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No moral victories in football, but lessons in losses

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Lessons (hopefully) learned.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State head coach Mike Norvell knows that FSU had the chance to pull off the near-impossible on Sunday — and fell short due to its own lack of execution.

After the game, he gave Notre Dame the credit they deserved for pulling off the win, but he sounded like a man who knew that victory was within the team’s grasp (advanced stats show that at one point, FSU’s chances of winning were about 80 percent).

“It’s disappointing to come up short. ...in the locker room, our guys, they’re disappointed. But I told them I was proud. I was proud of the heart that they showed, the identity that they put on display.

“We all know mistakes were made. There was not any one play or one moment tonight, you can pick 15 of them. But our guys, they know what’s coming. They know the response that’s necessary.”

“We’ve got to prepare for a game that’s next Saturday — and we have to be better. We’re going to look at the mistakes that cost us vs. a top ten football team.”

Norvell cited the turnover battle and penalties as two of the main culprits, and while Notre Dame’s turnover luck was unfortunate for FSU, it was nothing out of the ordinary for college football. You can maybe say that Kyle Hamilton being a freak of nature excuses one of Jordan Travis’ interceptions, but the first was a killer — and the penalties that continued to push the Seminoles back on drives that started well within their own territory made it that much worse.

Norvell wasn’t the only one with that mindset — players after the game reflected on the loss in a way that showcased frustration, not defeat.

“To me, there’s no moral victories in football, either you win or you lose, simple as that.” quarterback McKenzie Milton said, who has as good as a claim to any to a moral victory from the loss. “We’ve got a really good football team — I think we shot ourselves in the foot, with penalties and plays that needed to be made that we didn’t make.

“We’re on to what’s next — and that’s Jacksonville State.”

Defensive end Jermaine Johnson, who had his own coming-out party by creating a one-man havoc show, is finding gems in failure by taking away what’s worked and aiming to correct upon what didn’t.

“It’s not a loss, it’s a lesson. Find the lessons in it. Attack this next week. We did a lot of great things out there tonight.”

In other words, the two statements represent the conflict within the fanbase after watching FSU put up a valiant effort in the loss — anger at the fact that victory slipped through the team’s fingers, investment and excitement in the team’s future.

While it’s an absolute truth that the only thing that matters is the scoreboard, and FSU came up short, there is plenty of good to build upon in the loss, setting up momentum at the start of the season for the Seminoles that hasn’t been around since 2016. It’s what feels like hope, despite a loss that so easily could have been an upset win.

There’s a huge difference in feeling like you should’ve won, and knowing that you shouldn’t have. Throughout the last few years, each FSU win has almost felt like pulling teeth, and those have been the wins. The losses were full of garbage time, rendering progression for players near moot and the ability to analyze even lower.

Now, there are tangible things to point out, get better at and improve upon as the season goes on. Instead of despair at the prospect of another long season, frustration has a chance to manifest into development and a next step. FSU has shown its different from teams of the past through effort but the question remains if it can do it where it matters most — the scoreboard.