Rivalry games are won on the margins, decided by who can make the plays when they have to and excel when they need to.
With this in mind, Wednesday took over a different meaning.
Mike Norvell and his men took the practice field to finalize their preparations for Miami and gain a leg up in situational football. The Hurricanes, to say the least, are not stellar in this facet. In their last four games, the Hurricanes have turned the ball over multiple times, went 21/57 on third down, good for 37%, and rank 70th in red zone offense.
Florida State has a statistical advantage here, but after last Saturday, where the offense went 3/14 on third down, Wednesday came at a crucial time. Jordan Travis led his team past multiple procedure penalties to kick a 48-yard field goal as the 48-second time clock hit 0. The defense fought back during third-down work, and both groups produced big plays during red zone work, as the results ended evenly on the day.
With “another good work day” in the books, three themes stood out above the rest.
As reported earlier, the team went through rounds of the one-minute drill, third-down efficiency, and red zone work. During the first 11 on 11 the day, Jordan Travis took the ball at his own 35, with 48 seconds on the clock, looking to get into field goal range. While the drive did not go efficiently down the field, JT’s connection with LT and the TEs put them in a position for Ryan Fitzgerald to knock the ball through the uprights. With the receiver room banged up in recent weeks, these two position groups were forced to step up, and they did so again Wednesday. For all of his ball security issues, Lawrance Toafili catches the ball as well as anyone on the roster, and he displayed his talent with efficient route running during the drill. The same can be said for Kyle Morlock, who snatched the most receptions on this drive. When Mike Norvell met with the media post-practice, he singled out the tight end room.
“I think we’ve got great versatility among (the tight-ends), and when you can line them up out wide and have good matchups, whether that’s size or different presentations of what we can do, I think it’s a real positive.”
After some position drills, the team gathered back together for work in third down. The defense forced the offense into poor execution early on, as their blitzing impacted the timing of the plays. AZ Thomas made multiple impact plays, both as a blitzer and in pass coverage. Towards the end of practice, both units lined up against each other for red zone work. Blake Nichelson and Conrad Hussey pulled down interceptions just before CJ Cambell punched through in the end zone. The day looked like what Mike Norvell preaches for. Both sides of the ball competed at a high level, each taking turns making plays. When Saturday comes down to a number of plays, expect FSU to put their best foot forward.
Florida State has three tight ends with over 100 receiving yards on the year, part of an elite club with five teams. Wednesday proved why they are part of that group.
Kyle Morlock, Markeston Douglas, and Jaheim Bell each flashed during practice. Morlock had two early catches during the 11 on 11 period. His first catch looked like a simple out route, but he made a man miss, picked up ten extra yards, and got out of bounds. Markeston Douglas, fresh off his game-clinching touchdown, continued his offensive tackle ways, being an effective blocker in the run game that sprung multiple runs. Finally, Jaheim Bell made one of the plays of the day. Even against the scout team, Bell ran a slot fade, and Jordan Travis put the ball over the left shoulder where only the South Carolina player could come down with it, which he did. The catch put an exclamation mark for the room on the day, but the throw was magic. When discussing his improved accuracy, Travis stayed humble.
“Just trusting my guys, putting the ball out there, letting them run under it. They make me look good, so I mean, it’s just trusting our guys.”
Travis certainly puts his faith in the tight end room. It feels like they have been the first read every third down these last few weeks. The room took massive strides this past offseason with the transfer additions, and they are paying off as the season wears on.
Meeting the moment
This week of practice felt different than any other so far this season. The Seminoles know what beating the Hurricanes means for the program, both on and off the field. Since the stakes will be so high, I asked Coach Norvell after practice how his team plans to play with the increased emotional load.
“You prepare emotionally. That’s one of the things I’ve been pleased with in practice. That’s one of the reasons why we coach the way we coach, and we do what we do...we try to prepare for it every day.”
The head coach on the field, Jordan Travis, also met with the media Wednesday and gave his two cents for playing with controlled emotion and his responsibility as a leader.
“Just got to focus on us, run through our plays, and go through our reads.”
I bring this up because a magnificent Florida State weakness this year has been penalties. The Seminoles have not been penalized less than five times or less since the bundle at Boston College. FSU averaged 7.5 yellow flags per game these last two weeks on the road. In an environment as charged up as Saturday, the ‘Noles must keep their emotions in check and stay out of the zebra's way.
That’s it for practice this week, as the next time we see Florida State will be Saturday afternoon. Mike Norvell and student-athlete availability can be seen below.