Halfway through the season, the Florida State Seminoles continue to control their own destiny.
The numbers last night tell the story — after the Louisville loss, Oregon’s erosion, and more Big Ten carnage next week and beyond, the road to the CFP is clear: win and in.
Updated betting lines around the country do not come out until Monday on what each team’s playoff odds are, but expect Florida State to have a minus next to their name. Vegas knows it, the fans know it, and most of all, the players know it.
Sitting down at the press conference yesterday after the game, the attitude of Mike Norvell and the four players who spoke struck a different tone than usual. They spoke like they traded their fun and vitality and shipped it to Foxborough. Quotes from players and coaches sounded more like they were from 1 Patriot Place than the Moore Athletic Center.
Shyheim Brown: “Really, we just be out there following the game plan. It’s our job to go out there and execute.”
Joshua Farmer: “I felt like we was more than prepared...Just did our job.”
Keon Coleman: “You got 11 guys trying to achieve one goal of making sure they do they jobs so the perfect play can happen.”
Mike Norvell: “For us, it’s about making sure that our details, our fundamentals, our communication, making the most of the opportunity when the play comes to you. That is our focus.”
Remember, these are the quotes after the Seminoles won by 38 points and did not give up a touchdown not before.
Norvell has this team so hyper-focused that they know it is not about simply and solely adding another win in the team’s record column, as it has been during the Seminoles’ rebuild. This year's possibilities are much greater than beating up on teams in conference play, and that is why even in a 38-point drubbing, the game still needs to be analyzed through the lens of how far this team can go.
So yes, the Seminoles arguably played their best and most complete game of the season yesterday. The run game looked the most consistent it has been all year, with three explosive run plays of over ten yards in the first half, and LT finished the game off with a 58-yard scamper that I could have sprinted through to score. The defense played dominantly, not allowing Syracuse to find breathing room the entire game. They blended their pass rush with pass coverage like a perfect collage, the linebackers were stupendous in filling run gaps, and in the words of Shyeim Brown, “there was an elite level of communication.”
But they still had moments that made everyone in Doak pull their hair out and say, “try this against X team, and the results will not look like they are today.” For the first time this year, Jordan Travis looked uncomfortable and inaccurate. While not a concern, his outbursts on the sideline told the story of how he felt the day went for the offense. Mike Norvell returned to his old ways of getting too cute with the play calling, ran a tight end wildcat on fourth down, and called to throw the ball three straight times from the 4 line, resulting in zero points.
So, I get it.
The Seminoles still outscored the Orange 24-0 yesterday, and Jordan Travis and the starters received rest in the fourth quarter. The opportunity is so much greater than just this one game.
Mike Norvell said yesterday of the 1993 team, “They were the first ones to break through.”
He knows his team is knocking at the door.
Thought No. 1: Keon Coleman and his committee
With Johnny Wilson’s health becoming a question mark as the week went on, the natural thought arose: who will be Keon Coleman’s running mate on Saturday?
Turns out Keon Coleman would be the answer the entire time.
Nine catches, 140 yards, and two electric punt returners later, Coleman put the passing game on his shoulders. He accounted for virtually 50% of Jordan Travis’ passing yards and averaged 15 yards a completion. Jaheim Bell caught the ball four times as the second leading receiver in the game, but the rest of the pass catchers did not produce like Travis thought they would. Trey Benson had three drops in the game, Destyn Hill finished the day with ten yards, and Kentron Poitier did not register a target. Some of the lack of early offensive rhythm, especially in the red zone, could be attributed to the loss of Wilson. Keon Coleman can only do so much, and depending on the length of the 6’7 receiver's absence, someone in Keon’s committee will need to take that spot by the chin strap.
The way Syracuse decided to guard Coleman, especially early in the game, made zero sense. The Orange defense likes to play aggressively and blitz, but that just left Coleman 1 on 1— resulting in bad news for the visiting team.
In an ingenious moment of Norvell's play calling, the play before Coleman scored his 58-yard touchdown, he caught a third-down pass to move the chains. On the ensuing play, the Michigan State transfer fakes the slant and turns upfield, causing the corner to bite and an easy pitch and catch for 6.
I asked Coleman post-game if he was surprised with how Syracuse defended him throughout the game, but he accredited his success to others around him.
“Moving with different tempos and things like that where they couldn’t shift coverages, they had to react what we was doing. We was just making plays really.”
That would be an understatement.
Thought No. 2: DeLo and DJ’s Destruction
Going into the season after fall camp, I thought the linebackers would be the weakest unit out of the three positions on the defense. They did not upgrade through the transfer portal, and many wondered if all of the juice had been squeezed out of the lemon with this group.
Turns out, I could not have been more wrong.
Even with the Tatum Bethune hampered, this group has been lights out since the start of the year, and yesterday did not prove to be an exception. Kalen DeLoach and DJ Lundy combined on the day for 11 tackles, and each registered a half a sack. FSU's success in the run game can be attributed to these two, and according to PFF, DJ Lundy finished the day with a ridiculous 90.7 rating, with Kalen DeLoach not far behind with an above-average 70.9.
They played the game ferociously, constantly flying downhill to hit Shrader or Allen in the hole, wrapping them up without registering a missed tackle. On average, they made a tackle three yards from the line of scrimmage, proving they were not letting Syracuse produce anything on the ground all Saturday afternoon.
The duo are having more asked of them, and since that, they’ve elevated their game and on Saturday, looked to be the strength of the Seminole stoppers.
Thought No. 3: Mike Norvell’s playcalling
Looking at a college or professional play sheet looks like what I assume a NASA engineer has in front of them when trying to land a spaceship on the moon. Calling plays is one of the most challenging parts of the coaching experience, and Norvell seems to be a brilliant offensive coach.
On Saturday, he did produce moments of brilliance, such as the example with Keon Coleman earlier, but there were also head-scratching moments.
When the Seminoles went for it on 4th down the first time in the red zone, Mike Norvell had already called two passes before that play on the 4-yard line. He then decided to dial up a third straight pass, this time a rollout for Jordan Travis against his throwing side and splitting an already condensed part of the field in two by eliminating the right side of the end zone. Syracuse played zone coverage, and Travis left with no choice, zipped a ball hoping it would find someone in garnet, and instead found green for an incompletion. The other fourth down call in the game resulted in a tight end receiving the snap 7 yards behind the scrimmage when the ‘Noles only needed a yard, and the outcome was a turnover on downs with the ball not getting near the first down marker. Mike Norvell took ownership over some of the miscues in the red zone and on fourth down as he felt the coaching staff did not put players in the right places to succeed.
“Offensively, there were some moments we weren’t as efficient as we needed to. Great in the red zone this year had a couple opportunities. I’ve got to be better. I told the offense it’s on me. We’ll be better when we’re in there because we’ve done a great job throughout the course of the season.”
Mike Norvell turned 42 earlier this week and is the youngest coach in the ACC. There is still some aspect of his in-game coaching when he learns on the fly. Sometimes he gets too cute for his own good, and results in Florida State scoring three points on three red zone trips yesterday.