As we get closer and closer to the start of the 2021 Florida State Seminoles football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each opponent the ‘Noles will face over the course of the year.
The Ballad of Walt Bell is well-known among Seminole faithful. Hired on as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Willie Taggart’s first FSU staff, Bell brought hope along with him from Maryland. His philosophy revolved around fast-scoring, aggressive offensive squads that had FSU fans dreaming of scoreboards consistently lit up with point totals in the 40’s and 50’s.
That was not to be.
After an unremarkable first year during which he wrestled with Taggart for play-calling duties and dealt with injuries and inconsistency across the offensive board, Bell jumped ship to take the UMass head coaching job, becoming one of the youngest head coaches at the time.
However, he is perhaps best known for the role he played in stud QB Sam Howell’s decommitment and subsequent flip from FSU to UNC, costing the Seminoles an excellent high school quarterback talent and adding to the misery that was QB recruiting under late-tenure Jimbo Fisher and Taggart. After that situation played out, many ‘Nole fans felt that Bell was an appropriate fit at a school whose nickname ends with a-s-s.*
*Editor’s note: I want to be very clear — I did not think for a minute of taking this line out.
Now, Bell will lead his fighting Minutemen back into Doak Campbell Stadium for the first meeting between the two schools in history.
Opponent: UMass Minutemen
Date: Saturday, October 23, 2021
Last matchup: This is the first matchup between FSU and UMass
The UMass game will come after FSU’s bye week, preceded by a matchup against the aforementioned Howell’s Tar Heels, and will be followed by a tough late-season stretch including the toughest matchup on the schedule, a trip to Clemson. This game will be a nice opportunity to fine-tune the offense and defense before the Clemson matchup but the primary goal will be to keep everyone healthy for the home stretch. Hopefully, FSU will be able to rest starters towards the end of the game and allow younger players to get significant reps.
UMass scored 12 points in four games last season. I’m not joking about that. They were outscored 161-12 and averaged 188 yards and 3 points per game. Leading passer Garrett Dzuro returns... although he passed for 215 yards and two interceptions on a 42% completion rate. Expected starting QB Tyler Lytle joined the program this offseason after transferring from Colorado and possesses good arm strength but not much mobility.
The UMass offense was hit hard by transfer portal departures and the leading returning receiver, OC Johnson, only caught 14 passes for 96 yards last year. The offensive line returns three starters and 6’2, 227 lb running back Ellis Meriwether, who finished last season with 115 yards on 42 rushes. Rutgers transfer Kayron Adams will also be relied on to generate yardage from the backfield.
The defense allowed an average of 40 points and 482 yards per game last season. The pass rush was the bright spot on that side of the ball. It generated nine sacks and 31 tackles for loss and returns their most productive defensive end, 6’2” 280 lb Avien Peah. The top four interior DL average 327.5 lbs and have experience. The linebacking unit is extremely young and all have little to no experience. The secondary returns all five starters, though it should be noted that UMass did not record a single interception last season.
Final thoughts on UMass vs. Florida State
Walt Bell enters his 3rd season as a head coach sporting a 1-15 overall record (0-4 last season), so he’ll be feeling the pressure to show some improvement this year. His offenses are regressing, as the 2019 offense converted 35% of its third down chances while last year’s unit converted just 14 of 55 tries, a 25% clip. Bell will also carry a bit of a chip on his shoulder after his short time at FSU.
That said... let’s be real here. As long as the ‘Noles don’t get caught looking ahead to Clemson, this should be a game that FSU puts away by halftime and gets significant reps for its backups in the second half. Walt Bell should be leaving Tallahassee with a nice game paycheck and some more bad memories.