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Just how bad is Florida State after Mike Norvell’s debut?

Advanced metrics barely consider the Seminoles an above-average team in a pandemic-shortened field. ESPN and the ACC Network both rank them last in the conference.
Florida State is clearly not in a good place after a season-opening home loss to Georgia Tech.
Florida State is clearly not in a good place after a season-opening home loss to Georgia Tech. [ DON JUAN MOORE | Don Juan Moore ]
Published Sep. 15, 2020

In the aftermath of Saturday’s shocking 16-13 home loss to Georgia Tech, Florida State put together a lowlight reel —clips of mistakes from practice next to clips of those same mistakes costing the Seminoles in their season opener.

“This is where we are,” coach Mike Norvell said.

And after one week, this is where FSU is: about where it’s been for the past three unacceptable seasons.

Related: Florida State reverts to Willie Taggart era, begin Mike Norvell era with 16-13 loss to Georgia Tech

With only 77 teams playing this year, FSU sits outside the 30 in two sets of advanced metrics, the Sagarin Ratings and ESPN’s SP+. That’s the rosy view. Power rankings from the ESPN and the ACC Network both put the 'Noles last in the conference.

FSU played poorly enough to justify the pessimism. The 'Noles lost at home to a program in the second season of a years-long rebuilding job that was led by a true freshman quarterback who had been committed to them for 10 months before splitting with the new coaching staff.

Jeff Sims fared well in his debut at Florida State, where he was a longtime commit.
Jeff Sims fared well in his debut at Florida State, where he was a longtime commit. [ DON JUAN MOORE | Don Juan Moore ]

Dig into the details, and the defeat looked even more concerning. FSU was the most-penalized team in the nation under Willie Taggart. Its eight flags for 55 yards Saturday were more than it had in last year’s opener (five for 44 against Boise State).

The bleakest spots were along both lines of scrimmages. FSU’s strength, remember, was supposed to be its defensive front.

“That group has to be a forceful unit,” Norvell said.

It wasn’t. The starters combined for 10 tackles (none for a loss), one quarterback hurry and no sacks.

The offensive line wasn’t much better. A center committed a false start when he failed to snap the ball on time. Guards clogged potential holes by failing to pull correctly, and the tackles were pushed back too often.

Related: How does a Florida State football contract address the coronavirus pandemic?

At least those expected struggles come with reasonable explanations. Two freshmen on the two-deep, Thomas Shrader and Robert Scott, were both unavailable. Multiple injuries during the game forced FSU to use five different combinations.

Some of them clearly failed. When Devontay Love-Taylor left with an injury in the fourth quarter, his replacement gave up a pivotal strip-sack on the next play to set up Georgia Tech’s game-winning drive.

Norvell’s two predecessors didn’t do enough to build depth on the line. He’s going to need years —plural — to fix it.

Florida State's season opener showed just how much work first-year coach Mike Norvell has in front of him.
Florida State's season opener showed just how much work first-year coach Mike Norvell has in front of him. [ DON JUAN MOORE | Don Juan Moore ]

After reviewing the film, Norvell took a glass-half-full approach, preferring to focus on how FSU protected James Blackman and opened up running holes in the first two drives instead of the way it stalled over the final three quarters.

Besides, Norvell has been through this before. In his opener last year, Memphis scored only 15 points in a win over Mississippi. His Tigers ended up fielding the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense and had more plays of at least 40 yards than anyone in the country (35).

“I think you see the potential,” Norvell said.

Through one game, that’s still what FSU has to bank on. Potential.

Because the present remains mediocre at best and a mess at worst.

Related: Former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel: Winning record realistic for Mike Norvell’s first season

'Nole notes

Receiver D.J. Matthews entered the transfer portal Tuesday. Matthews previously tweeted (then deleted) that he had tested positive for coronavirus and has been away from the team. He started 15 games over the past two seasons with 36 catches for 355 yards and a touchdown last year. He also ranks 10th in FSU history with 582 career punt return yards.

Norvell said he received a “positive prognosis” for defensive end Josh Kaindoh, who left the Georgia Tech game with an apparent leg injury. But Norvell did not specify whether he expects the potential early-round draft pick to be available at No. 17 Miami on Sept. 26.

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