Takeaway Tuesday: Winning weekend on field and off for FSU football

FSU hit the field for the first time in almost a month when it took on Duke on Saturday and walked away with its first win since October and second ACC win this season in a 56-35 drubbing of the Blue Devils. The news only got better for Mike Norvell and his team on Sunday when it was announced UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton would transfer to FSU in January, which was made official on Monday when he signed his scholarship with Florida State. Here are some of my takeaways from week nine of the FSU football season and week 15 of the college football season:

  1. For really the first time all season (against ACC competition) Florida State looked like and played like the best football team on the field in a thumping of Duke and it was despite the fact that it only had 50 scholarship players participating in the game, with 75 percent classified as redshirt sophomores are younger. And I think that is a big deal for several reasons. This team could have gone through the motions in its preparation for and in the Duke game but it didn’t. This team had not lined up against an opponent in 28 days before facing the Blue Devils and it prepared for a game not really knowing if it would actually play the game until at least Friday morning. And let’s face it: Practices at this time of season can become stale and laborious for even veteran, winning teams. But this team, as you could tell from the opening kick against Duke, had taken advantage of its additional practice time and looked very sharp in all three phases of the game as it rushed to a 28-7 first-quarter lead. To me this showed the continued maturation of a team that wants to get better, is buying into the culture its coach is trying to create and is taking pride in how it finishes a season that seemingly doesn’t want to end. This is not even taking into account the off-field distractions with teammates opting-out of the season on a fairly routine basis. Mike Norvell questioned his team’s mental toughness early in the season. While ,they may not be as tough as he wants them to be yet, this team certainly isn’t as fragile as it once was as it cruised to a 56-35 win vs. Duke.
  2. I wasn’t sure how I thought FSU’s defensive secondary would play against Duke but I didn’t think it would be able to completely shut down the Blue Devils passing attack. FSU has made just about every quarterback it has played this year look like the best version of themselves. So you can understand how that and the fact one of college football’s true quarterback gurus (David Cutcliffe) was on the other sideline, and that FSU’s two-deep defensive back field listed just nine players (three cornerbacks) gave me pause to think Duke might be able to make a game out it in Tallahassee. Instead, FSU’s depleted secondary held Duke to 148 yards passing and allowed the Blue Devils to complete just 50 percent of their 26 passes. The secondary also intercepted three passes, one of which set up a score and another prevented Duke from attempting a field goal at the very least. Be it competition, scheme or want-to, and maybe it was all three, the FSU defense didn’t allow Duke any success throwing, which limited its ability to fight back from the Seminoles’ quick starts to both halves of the game.
  3. FSU’s young offensive line still has much room for improvement but it has proven it can run the ball effectively against its ACC brethren. With its 324 yards on the ground against the Blue Devils, Florida State is now averaging 192 rushing yards per game in its conference games. I don’t think I would have believed this possible. If they don’t return next season (and I am not saying they won’t), it was a great send off for seniors Baveon Johnson and Andrew Boselli and redshirt junior Brady Scott, who have been a part of much-maligned offensive lines the last three seasons.
  4. Jordan Travis is fun to watch with the ball in his hands. He has gotten better as a passer but he is a really gifted runner and that may be something to keep in mind as we move forward to our fifth bullet point this week.
  5. By now everyone knows Milton has announced his transfer to FSU and signed his scholarship with the Seminoles on Monday. This will be the biggest signing of Mike Norvell’s second recruiting class for two reasons. One, if healthy, and I am going to operate on the assumption that he is based off what I have heard and the fact that Norvell decided to take him, Florida State now how as one of the winningest and most productive quarterbacks since 2016 on its roster. He may or may not have the speed and quickness he possessed before his gruesome injury two seasons ago but Milton is a very accurate and decisive passer who has that “it” factor we hear so much about. He is a warrior and a winner and this FSU football team will be better from having “KZ” on its roster and could be much better on the field if Milton is able to complete this Alex Smith-like comeback. Secondly, adding Milton should help FSU nail down some other graduate transfers or JUCO signees this week or in February. His name carries weight with his peers and every player in college and high school football is familiar with his success and story. FSU should benefit from this with other prospects wanting to join him in Tallahassee.
  6. I have to admit I am a KZ fan. I love the way he plays. I was in Raymond James Stadium on the UCF sideline the day he got hurt against USF. The early prognosis for Milton was not good. That he is healthy enough to play competitive football is amazing and a testament to his mental and physical toughness as well as his resolve. I can not wait to get out to the practice field in the spring to see this medical miracle of sorts in action and see what he does for this football team, which will instantly have some more “street cred” with next year’s opponents.
  7. This addition clearly has me wanting the 2020 season in my rear-view mirror and looking forward with great anticipation to next spring and fall. Tomorrow the early national signing period begins with FSU expected to have at least 12 prospects sign their National Letters of Intent. That will only build the anticipation. If you haven’t listened to our Seminole Sidelines podcast from last week, you should. Osceola Recruiting Analyst Charlie Fishbein and I review the entire class and talk KZ.
  8. My championship weekend picks are USC over Oregon in the Pac-12, Clemson over Notre Dame in the ACC, Alabama (even a barefoot Crimson Tide team) over Florida in the SEC, Iowa State over Oklahoma in the Big 12 and the Big Ten/Big Time Politics/Ohio State over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game.
  9. The Seminoles may eventually end up with a bowl berth but if offered they should turn it down. They have already had plenty of additional practices with the two-week extension of the season. It’s been a long and I am sure frustrating season for the players, coaches, trainers, equipment staff and administrators alike. It is time the kids and adults get a chance to breathe and operate in a life without as many or any protocols due to Covid-19.
  10. Congrats to Max Johnson, who is the son of former FSU quarterback Brad Johnson, for leading the LSU Tigers to an upset win over the Florida Gators on Saturday night. The University of Florida is now the football program in the Sunshine State most well-known for its taste in (or distaste for) footwear. The one thing I did learn from this game is that shoes cost a lot more in Gainesville than they do Tallahassee.
  11. It’s been a long, long football season and I know I will go into withdrawal about a week or so after the national championship game but for the first time in my life I am ready for the season to come to an end. It’s the greatest sport in the United States and I cherish each and every football weekend. And Mike Leach is partially right, some of it has been joyless. With the way the Big Ten is handling their conference championship, and how the CFB Playoff Committee will go about selecting and rationalizing Ohio State, it has made the season an exercise in futility for some teams and for all college football fans who don’t cheer for the Buckeyes.
  12. My thoughts and prayers continue to go out Florida basketball player Keyontae Johnson and his family who has now been moved to a hospital in Gainesville after collapsing on the court in FSU’s game against the Gators this past Saturday.

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