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FSU football: Newcomers impress, but old concerns remain at spring game

Transfers Jared Verse and Trey Benson were among the top performers, but the passing game and special teams were shaky.
Running back Trey Benson carries the ball during Florida State's annual spring game Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. Benson, a transfer from Oregon, rushed seven times for 77 yards.
Running back Trey Benson carries the ball during Florida State's annual spring game Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. Benson, a transfer from Oregon, rushed seven times for 77 yards. [ FSU Sports Information | Mitch White ]
Published Apr. 10|Updated Apr. 10

TALLAHASSEE — If Florida State’s spring game Saturday was any indication of Mike Norvell’s third season, then Seminoles fans should expect some newcomers to make immediate impacts but keep their expectations muted. FSU remains a work in progress.

The biggest reasons for optimism came from some of FSU’s newcomers, starting with Albany transfer Jared Verse, who doesn’t look like a former Division I-AA recruit.

Related: FSU coach Mike Norvell: ‘We’re getting close.’ The Seminoles better be

Verse stalled the first drive with a sack that pushed the offense out of field-goal range. He ended the second drive by bursting through the center of the line to block a field goal. And on the third possession, Verse sped from the outside for a third-down sack to force a punt. He also split a double team later in the game to pressure starting quarterback Jordan Travis in front of an announced crowd of 30,184 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

“Jared, he’s a beast,” Travis said. “You see it every single day in practice.”

Verse has already drawn comparisons to Jermaine Johnson because they play the same position (defensive end) and both joined FSU as transfers. That’s not quite right. At 6-feet-4, 251 pounds, Verse is an inch shorter and 11 pounds lighter than Johnson was, and Johnson is an athletic freak destined for the first round of this month’s NFL draft. But even if Verse can’t match Johnson’s productivity, he’s still going to be a difference-maker for FSU.

So, too, is running back Trey Benson, a transfer from Oregon who rushed seven times for 77 yards. Four of his carries went for at least 10 yards, and he looked explosive — especially for a back coming off a knee injury.

“I think you got a preview of the explosiveness that he had and he has,” Norvell said.

Benson will be part of a strong rotation of backs that also includes Pinellas Park High alumnus Lawrance Toafili (43 yards and a touchdown) and D.J. Williams (40 yards and a score).

Another Oregon transfer, Mycah Pittman, flashed, too. The receiver (and son of former Bucs Super Bowl champion Michael Pittman) scored on a jet sweep and had a game-high four catches for 25 yards.

Despite the positives from newcomers, FSU’s performance had reasons for concern, too — many of them unchanged from last season, or before that.

The passing game was unimpressive most of the day, finishing a combined 14 of 33 for 159 yards, with Travis going 7 for 13 for 71 yards.

“It was hit and miss,” Norvell said.

The hits included Kentron Poitier’s two fantastic catches (one touchdown) and Travis’ 17-yard pass to Ontaria Wilson — FSU’s longest completion to a receiver. The misses? Those were three dropped balls and three interceptions on two-point conversion attempts before the scrimmage. One of the picks was by top-50 early enrollee Sam McCall.

Considering how much FSU’s receivers struggled to create explosive plays last season, the misses loom larger than the hits. It’s the same thing along the offensive line, which has struggled for years and allowed seven sacks Saturday. Even though some of them were because of a quick whistle designed to protect the quarterback, expect the ’Noles to continue looking for help at the position in the transfer portal.

The special teams were an issue, too. In addition to the blocked field goal, FSU muffed two punts (despite facing no coverage). Pittman called his drop “absolutely embarrassing.”

It’s also a problem, considering how much Norvell stresses that phase of the game and how little the Seminoles have to show for it through two seasons.

It’s not enough to expect a doom-and-gloom 2022 season. But it should temper expectations for a program in need of a breakthrough this fall.

Deckerhoff signs off

Gene Deckerhoff spoke with reporters Saturday before Florida State's spring football game, his final broadcast as the voice of the Seminoles.
Gene Deckerhoff spoke with reporters Saturday before Florida State's spring football game, his final broadcast as the voice of the Seminoles. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]

FSU honored Gene Deckerhoff, who’s retiring after 43 years as the voice of the Seminoles. Deckerhoff received an ovation at midfield before the game.

Deckerhoff, 76, said his contract as the Bucs’ radio announcer is through next year with an option after that. “We’ll see how it goes,” Deckerhoff said.

He said he’s cutting back his work 65-70 percent and is still making the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Tallahassee to Tampa for games.

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