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Four Downs: Analyzing FSU after a deflating loss

Fallout from the departure of several Noles, first and second half trends, plus much more

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Florida State at Boston College Photo by Malcolm Hope/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Fallout from Wednesday’s roster attrition and which Noles could see more action moving forward

When Norvell discussed the major roster overhauls in his opening statement of Wednesday’s press conference, it was a who’s-who of notable FSU players the past few seasons. If you walked down Stadium Drive and asked fans to name three Florida State football players, some of the most-mentioned would be defensive lineman Marvin Wilson, quarterback James Blackman, and wideout Tamorrion Terry.

All three will not return to the field in 2020, and it is highly likely that all three have wrapped up their careers in the garnet and gold. Blackman is now a transfer candidate, and Norvell explained he has “interest in exploring other opportunities after he gets his degree.”

“I appreciate all the things he has done for Florida State. He has been put in a challenging situation,” said Norvell. “He has dealt with coaching changes. He has always handled himself with class. I want to thank him for the opportunity to coach him.”

The only real effect Blackman’s news will have would be freshman signal-caller Chubba Purdy having no competition as the back-up quarterback (if he isn’t named starter). Purdy was already transitioning to second-team the past two games anyways.

Norvell didn’t have much to say about Terry’s departure from the Noles. The first-year head coach repeated that he “is no longer part of the program,” adding that the two “had a talk.” True freshman wideouts Bryan Robinson and Kentron Poitier have been rotated in recently and could get some more run moving forward.

Starting tackle Devontay Love-Taylor is out for the year as well. In a lost season, more experience for the freshman tackles could be beneficial in the long-run. But the rest of this year it may be a struggle short-term on the edges for the offensive line if the second half of Pittsburgh was any indication.

“Devontay, it is unfortunate that that injury occurred. He has been one of our leaders since he has stepped foot on campus,” said Norvell. “It’s been special to see. Hope to get him back this next year.”

Lastly, Wilson is out with his knee injury and likely heading to the NFL next season. Junior Robert Cooper will now get the snap counts reserved for a first-teamer, while Louisville transfer Jarrett Jackson conveniently was named eligible for the rest of 2020 this week. Wilson should still be around to ease the transition, and Cooper jokingly called him “coach Wilson”.

“Marv helps us on certain things. Just being that extra help, making sure we are doing the right things. Coming off the ball and making sure your hands are in the right place,” said Cooper.

Everyone who follows the team has been calling for a “purge” of the older players on the roster, and not only is that unrealistic, Norvell pushed back on that idea as well.

“As a first-year coach at a program, I never think about attrition. From the day that I got here, these are all my players,” he said. “I don’t want to lose any player. I want guys here that are 100% invested in growth.”

Regardless, the loss of those four prominent players will lead to the expanded roles and playing time for younger Seminoles that fans are clamoring for.

2. FSU second half swoons remain despite shift to new coaching staff

Discrepancies in production during games between the first and second halves is a major problem for Florida State for a third year in a row. Even though FSU made the big change this offseason and a new staff has moved in, the offense, defense, and special teams often take a nosedive in production in 2020 in a similarly painful fashion.

In 2018, FSU led Miami Hurricanes 27-7 (and nearly led 34-7 barring a questionable penalty), but surrendered a 21-0 run to end the game with a dreadful defeat. Last year in 2019, a 24-6 and 31-13 in the third quarter gave way to season-opening 36-31 stunning loss to Boise State.

A crown jewel of collapses, FSU led 24-7 at the half against Louisiana-Monroe before comically throwing their lead away, scrambling to barely squeak by 45-44 in overtime. Florida State led 17-10 but lost the next week at Virginia, giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Nearly half of the current starters in 2020 are different players, and some weren’t even on the roster the past two years. The entire coaching staff is new other than defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins and receivers coach Ron Dugans.

Its strange for the second half swoons to remain this season in losses to Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Even in the best performance of 2020 against Mack Brown and North Carolina, the second half paled in comparison to the first on the scoreboard and statistically.

Through six FBS games this season, FSU has averaged a respectable 15 points per game in the first half, but a dismal 3 points per game in the third and fourth quarters combined. Statistics such as yards gained or allowed in the second halves tell the same story as well.

The reason why the two halves have consistently turned out so differently is unclear. Could opposing coaching staffs really be that successful in solving aspects of the Seminoles’ game-plans week-to-week when they come out of the locker room at the half?

Considering the second half collapses have been a problem for years now, its more likely an FSU problem than excellent adjustments week-after-week from opposing teams. Things begin to spiral when a single bad play or moment arises, and strangely the roster seems more likely to lose confidence when they are leading in a game rather than when trailing.

If Florida State is going to turn around their football program, one of the first things that needs to be addressed are the crippling second half trends and their root causes.

3. Success in opening drives of games, halves a bright spot for 2020 FSU offense

Speaking of trends, Norvell and Florida State have continued a tradition that former head coach Jimbo Fisher thrived on last decade: starting the game and halves with excellent offensive drives.

So far this season, FSU has begun the game successfully with points on the first drive in six out of seven games. In four of the 2020 contests, they have even started with a touchdown drive, including in each of the past three games.

Then on opening drives of second halves, the Noles have run off possessions of 13 plays, 12 plays, a 4-play touchdown drive, another touchdown drive of seven plays in South Bend against Notre Dame, and a missed field goal but a nice 7-play drive versus UNC. Florida State has slipped the past two games to start the second half, but even in a terrible loss to Miami, they managed to grab their lone touchdown on the opening series of the third quarter to tight end Camm McDonald.

“It should build confidence in what we can do,” said Norvell. “When something negative happens, when there is a bad play or the other team just makes a play, continuing to trust in what you need to do and how you need to do it.”

Simply put, the production in opening drive situations is night-and-day from the offensive output in the remainder of games. Norvell spoke to what could be causing the major discrepancy, and why the success for the offense hasn’t translated for 60 minutes.

“There’s going to be adjustments that happen in each game, and we’ve adjusted, obviously that is always going to be a part of it,” said Norvell. “The thing that has shown up is, with all the right intentions, guys start operating outside of what their responsibilities are or how to do it. That’s where some of the major mistakes show up with the negative plays.”

Regardless, for a team three games under .500 on the year, impressive beginnings to games for the offense is a major step in the right direction. The trend shows play-calling excellence from Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham when operating in more of a scripted situation, and also helps the players buy-in to the direction the offense is heading within the new regime.

“It does provide confidence that what we can do, we just need to be consistent in doing that throughout,” said Norvell.

4. How has FSU performed in the past when coming off back-to-back “blowout” losses?

No college football program wants to get accustomed to Florida State’s current situation. Responding in a third game of a three-game stretch after back-to-back losses of any variety can be hit or miss.

But throw in the “blowout” distinction to both prior losses, and that really places FSU in an inevitable position heading into Saturday night versus N.C. State. For the sake of argument, let’s define a “blowout” as a loss by more than 21 points: defeats to Louisville 48-16 and Pittsburgh 41-17 fit the bill.

There have actually been somewhat positive results for Florida State in the past when tasked with responding to back-to-back blowout losses.

In 1955, FSU was drilled at home by Georgia and then shut-out at Georgia Tech, but rallied to top Villanova 16-13 the next week.

After poundings on the road in the deep south at Auburn and at Memphis (then known as Memphis State), the 1974 edition of Florida State pulled it together and led the entire game in a spirited win over Miami. The win ended the longest losing streak (20) in school history.

Bobby Bowden and FSU won their twelfth ACC title in just 14 seasons in the conference a week after dropping back-to-back games at Clemson and at Florida in 2005. Noles beat Virginia Tech 27-22 in Jacksonville despite losing the two blowouts to end the regular season.

Of course, there have been instances where Florida State didn’t rise to the occasion as well. FSU sunk further and further into winless despair with four straight blowout losses in 1973 to Houston, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, and rival Florida to cap off an 0-11 season.

A dubious six out of 21 total games under former FSU head coach Willie Taggart involved blowouts. However, Taggart’s team’s terrible performances were spread out and he actually never dropped two losses of 21-plus points in a row.

There was no game to follow, but in 1981 FSU lost to Southern Miss and Florida by a wide margin to end Bowden’s sixth season as head coach.

The final tally for FSU in Saturday’s situation: three nice comeback wins, two awful losses, and one grade of incomplete from the 1981 team. How the 2020 edition of Seminoles’ football will follow up the two blowout losses remains to be seen.

It will be telling if Norvell and the staff can keep the team engaged with a 2-5 record during an already-strange year. With several head coaches involved in past positive responses to blowouts ranging from Bowden to Tom Nugent, now Norvell will try his hand at turning the team around at N.C. State Saturday night.