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4 takeaways from FSU football’s historic Orange Bowl loss to Georgia

The Seminoles were without 14 players who started at least one game this season. It showed.
 
The Florida State football team could not handle Georgia in Saturday's Orange Bowl. The Seminoles suffered a historic defeat.
The Florida State football team could not handle Georgia in Saturday's Orange Bowl. The Seminoles suffered a historic defeat. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]
Published Dec. 31, 2023|Updated Dec. 31, 2023

MIAMI GARDENS — Florida State effectively lost Saturday’s Orange Bowl long before kickoff. The final score, a 63-3 Georgia win, was merely a formality, as was the ignominy of suffering the largest defeat in the history of bowl games.

The No. 4 Seminoles (13-1) were expected to be down nine starters from the regular-season finale due to opt-outs, injuries and the transfer portal. Three more were scratched Saturday (linebacker Tatum Bethune and defensive tackles Braden Fiske and Joshua Farmer), and a fourth (offensive lineman Darius Washington) got hurt in the first quarter.

The absence of more than 450 career starts (including 130 of this season’s 286) makes it impossible to come away with any meaningful, big-picture takeaways from the worst loss in program history (topping a 49-0 defeat to Florida in 1973 and 59-10 loss to Clemson in 2018).

Here, then, are four smaller thoughts on an atrocious end to an amazing season, in front of an announced crowd of 63,324 at Hard Rock Stadium:

1. This wasn’t meaningless

Florida State football coach Mike Norvell was more emotional than usual after Saturday's Orange Bowl loss.
Florida State football coach Mike Norvell was more emotional than usual after Saturday's Orange Bowl loss. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]

It’s easy to assume it would be, given how many Seminoles opted out and what Mike Norvell called a “very difficult month” from the College Football Playoff snub. But this game mattered.

Norvell was near tears as he walked silently from the locker room. The postgame news conference was one of the most emotional he has had — which is saying something. Linebacker Kalen DeLoach choked up, too.

“I’m disappointed in the outcome,” Norvell said, “and I’m disappointed in the things that showed up.”

2. Depth is an issue

C.J. Allen inherited a greater role on Georgia's loaded defense. He led the Bulldogs with six tackles.
C.J. Allen inherited a greater role on Georgia's loaded defense. He led the Bulldogs with six tackles. [ JASON GETZ | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ]

If not the issue.

At full strength, the top of FSU’s roster could hang with any team in the country, as shown by a season-opening, three-touchdown win over LSU. The Seminoles’ problem was always farther down the depth chart.

Granted, no team could be down to roughly 53 scholarship players (as FSU was) and still look like a playoff contender. But premier programs are built to handle it better than the Seminoles did.

Premier programs like No. 6 Georgia (13-1).

The Bulldogs had their own attrition with roughly 20 absences. Aside from star tight end Brock Bowers and potential first-round offensive tackle Amarius Mims, most of the losses were rotational players or backups. But they weren’t missed.

Bowers’ replacements were Oscar Delp (three first-half catches, 31 yards), four-star freshman Pearce Spurlin III (31-yard catch in the third quarter) and another four-star freshman, Lawson Luckie (a touchdown catch).

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Georgia’s Mims-less line allowed only one sack and paved the way for the Bulldogs to average more than 11 yards per carry through two quarters. Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards weren’t even touched on their first three touchdown runs.

The Bulldogs defense didn’t look different without five-star end Marvin Jones Jr. (who’s transferring to FSU) or two other departed linebackers with starting experience. That’s a product of the depth Georgia has amassed with eight consecutive top-five recruiting classes, including the No. 1 haul signed this month.

3. There were a few encouraging signs

Brock Glenn looked better in the Orange Bowl than he did in his previous start, even if the numbers didn't reflect it.
Brock Glenn looked better in the Orange Bowl than he did in his previous start, even if the numbers didn't reflect it. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]

Quarterback Brock Glenn’s numbers were not strong: 9-of-26 for 139 yards and two interceptions. But he played better Saturday than he did in his first career start against Louisville four weeks ago.

“In the ACC Championship I had some mistakes, and I went back and I reflected, and I did everything I could to go back and fix the things that I missed on or messed up on, tried to speed up my process...” Glenn said. “I think there’s a lot to learn from in this game, as well, that I’m going to go back and reflect.”

Glenn showed off a strong arm with a 55-yard bomb to Kentron Poitier and was mobile in the pocket. His performance shouldn’t negate FSU’s push to land a veteran (likely Washington State’s Cam Ward or DJ Uiagalelei from Oregon State/Clemson), but the three-star freshman showed a flash or two of developing into a viable quarterback.

Two other Seminoles who stood out: Defensive end Patrick Payton had a strip-sack on Georgia’s fifth offensive play and looks ready to become FSU’s next great pass rusher. Defensive back Shyheim Brown continues to progress and had seven tackles, a quarterback hurry and pass breakup. Both are pieces FSU can build around as it tries to reload a defense that was elite until Saturday.

4. Lack of skill development is concerning

FSU's skill players struggled Saturday without stars like Keon Coleman and Trey Benson.
FSU's skill players struggled Saturday without stars like Keon Coleman and Trey Benson. [ JASON GETZ | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ]

It’s unrealistic to expect plug-and-play replacements for NFL-bound running back Trey Benson, tight end Jaheim Bell and receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson. It is, however, fair to expect more than what FSU showed Saturday. Five-star receiver Hykeem Williams had one catch for nine yards. FSU had only two catches of more than 20 yards and two rushes of more than 10.

Some credit goes to Georgia’s defense. But it’s also problematic that the Seminoles haven’t developed much skill talent outside the portal.

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