Mike Norvell wanted his team to play their best football as the season entered the stretch run of the schedule.
In October, the Seminole scoreline:
So far, Florida State has answered the coach’s wishes.
As FSU continues to blow the doors off teams in moments, Saturday was the most consistent game of the year. No, I do not want to hear that since the defense gave up one massive play in the run game and 30 yards in penalties to start the second half on iffy calls, “they did not play a full 60 minutes.” Or that because the offense had two drive stallouts in the first quarter, I should not trust this group.
We’ve looked and asked for consistency all year, and after the most significant home win of the year, the Seminoles followed it up with their most dominant win. It was clear postgame that Mike Norvell felt the same.
“I’m really proud of our guys...a lot of different guys had to rise up... definitely excited to come on the road and get the win.”
Wake Forest, while not the team of old, still had pundits looking for an upset. They play a unique offense, roll out a stingy defense, and do not beat themselves.
Florida State’s response to these facts was to race out to a 34-7 lead at halftime and limit Mitch Griffis to one completion in the first half.
The Seminoles continued their success on opening drives, scoring a touchdown on the game's first possession, and never looked back. On Saturday, Jordan Travis followed his strong second half against Duke with a Heisman-like stat line, totaling just under 400 yards and four total touchdowns. He did an excellent job switching protection against a Wake front that moves late, putting the ball on time and on target throughout the game.
He may be the most prominent example on the team of playing their best football at the end of the year — Travis put the Seminoles on his back the last three weeks after two up-and-down games against Clemson and Virginia Tech. The 6th-year signal caller looks settled and comfortable, overcoming three down receivers with poise and precision.
He had one bad throw to start the game and then went to cruise control for the rest. Mike Norvell said his QB “is playing at an elite level,” and indeed, FSU has a puncher’s chance against any team in the country with Jordan Travis under center.
If Travis exemplifies one player starting to peak at the right time, can you say that about the entire defense?
Seriously, after the Kalen DeLoach fumble for a touchdown, is there a defense in the country besides maybe Georgia playing as well as this group? For today’s video game stats, Florida State held Wake Forest to 2.6 yards a carry, 3/15 on cash downs, and recorded five sacks. Adam Fuller contacted the perfect defense against the slow mesh. The FSU front seven lived in the backfield all afternoon, staying gap discipline while pushing the Wake Forest offensive line into Mitch Griffis’ lap. The few times he could get a pass off, he had nowhere to go with the ball.
Fentrell Cypress and Renardo Green were the real seatbelt corners on the day, staying in phase with the Wake receivers and not getting their eyes caught in the backfield. The unit feels like boa constrictors and is starting to take the life out of teams.
With a performance as dominant as Saturday, it would be human nature for Florida State to want to know where they stack up against the other premier teams. Asked about Tuesday's College Football Rankings release, Keon Coleman did not even know what they were. This truly is the most remarkable part of the Seminole roster. They genuinely believe in Mike Norvell’s gospel. To this team, it is about the work, about going out 1-0 each day, and about not listening to the rankings.
However, if they keep playing the Mike Norvell way like they did Saturday, December 3rd, the Seminoles will have all eyes on their television screen.
First thought: Seminoles Stars Shine
Jordan Travis, Keon Coleman, and Jared Verse ebbed and flowed during the year. While they be the Seminoles' best three players, they have not played their best simultaneously until Saturday. While living in the Wake backfield, Jared Verse finished with two sacks, and Jordan Travis produced his most consistent performance of the season. Keon Coleman did Keon Coleman things, scoring two touchdowns and continuing his streak of one insane highlight reel play per game. Mike Norvell was highly complimentary of all three players, but especially his offensive studs.
“I think Jordan is playing at an elite level...I love the confidence of what he’s bringing...he’s continuing to get better.”
“If we get a lot of one-on-ones with Keon, we are going to throw him the ball.”
Sometimes, football can be that simple. Opposing teams will have long days when the best players play to their capacity. Jordan, Keon, and Jared each flashed at times during the season but are playing their best football at this time of the year. A luxury few teams have is possessing players who can change the outcomes of games on every snap. Florida State does access that club with the talent on this roster. On days where these players struggled, like against Boston College or parts of Clemson, the results are not surprising. However, when they meet or exceed expectations like they did Saturday afternoon, this team can hang with any in the country.
Positive No. 2: Mike Norvell Master Class
Last week, I thought the Seminole head coach struggled with play calling and game management. This week, he forced me to eat my words. The Florida State offense exploded in Winston-Salem, accumulating 12 designated big plays, including eight in the passing game. This was a result of Mike Norvell’s brilliance as a player-caller.
The two areas of the offense that Norvell excelled in Saturday were play design and the screen game. Last week, the Seminoles did not execute in short-yardage situations, especially on “cash downs.” Mike Norvell found his new favorite 3rd and short play and called it multiple times yesterday. Jaheim Bell ran out of the backfield and showed his numbers to JT while Keon Coleman and Darian Williamson blocked on the outside. Twice, Travis put the ball right on Bell, the South Carolina transfer made a tight turn, and the Seminoles got the first down. It was a sight for sore eyes as in previous moments this year, it felt like Florida State would be better off in 3rd and 6 than 3rd and 1. While Mike Norvell’s play design paid dividends, it was the execution of when he signaled in those calls that made the difference.
Wake Forest wanted to confuse the Seminoles by showing late pressure and changing their looks. Mike Norvell did not get fooled. On Trey Benson’s screen play for a touchdown, Norvell called the play right into the teeth of the Demon Deacon blitz. Benson quickly slipped out of the backfield and went in the front door and out the back for a touchdown. During postgame, the Oregon transfer broke down his perspective of the touchdown pass.
“Coach Yac said that you are going to score this one...when I caught the ball, all I saw was green grass.
Norvell dialed up the screenplay throughout the game as Rodney Hill made an impact with 23 yard reception. I think this coaching staff needed time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this team. Even with so much returning talent, the transfer portal guarantees that every season will be drastically different than the one before it. Like the players, the coaching staff are finally getting in their grove. Adam Fuller clearly found the pulse of Florida State’s defense with his go-to call of secondary blitzes. However, Mike Norvell is the greatest example of a coach in a zone. The ill-timed plays we saw at the beginning of the year are few and far between. The 4th year coach now gets the ball out of Travis’ hands quicker and putting the ball in space. When Norvell can avoid being his worst enemy, the Seminoles have an answer for every coverage they face.
Third thought: Seatbelts Fastened
Jarrian Jones earlier this week told me the numbers spoke for themselves when talking about the FSU pass defense. The numbers told the story in this one. Mitch Griffis went 6/16 for 82 yards on the day, barely surpassing the total of Duke QBs last week that 8/22 the previous week for 76 yards. Wake Forest made just two explosive plays in the passing game and went 3/14 on third down while averaging over eight yards of distance needed for a first. Renardo Green and Fentrell Cypress practically ran the routes for the Wake receivers on Saturday, holding their pass-catching unit to just three players with a reception. These two corners played the most snaps out of any Seminole defensive player with 49 and received a 77.3 and 68.0 coverage grade from PFF, respectively. Just so you know, JT spread the ball around to nine different Seminoles. This unit, early in the year, turned players loose constantly and now does not give opposing receiving threats air to breathe. Patrick Surtain gained the trust of this group early in his coaching career, and his teachings are paying off.