TALLAHASSEE — Florida State ended spring practice with Saturday's nationally televised exhibition game, in front of an announced crowd of 26,649 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Here are five takeaways on Gold's 17-7 win over Garnet — the last real glimpse of the Seminoles until their Sept. 2 season opener against Alabama:
1. Derwin James is back
The star safety missed the final 11 games last season with a torn meniscus, but he didn't look rusty. James made an impact by blowing up a receiver and jarring the ball loose for an early fourth-down incompletion. On the next drive, he flew from the secondary to sack Deondre Francois, and he added another sack in the third quarter. James showed he can still play everywhere — he lined up as an edge rusher, dropped back in coverage, saw time at linebacker and fielded the first punt of the game. It was a major step forward for the future first-round draft pick who had to be eased back into things this spring. "It wasn't like he was bad, but you could see there was another level you knew he had," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He's starting to get back to that." And that's good because the Seminoles will need him to corral Alabama dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts in the opener.
2. The hype surrounding RB Cameron Akers is justified
The five-star early enrollee rushed for a game-high 87 yards, including 64 on one drive in the third quarter. He showed quickness, great vision and a little power, too. FSU doesn't need him to be the next Dalvin Cook, not with the way Jacques Patrick (64 yards and a touchdown) played Saturday. But in one exhibition, Akers showed why he is the program's biggest signee in five years. "A lot of talent," Francois said. "I can't wait to see what the future will hold for him."
3. The defensive line is good … or the offensive line is not … or both
The game featured 12 sacks in 76 drop-backs — about what could be expected from a team that had the second-most sacks nationally last season and ranked No. 108 in sacks allowed. The offensive line was at a disadvantage with three potential starters injured, and Fisher insisted he isn't worried about Saturday's blocking. Regardless, defensive end Brian Burns (three sacks) continued to show why he's FSU's next great pass rusher.
4. FSU needs Francois to stay healthy
The backup quarterback, J.J. Cosentino, struggled (10-of-22 for 110 yards), just as he did in his only previous significant action, in the Peach Bowl loss to Houston that closed out the 2015 season. Early enrollee Bailey Hockman showed an impressive arm but was 3-for-11. The passing game was disadvantaged with only two fully healthy scholarship receivers, but neither Hockman nor Cosentino looked ready for meaningful action. FSU's title hopes rest on protecting Francois, which it couldn't do last year.
5. LB Jacob Pugh could be a breakout player
FSU named the Dade City native its defensive and overall spring MVP at halftime, and Fisher raved about him after the game. It wasn't just his numbers (three tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry); it was the smaller plays, like how Pugh jammed a tight end. "Something that little, a lot of folks don't see, but it screwed the whole play up," Fisher said. "He's doing every little thing right." Given his versatility — Pugh can play any linebacker position or line up as a defensive end — his development adds another dimension to what should be a loaded defense.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.