Florida State’s College Football Playoff hopes come down to Saturday’s ACC championship in Charlotte, N.C. If the No. 4 Seminoles beat No. 15 Louisville, they’ll almost certainly be in the playoff for the first time since 2014. If they don’t, then they won’t.
Here are four early thoughts on the biggest game of the Mike Norvell era:
Turnovers must remain a focus
As Louisville coach Jeff Brohm evaluated the Seminoles’ offense, he noted how their running backs secure the ball “as tight as any running backs we’ve seen in the way they run, so you can tell they’re coached to do that the right way.” FSU’s backs have lost only two fumbles all season. The Seminoles’ team-wide three fumbles are tied for 11th nationally, and FSU’s five total turnovers are the fewest in the nation.
There’s some luck involved in that stat, but, as Brohm said, coaching and execution are factors, too. We’ll see whether FSU continues the trend against a Louisville team that’s tied for 40th nationally in turnover margin (plus-3).
Can new starting quarterback Tate Rodemaker win a big game?
The most important statistic, however, was 0 — as in 0 interceptions. Rodemaker could have forced throws that led to picks. He did not, which kept his team alive.
He managed the game well in other ways, especially in the last drive of the first half and first drive of the second that were pivotal to FSU’s victory. In those series, Rodemaker converted on third and 9 and third and 10, plus hit Jaheim Bell for a 29-yarder. It’s also not a coincidence that FSU scored the game-clinching touchdown on Rodemaker’s first play back after taking a hit to the head; Rodemaker made the correct pre-snap check that resulted in Trey Benson’s 26-yard touchdown run.
“He just continued to answer the call,” Norvell said.
Rodemaker did his job by, at minimum, not losing the game for FSU. Can he go out and win one Saturday against a better defense?
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Louisville’s rushing offense should be a concern for FSU
The Cardinals have the ACC’s most prolific rushing tandem in 1,000-yard rusher Jawhar Jordan and Wisconsin transfer Isaac Guerendo. They are second and fourth in the league in yards per carry (6.4 and 6.1). Both can break off explosive rushes, too, which is why Louisville has 11 carries of 30-plus yards — tied for 10th nationally with FSU, among others.
“(If) you allow them to get into open space, it’s going to be a challenging day for you,” Norvell said.
It has the potential to be a challenging night for the Seminoles, then. Only 19 teams have allowed more rushes of 30-plus yards than FSU (10), which gave up a 52-yarder Saturday to Montrell Johnson.
This FSU team has some 2014 vibes
The Seminoles fell behind early in three of their last four games (7-0 at Pitt, 13-0 at home against North Alabama, 12-0 at Florida). Norvell attributed some of the slow starts to emotions from road games, senior day and a rivalry. The emotions showed up in missed details or players trying to force something that isn’t there, like Benson running around into an 11-yard loss on his first carry Saturday.
Worse, FSU has faced first-half deficits in five of its six games away from Tallahassee; the rout at Wake Forest was the lone exception. The ’Noles have overcome them because they improve as the game progresses. Their scoring differential has increased every quarter (from plus-37 in the first to plus-51, plus-75 and plus-94).
But that’s not always sustainable. The 2014 team had to overcome deficits of at least two scores in four games (including at Louisville) but couldn’t do it a fifth time against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. That doesn’t mean another early hole will be fatal for FSU, but the margin for error decreases as the competition level increases.
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