This week I spoke with Jon Marchant from Tomahawk Nation to get a feel for the Seminoles. He answered a handful of questions for me about the Noles’ season below.
1.) So you, uh, didn’t have money on that game last week did you?
Hahaha no, but for those that did, my condolences. Still, for as long as I live the final score of that game will be 24-20 and no one’s gonna tell me any different. I had thought going into this year FSU was still 4 years away from being competitive with Clemson. With the two programs appearing to be heading in opposite directions it was nice to see FSU be competitive - and had plenty of chances to win - despite what’s still a pretty wide talent gap.
2.) With FSU rallying as it did in October after that brutal September, how has the outlook on this season—or the program in general—changed with the results?
We learned this team can beat anyone on their schedule but also lose to anyone on their schedule. The thing I keep coming back to about the Willie Taggart era is over his 21 games at FSU the team always looked the same. They never got any better. Last season was difficult to qualify because of COVID, but it’s obvious the team has improved under Mike Norvell both from last season as well as within the season this year. So, I believe the program is trending up. The biggest issue is the talent, or lack thereof. It’s not at usual Florida State levels. And it’s hard to recruit when the program was in as big of a hole as it was when both Taggart and Norvell took over. You’ve got to win games to show progress and attract better recruits, but you can’t win those games without those recruits. Still, as Bobby Bowden (RIP) once said, you first lose by a lot, you lose by a little, you win by a little, and finally you win by a lot. We predicted before the season this would be the ‘lose a little’ season and so far FSU is right on schedule.
3.) Were there some adjustments made to make the three-game winning streak possible, or was it more a matter of just FSU having its luck improve?
I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. I think the loss to Jacksonville State really challenged this program and the players in it, and I think FSU found their identity on offense. It’s a shame it took so long, because it’s the same one they had last season, and that’s with Jordan Travis at quarterback and running a run-based attack. Last season it was James Blackman and this staff trying to create an offense based upon the passing game. They ended up turning to Travis and creating this spread-to-run modern triple option offense on the fly. After Notre Dame this season it seemed that FSU tried something similar as Blackman with McKenzie Milton. But again, I think FSU realized they just don’t have the pass protection and receiving talent to have an offense like that. Travis’ skill set fits the skill set and talent on offense. And that can make FSU a little one-dimensional, but you go into battle with the horses you got.
4.) Any key injuries we should know about?
None off the top of my head. Everyone is banged up at this point in the year. Perhaps the biggest loss has been Dennis Briggs, a defensive tackle who was playing well this year and was lost for the season a few weeks ago. The strength of this defense is their defensive line and losing Briggs was a pretty big blow to their quality depth.
5.) Tell us about a few under-the-radar guys who could have an impact Saturday.
True freshman Malik McClain. He’s FSU’s best receiver, and while he didn’t show much against Clemson, I’m excited about the kid’s potential. I’ll also go with former walk on Treshaun Ward. He’s been phenomenal this year and I think he’ll be excited to bounce back from a critical mistake he made against Clemson. He’s not your typical walk on. On defense, I’ll go with safety Akeem Dent. He played well against Clemson, but I’m hoping he finally puts it all together and has a takeaway.
6.) How does FSU go about beating NC State? Anything in particular you’ll be watching early?
So, FSU’s offense can’t score if they don’t hit explosive plays. They’ll need to do that and avoid turning the ball over. FSU’s special teams must also improve, but I’m not very confident they’ll do that this week. I’ll be watching both teams up front on both sides of the ball, paying particular attention to the matchup between FSU edge rusher Jermaine Johnson, who leads the ACC in sacks, and the Wolfpack’s Ikem Ekwonu, who seems destined to be a future high first-round pick. Really, Ekonwu vs FSU’s entire defensive line haha.
Like I said, I think FSU is certainly capable of winning this game. Will they? Not something I can expect. Bill Connolly’s (of ESPN) SP+ thinks NC State wins something like 27-26, and I think that sounds right to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if NC State wins by 10 though.