheless and as always it should be another enlightening weekend of FSU football and college football and I can’t wait to see what we all think we think next Tuesday. Enjoy it no matter what. We only get 12 or 13 (spears crossed) of these college football weekends every year. Make the best of them.