1. Tackle Robert Scott looks to be a solid building block for offensive line
Entering the season, leading candidates to build around on the offensive line included sophomore Dontae Lucas and a couple of redshirt freshman in Darius Washington and Maurice Smith. Lucas and Smith sat for a game for disciplinary reasons, while Washington has been banged up lately. That led to freshman tackle Robert Scott entering the game against Jacksonville State and making his first start on the road in South Bend versus top-five Notre Dame.
Those other three are still heavily in the mix and all have a chance to be great players in their own right, but Scott showed a level of poise and promise against a high-caliber team that should have the fanbase very excited.
When discussing the offensive line’s game against Notre Dame on Monday, head coach Mike Norvell immediately mentioned Scott first, calling him “impressive”. Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham went even further with his praise of Scott.
“He is a fighter. All he knows it how to compete, all he knows is working. He is the definition of how a freshman gets on the field,” said Dillingham. “I have been extremely pleased with how he has been playing.”
Dillingham and Norvell know it is so important for FSU to start building the team around younger, key players. Having a freshman offensive lineman stand out when his number is called could be enormous for the roster moving forward, much less at the tackle position with ideal measurables of 6’5, 320 pounds.
When Florida State was mired in the “lost decade” and at a low point for their roster in 2007, and Ryan McMahon was a bright spot starting at center on the offensive line, fans weren’t running around Doak Campbell high-fiving each other like they might if it were a flashy skill player. But by the time the Noles were back to a competitive team in 2010, the seeds of McMahon’s second team All-ACC senior year were planted during a mediocre 7-6 season three years earlier.
Even if a young lineman is simply showing baby steps of being serviceable in 2020, that could mean leaps and bounds in a few seasons when and if Florida State gets back on track as a national contender.
2. Offense must find a replacement for wideout Tamorrion Terry’s crucial deep threat abilities
Everyone knows that when your number one receiver goes down, that production in the passing game is going to have to be made up by the remaining wideouts and skill players. But a nagging knee injury to the play-making Tamorrion Terry really could really hinder the offense for Noles.
Since redshirt sophomore Jordan Travis has been inserted permanently at quarterback, Terry has put up two strong outings not only statistically, but also in terms of his downfield blocking and leadership according to the staff. Terry said the scrambling Travis is “what we need right now,” and on Wednesday Travis called Terry “one of the most talented receivers I have ever been involved with in my life.”
Most of all, the offensive change reignited Terry’s tendency to break games open down the field with a long reception. There is a pretty natural connection between the offense focusing more on the run game with Travis in and that opening up Terry for deep passes, and vice versa.
Not only will FSU have to replace the general production of one of the top players on the team, Terry’s ability to stretch the defense has arguably never been more important than currently in the tweaked offense.
So, which wide receiver will replace Terry’s deep threat capabilities while the redshirt junior is sidelined? Juniors Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Pokey Wilson will obviously remain in the fold, and redshirt sophomore Warren Thompson continues to lurk with plenty of ability and a lanky frame.
In fact, Norvell brought in three more freshmen with plus measurables that certainly may develop into deep threats with some playing time. A pair from south Florida in Bryan Robinson and Kentron Poitier, or Darion Williamson out of Tennessee, could jump at the opportunity. Still just a sophomore, maybe Jordan Young might finally get his chance.
On the freshmen class of wideouts, receivers coach Ron Dugans said, “I am very pleased with the guys we brought in, not only on the field but off the field. Great character guys…I think those guys bring a lot to the table.”
This should be an interesting development against North Carolina offensively. FSU could open up their rotation. Terry didn’t come out during the game last week, so we don’t have late-game substitutions to draw conclusions off of.
It’s also possible Florida State will go away from flinging it to deeper part of the field as often as they have tried it before Terry was injured. But that could really negatively affect the space the run game has to operate in.
A last thing to note would be depth overall at receiver obviously taking a hit with Terry injured. Florida State really can’t afford for any more attrition at wideout.
3. DC Adam Fuller, linebacker Emmett Rice not making excuses despite hinderance of shortened offseason
A key cog in Florida State’s dynasty and one of the winningest coaches of the past 20 years in college football predicted it.
Back in early September, former Georgia head coach and FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt called it when he articulated the challenge of mimicking live tackling in practices when the season was just getting started. Not only, of course, was most of spring mostly shut down for programs, but the level to which tackling was implemented in practices when they did occur across the country could possibly be called into question.
“The offseason is crucially important, especially spring ball, working on the fundamentals of tackling and all those things. That’s gonna be the key to everyone’s defense this year,” said Richt. “Did you have enough time to simulate tackling? Until you start tackling bodies, you’re not going to be very good at it.”
But when asked about the challenges they have faced this year in practice and preparation, senior linebacker Emmett Rice pointed out they have been common obstacles across the nation.
“I don’t feel like that is an excuse. We all had the same amount of time, like everybody in the country. Just because we’re doing bad, we can’t put that on COVID,” Rice explained. “At the end of the day, coach put us in the right position to make plays, as players we gotta make those plays.”
On the defensive struggles shared by teams across the nation, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller also took the high road, insisting that Florida State’s slow start on defense was solely just that- an FSU issue.
“Maybe this is the wrong answer, but I don’t really care. I don’t really connect that to what has happened with us,” said Fuller. “Our job is to stop people, and we haven’t done that enough.”
4. Virginia Tech set the bar low for Florida State’s defense against North Carolina
Seminoles defenders can head into Saturday night with a low bar to beat versus the Tar Heels. Not only did they themselves give up 42 last week and 35 in the first half to Notre Dame, but earlier last Saturday North Carolina’s offense ran roughshod over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Averaging nearly ten yards a play for the game, head coach Mack Brown’s squad had a porous 31 first downs and 656 total yards. Carolina scored in every quarter and won 56-45.
On top of that, North Carolina is led by a star quarterback that is nearly-universally agreed upon as one of the top prospects in the country. Sophomore Sam Howell has already broken several school and conference records last season.
“He is a very talented young man. You can see the confidence he’s grown,” said Norvell. “Howell has a great sense of the offense. He can make every throw.”
The stage is set for a 2009-esque FSU 45-N.C. State 42 or Georgia Tech 49-FSU 44 shootout. And that’s if Florida State’s offense can get there. Everyone is convinced UNC will roll offensively and put up a ton of points.
What that really does is free up the Noles’ defense this week. Sitting at 1-3, and double-digit underdogs again, the team has nothing to lose. It doesn’t take a catastrophe even for a subpar defense to hold an explosive offense for a few possessions.
Technically, FSU just did it last week against Notre Dame. If Florida State had held the Irish to a few field goals, or forced another turnover, they could have even held Notre Dame in the low 30’s.
That’s not to say FSU isn’t facing an uphill battle this Saturday. Again, they’re big underdogs for a reason. But if Florida State can grab a hold of just some small pockets of success defensively against North Carolina, it could spark an improvement on that side of the ball needed to capitalize on a softer second half of the schedule.