But are there some cracks in the armor? The bye week hit at just the right spot for FSU to regroup, get healthy, and address any areas of concern.
And that’s just what we’ll be doing as well on this week’s Line of Scrimmage podcast.
Each week, we’ll be speaking with members of the beat that covers FSU’s upcoming opponent, getting all the details from those who know those teams best. This week, we’ve brought in one of our own, Tomahawk Nation’s Jon Marchant.
Jon, the Seminoles sit a perfect 4-0 but it’s been far from a perfect season, we’ll get to that in a bit. But let’s talk about the success this team has achieved. What do you feel are the factors that have allowed Florida State to get to this point, a top-5 undefeated position heading into the bye week?
There are a lot of factors — transfers at the top. They keep saying it’s not sustainable, you can’t keep getting these guys — and Norvell keeps getting these guys. That and player development with the homegrown talent, this is a good squad. I don’t think they’re as good as 2013, but they are really good. And I think the culture that Norvell has built has a lot to do with the scheme of his offense and what he demands from his players. That physicality has gone an incredibly long way toward this 4-0 start.
Norvell’s bread and butter is the counter run game, and you think about what that is — pulling linemen, back, you’re trying to mess with the discipline of a defense but you want to be physical right at the point of attack. He demands that, and then you think about something about like breaking the rock after the game — it’s physicality, being strong, being aggressive. The team has taken that on, and I thought that was a big part of the win against LSU.
Let’s start on offense. The wide receivers have been impressive. But at the same time, is it fair to say they’ve been limited? Johnny Wilson has 300 yards receiving, Keon Coleman with 256, tight end (kinda wide receiver) Jaheim Bell has 151. Then your next actual receiver is Winston Wright with 36. What’s going right, What’s going wrong in this room? Should fans be concerned?
Keon Coleman and Jaheim Bell are special guys — they’re incredible. And then Johnny Wilson, with his incredible wingspan and catch radius, all of them are special in their own way. Keon Coleman might be a top-three receiver in the country. They present a lot of matchup problems for the defense and will continue to do that. What’s gone wrong? It’s a lot — some of it may have to do with Travis. I don’t think the wide receiver blocking is quite as good as we’ve seen before. I’m a little surprised that guys like Winston Wright and Deuce Spann have not seen as much of the field as we thought, especially working the middle of the field. That’s a scheme issue that I’ve written about a couple of times, I’m not sure they’re attacking the way that they should. I think they’re leaving lots of yards and even points on the field because of that.
Let’s talk about Jordan Travis. The Heisman hopeful has limped through the last game and a half with some injuries (well, not limped physically, it appears to be an upper body injury). We know it affects his legs, but Travis seems hesitant in other areas. Do you feel this is by design (coaching) or is he making these decisions?
I don’t want to be too tough on him, because the kid’s really good. He’s one of the best in the country, but I do think a lot is on him and I don’t put as much on the coaches. Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, youre going to get a lot of one on one if you’re sending them on routes down the field. If you have either of them in that situation, the thinking is you’re going to take that every time — with them, it’s not 50-50, it’s maybe more 70-30. The issues we’re having is Travis’ inconsistent ball placement — it hasn’t been 70-30, I would argue it hasn’t been 50-50 a lot of the time. I’d like to see the coaches kind of almost scheme wise force Travis to use that middle of the field and I think it’ll open a big part of everything for this offense.
Bit of a combo question here, but the running backs and offensive line have really struggled outside of that LSU second half. There are certainly flashes, but what do these two units need to do differently to find more success?
The offensive line, as we all heard, had the most experience and starts in the country, and they’re just not as good as they were last year. That’s a little disapointing. They had the most expolsive offensive in the country last year and a lot of that was due to the running game. And we just haven’t seen much of anything this season there. And there are other parts of the running game too, going back to Travis — we saw in the Clemson game he was very hesitant to run, there were a couple of plays where he could have pulled the ball and taken five yards, then slid if he didn’t want to get hit. But he just keeps handing it off to a really crowded box.
Let’s jump to defense and my absolute favorite part of this team right now, the defensive line. I think you’re starting four are probably all NFL guys. Jared Verse we know, Fabien Lovett is making money, Braden Fiske is getting love, Patrick Payton is showing flashes. Is this the strength of the entire team?
They’re easily my favorite part of this team. They’re so much fun, they wreak havoc, you can tell they like playing together, especially Fiske. His motor never stops — he’s completely changed the interior of the line. Pat Payton, we knew he could turn the corner but I’ve been impressed with his edge defending against the run. Lovett has been great and Verse — I know people are going to harp on the stats but he could not have played any better so far. Sacks will come, I’m not worried about that. He’s getting pressued, he’s been elite against the run.
The linebackers have been solid. Kalen DeLoach and Tatum Bethune are a veteran group that can fly around the field. But there have been mistakes early on. Do you put that on the linebackers more or the secondary communication with the backers?
Their play has been very inconsistent, right? You have the DeLoach play against Clemson and some other great plays, then some where you’re like “I don’t know what they’re doing” where they’re too aggressive against the run, out of position, getting sucked up by the play action. They’ve really struggled in coverage and were pretty bad against Boston College, but did bounce back against Clemson. I’m not going to say they haven’t been good — just inconsistent.
And finally, an area that has struggled is the secondary. We just mentioned the communication issues. Akeem Dent’s injury has been a big deal, but Shyheim Brown is stepping up at times. What would you like to see happen with this secondary going forward?
Better communication, number one off the top right off the bat. They’ve blown or busted a lot of coverages because they’re not communicating about who’s pickin gup who. They’re just leaving guys wide open, in situations where two guys will take the same receiver. We saw that a couple times against LSU. That’s on the defensive coordinator — it’s your job to make your guys communicate. I think the corner play has overall been better than safety play — Fentrell Cypress hasn’t quite been what we were hoping comin in, but I think part of that is the design and coordination of the defense itself. As far as Akeem Dent, he’s a good player, but I’ve been surprised at how much FSU has missed him. I think that injury has been a lot more significant than we thought it would be to FSU’s defensive performance, and that’s not to disparage Kevin Knowles.