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Talkin’ Florida State football with Tomahawk Nation

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Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

To help us put a finer point on the trials and tribulations of the 2020 Seminoles, I spoke to Tomahawk Nation’s Jon Marchant about them. I also answered some questions for Jon over at Tomahawk Nation.

BTP: Coaching changes tend to come with early speed bumps, but has the 2020 season been worse for Florida State than you were expecting? Have there been some unforeseen factors playing into the Seminoles’ struggles?

JM: Yes and no. Yes it’s been worse because I’d hoped they would be better than 2-5, if only marginally, but also no because I always knew, especially after the school fired Willie Taggart in his second season, that it would get worse before it got better. We have arrived at worse. How long will it take before it gets better? That’s anyone’s guess. Also, it can always get even worse. With the recent turmoil the program has gone through Tomahawk Nation has always viewed this as Year -1 for Mike Norvell.

As for unforeseen factors, I’d also have to say no, but perhaps the extent of those factors is something we couldn’t have anticipated. When you’re on your third head coach in four years and in some cases their fourth coordinator in four years, it’s gonna be tough to expect the players to enthusiastically buy in and make that leap of faith with the new coach. Even more so when going from a player’s coach like Taggart to more of a disciplinarian like Norvell. As we’ve seen, that buy-in has been an issue, even this far into the season. Norvell inherited years of poor evaluation and development as well as culture rot (so did Taggart). Rooting it out isn’t easy, but that’s the project Norvell has in front of him.

BTP: Somewhat related to that, how many contributors/potential contributors has the program lost this season either to injury, transfers, or opt-outs? Is this leading to some panic, or is it more just the kind of turnover you expect early in a new coaching tenure?

JM: It has been my opinion for a while now that the school needed some kind of hard reset to break the cycle and allow the program to breathe and grow and set the foundation for something better. I think we are getting some version of that right now. As for how many, I’ve honestly lost count. Almost certainly more than half a dozen, including perhaps the two most talented players on the roster. There’s always a part of the Florida State fandom in a panic haha.

I think some turnover was to be expected of course, but I have to admit I am surprised by a couple of the names, including star receiver Tamorrion Terry. FSU will badly miss his on-field services. Preseason All-American defensive tackle Marvin WIlson hasn’t had the season we’d all hoped he would but he’s officially out for the season with a knee injury so his Seminole career is over. Starting tackle Devontay Love-Taylor is also out for the season with a knee injury, who FSU hopes to get back next season. Former quarterback James Blackman is a good kid and was a great Seminole, but the time has come for him to also part ways with the program. The older kids weren’t going to be here for the rebuild anyway while the younger kids seem to have bought in. If it’s no longer the right fit for a player we wish them all the best. For the future, that means FSU opens up scholarships and can flip the roster more quickly. Hopefully that fixes a lot of other issues.

BTP: So about Florida State’s passing game, uh, what uh, what’s going on there? Does Jordan Travis have a future as a long-term starter in Tallahassee?

JM: Pretty straightforward compared to the previous questions! James Blackman started the season in a pass-heavy offense but disappointed, often failing to see the field and being too slow to trigger on his reads. He never got past his inconsistency. In stepped Jordan Travis, who the coaching staff has built a read-option offense around him. So that made the ground game the centerpiece of the offense and gave them an identity, which was great. The problem is he’s pretty raw as a passer. He does a lot of fun things, he’s just got a long way to go in that department and defenses have caught on and are taking the ball out of his hands. The overarching theme though is the poor play of the receivers throughout the year which has really capped what they’re trying to do. Poor effort blocking, running poor routes, dropping catches, you name it. True freshman QB Chubba Purdy has also gotten some burn, and there’s a belief he is nearly as athletic as Travis but has a higher ceiling as a passer. If I had to bet on it, I would say Travis is not the long-term starter. It might not be Purdy either, but we’ll see.

BTP: What are the pleasant surprises you’ve gotten from this team?

JM: I think I’ve been happy with the play of the running backs. La’Damian Webb and Lawrance Toafili have been good surprises. Also, cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr. has been really good. Travis really did give this offense an identity and without him the win against No. 5 North Carolina wouldn’t have happened. No matter what happens with the team the rest of the season or how bad it gets, that was a pretty fun bright spot and certainly a welcome surprise.

BTP: What happened to FSU’s defense between last year and this one? I’m assuming it’s not just roster attrition. (But if it is, I guess that helps you feel better?)

JM: We thought that last year FSU wasn’t running the scheme that really suited what the staff were good at teaching, or even fit the talent on hand. But this year has been far worse. I don’t think it’s an issue with the scheme, which is more attacking. FSU just doesn’t have the players to run it. A lot of times this season we’ve seen guys that are in position or nearly in position and just can’t finish plays.

The defensive line not only should have been a strength but one of the best units in the country. They haven’t been close to that. The linebackers are young and prone to mistakes, and the secondary isn’t as talented as we thought they were, though there are some bright spots for the future like safeties Travis Jay and Renardo Green. For the first half of the season FSU simply couldn’t defend the boundary at either the corner opposite Samuel or the weakside linebacker spot. FSU still doesn’t have a boundary corner, and there are other guys that simply don’t like contact. A lot of fans want to see defensive coordinator Adam Fuller fired but I think that’s premature. Overall though this defense is probably worse than the horrible 2009 defense FSU had, so that’s fun.

BTP: Are you worried at all that FSU’s players aren’t all that invested in what’s left of this season?

JM: Going back to the above, yes and no. With a lot of players opting out of the rest of the season and/or transferring, I hope the players that are left are invested. If we want to look at the answer to this question as addition by subtraction that can work, as the players that have left the program over the past week should leave a greater percentage left that have bought in. With covid they’ll still make a bowl game regardless of their record and those practices will be invaluable. So there’s already a built-in “excuse” to just work on themselves and not worry about the W/L record. Still, I think you have to be on the lookout for effort issues down the stretch. I’ll be disappointed if this staff allows it.

BTP: How do you expect this game to unfold?

JM: After everything I’ve said, how can I sit here now and predict a win? Especially with some of Florida State’s most talented players out. So, I won’t. I’ll go NC State 37 - FSU 24. I think Bailey Hockman and the Wolfpack offense will be able to move the ball and the Seminole offense will try to play catch up and will have success in fits and starts but won’t be able to keep up consistently enough to make it interesting. Although I hope they do.