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Takeaway Tuesday: What we think we learned from the Notre Dame game

In this week’s Takeaway Tuesday I take a look at what we think we learned and what I think, I think after FSU’s 41-38 overtime loss to Notre Dame on Sunday night. If you are familiar with this column, it approaches each game of the season as a season all of its own. What I think this week may be validated or changed because of what we see and think we learn from FSU’s game against Jacksonville State this week. And as always we welcome you to share what you think, you think after the first game of the season on our message board. With that being said, here we go:

  1. There will never be more read into any one football game than a college football season-opener especially when the opponent is another FBS opponent and I am sure that is the case this week all across the college football landscape today. While there are certainly things that may prove to be constant themes for this FSU football team coming out of the Notre Dame game there will also be things that might not hold true as this moves forward. And this will be the case throughout the sport as each team evolves and develops its identity. As my old college football coach, Terry Bowden, used to say after every game, “Nothing is ever as good as it seems, and nothing is ever has bad as it seems.” After the Notre Dame game Mike Norvell’s team must validate the good things it did against the Irish, and there was plenty of it, by repeating those things week-in and week-out moving forward. It must also improve on the things it didn’t do well. And as you would expect there are things coming out of the opener that need some tweaking. Norvell and his staff now have game tape to teach off and a better understanding of this team’s strengths and weaknesses. And now FSU’s future opponents have a better idea of what those strengths and weaknesses are too — as do Norvell and his staff when it comes to future opponents. Norvell and his staff will adapt and adjust internally and to FSU’s future opponents as each passing week of the season provides more video validation of what those strengths and weaknesses are. One week does not a season make and there is a long way to go to see how this season plays out. However, there is a buzz surrounding FSU football that hasn’t been felt in while and that it isn’t a week one overreaction.

2. That being said there was a lot to like about what FSU fans saw from the team on Sunday night against the Irish. There was more good coming out of this game than there was bad and you don’t often say that after a loss because no one likes moral victories. For the most part, the 2021 version of FSU football looked much improved from where the program was just 10 month ago. There are several reasons for this: The Seminoles benefit from a full offseason, normal spring and fall camps and the influx of more than a handful of experienced players through the transfer portal and more.

3. If FSU’s ability to overcome adversity, run the ball and stop the run like it did against Notre Dame become constant themes this season with Norvell’s second Seminoles team, they will have a very good chance to exceed the conservative expectations set for it in preseason polls. The numbers in the run game, offensively and defensively, speak for themselves. However, what spoke loudest to me about how far this football program has come in Mike Norvell’s second season was the grit, fight and determination it showed in overcoming adversity. If you read my First Impressions postgame story we chronicled what this team had to overcome against Notre Dame. The game could not have started any worse for the Seminoles and they overcame that to 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Down 38-20 with 4:37 in the third quarter the team rallied to tie the game and send it to overtime. That type of resolve and maturity that was displayed by FSU against Notre Dame was another sign, and a big one, that the program is headed in the right direction. It was also welcomed by the team’s fan base, who showed its appreciation by giving the team a standing ovation as it left the field.

4. FSU might have a dominant defensive front four in the making. Defensive ends Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas were dominant at times. Defensive tackle Fabien Lovett also looked very good against Notre Dame. That trio alone recorded 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Dennis Briggs and Robert Cooper were solid. If the staff can develop some quality depth behind these players it could prove a real position of strength for the Seminoles this season.

5. Maybe I am drinking the Garnet and Gold Kool-Aid but despite giving up 366 passing yards to Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan, I thought the back seven defended the pass better than it did a year ago. Coan threw several dimes and his wide receivers made some great catches against tight coverage. Jarvis Brownlee and Travis Jay have the potential to be All-ACC performers at cornerback. Brownlee was very strong in run support as well. That being said the FSU defense has to find a way to defend the pass more effectively. Coan continued the theme we saw last season of opposing quarterbacks piling up huge numbers and completing passes with a very high rate of efficiency. FSU will face some veteran quarterbacks, some of whom are very talented, this season, and will need to force some to have “off days” in order to for this team to live up to its potential.

6. Offensively, FSU validated that its improvement running the ball last season was for real. And it may be getting better based of the Notre Dame game. Last season Jordan Travis accounted for 31 percent of FSU’s rushing yardage. And while he made some big plays with his legs against Notre Dame, Travis only accounted for nine of the team’s 264 rushing yards on Sunday night. Having the running backs carry the majority of the load running the ball will only make Travis a bigger threat in the quarterback run game and open more opportunities in the passing game for both Travis and McKenzie Milton.

7. There were concerns about FSU’s ability to protect the passer coming into the Notre Dame game and that hasn’t changed coming out of the game. Both quarterbacks faced constant pressure. The Irish recorded four sacks and were credited with eight pressures which was a conservative number at best. The offensive line worked with multiple combinations with the first due to injury or availability during fall camp and could have played a role in picking up Notre Dame’s blitz and stunt packages. It is something the offensive line will need to get corrected before it gets into ACC play.

8. FSU has three capable and complementary running backs.

9. FSU’s wide receivers were inconsistent catching the ball in camp but had very football-friendly hands against Notre Dame.

10. We thought FSU had two quarterbacks capable of making plays, helping the team be competitive and capable of playing winning football. And they do. It will probably take both doing those things for this team to get where it wants to go. I would expect both to play moving forward. Travis is improved as a passer but his mobility and elusiveness are his greatest strengths and they will both be needed. Milton showed he still has some magic left and shows up when the lights shine brightest after not having seen game action since November 2018. Both are fierce competitors and will make each other and the 2021 team better as their roles become more defined. Norvell has an interesting choice to make moving forward but Brian Kelly is right — opponents having to game plan for both will cause headaches and problems for the defensive coordinators who have to play FSU this season. As far as who the starter should be, I think you have to ask yourself one question: If FSU had to win a game to reach a bowl game or make it to the ACC Championship game, who would you want as your starter?

11. McKenzie Milton being on the field and playing football against Notre Dame was nothing short of miraculous. I was on the UCF sideline the afternoon he was hurt in 2018 against USF and was glad that I could be in the press box for his return to the field against Notre Dame. Hats off to McKenzie. I can’t begin to imagine what those early days were like after surgery and the challenges he had to overcome daily, weekly and monthly during his rehab process to get him where he is today.

12. The TV cameras catching Norvell, Milton and Travis celebrating together on the sideline after one of FSU’s last two scores was very cool. It speaks to the bonds the two signal callers have developed during the off season and the culture Norvell is trying to build. That can go along way if that is reflective of how this team feels about each other collectively.

13. It was great to be back in Doak Campbell Stadium with a near capacity crowd at night with FSU playing a highly-ranked opponent.

14. As good as the game was, the coolest thing on such a special night was the Marching Chiefs spelling out BOBBY on the field while playing “Amazing Grace” to honor Coach Bowden.

15. I thought Mrs. Ann Bowden paid my brother, Shane, a huge compliment when they ran into each other on the field before the game. She confused him with me.

16. FSU hosted a number of prospects on official visits, including Travis Hunter, AJ Duffy, Brian Courtney and Nyjalik Kelly, among others, and many more on unofficial visits. The team’s performance and the atmosphere in the stadium couldn’t do anything but enhance what they experienced on those visits.

17. After watching FSU’s performance against Notre Dame and the performances of the teams left on the Seminoles’ schedule during college football’s opening weekend I think this team has a chance to exceed my preseason expectations and those of most others. We have to use the previous season and spring practice as the baseline for those expectations and everyone does outside of the football team itself. That being said there is a reason my former boss Skip Holtz used to say at the beginning of every football season that the shelf life of any one football team is 365 days and that not everything, strengths and weaknesses, carry over from one season to the next. There was evidence on Sunday night that there is some truth to that theory and it has Seminole fans excited to learn more about the 2021 version of FSU football.

18. There are some interesting out of conference matchups for ACC teams this weekend. I like Virginia over Illinois, NC State over Mississippi State, Pitt over Tennessee, Miami over App State and Rutgers over Syracuse.