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Three thoughts on FSU’s loss to Notre Dame

On Saturday night, Florida State fell to No. 5 Notre Dame 42-26 after taking a 17-14 lead in the opening quarter. The Seminoles are now 1-3 for the first time since 2017 and are also 0-3 in conference play to start 2020. Things won’t get any easier with a top-10 North Carolina team coming to Tallahassee next week.

While some aspects of the game were certainly encouraging, we saw the same mistakes from the defense and frustrating penalities. Here are three thoughts on the game.

1. Florida State has reason for optimism on offense

After looking sloppy on offense in losses to Georgia Tech and Miami to kick off the season. The Seminoles finally found some life on offense last week in the form of Jordan Travis, who led the team to a 41-24 victory. He continued to provide reasons for fans to be optimistic going forward after his performance against Notre Dame. The redshirt sophomore recorded 300 total yards of offense and two touchdowns. We wondered last week if he could utilize his dynamic ability against an FBS defense. Notre Dame had allowed just 13 points in two games entering last night, FSU doubled that on Saturday.

Travis was able to avoid multiple sacks and make plays out of the pocket on designed rollouts either with his arm or legs. He still has a ways to go as a passer but it’s encouraging that he’s unafraid to take chances, trust his receivers and fire it downfield, as evident on the long touchdown to Tamorrion Terry. Speaking of Terry, he showed why he was a star against the Fighting Irish, catching nine passes for 146 yards and a score. Outside of him, four other receivers caught five combined passes, Cam McDonald caught one from Blackman late, and La’Damian Webb and Lawrance Toafili each made a catch. It would help to have more balance in the passing game against North Carolina.

Florida State leaned on Travis (19 carries, 96 yards, 1 TD) and Webb (13 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD) in the running game. Travis made crucial plays with his legs time and time again for the ‘Noles. It wouldn’t be surprising if Webb was the starter moving forward, he’s got a thick lower body and is a tough runner. He was able to break multiple tackles and ran hard all night. Jashaun Corbin and Toafili combined for just five carries. It’ll be interesting to see if Mike Norvell goes back towards the balance his team showed on the ground against Jacksonville State or if this is the new approach.

This team went from dead in the water in the first nine quarters of the season, to looking potentially dynamic on offense. The important thing to remember is Travis has only started for six quarters in his collegiate career, the best is yet to come.

2. Jordan Travis can’t take this type of beating every week

While it’s clear that Travis is Florida State’s most lethal weapon on offense right now, he can’t afford to take these kinds of hits each week. He simply won’t make it through the entire season if he does. Travis was only sacked twice but he took some tough shots on a couple of his 19 carries. He didn’t play on the last drive of the game due to a right-hand injury and he was noticeably holding his right arm at his side at times throughout the night. Travis also took a pretty good hit to the midsection on a designed keeper that took him a few extra seconds to get up from.

Luckily, Travis said after the game that he’s getting some treatment on his hand and he’ll be good to go against UNC. One thing’s for sure, he’s going to be sore for a few days after this one. The thing that makes Travis such a great runner is that he’s shifty and isn’t afraid to put his shoulder down and fight for extra yards. Going forward, it would make sense for the young signal-caller to pick and choose his spots. Don’t be afraid to run out of bounce or slide to live for the next down.

His brother, Devon, was a good baseball player for the Seminoles, maybe he can give him Travis some advice on how to slide. One of the best young dual-threats in the NFL is Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. As a rookie, he took big hits on scrambles which led to injuries and fumbles, this year, he’s utilizing his baseball background to slide.

3. The defense is a disappointment

Coming into this game, we knew Notre Dame had one of the best offensive lines and rushing attacks in the country. That doesn’t make the final result any less disappointing. 554 total yards of offense, 201 through the air, and 353 (!) on the ground. Outside of a fumble recovery and goal-line stand with the game all but over, this was a disaster for a Florida State defense that has few positives to take away from the first four games of the season. It felt like the Fighting Irish ran the same counter play basically the entire night and the Seminoles have no answer for it at all.

Notre Dame averaged 8.4 yards per rush as FSU accumulated just one tackle for loss and ZERO sacks on the evening. Once again, the defensive line failed to put pressure on quarterback Ian Book and couldn’t shed blocks or plug gaps to produce in the run game. Marvin Wilson has been hyped as a potential first-round pick for over a year and he did absolutely NOTHING in this football game. He didn’t have a tackle through the first three quarters and ended up tied with kick-off specialist Parker Grothaus (1) in stops. What an embarrassment. This entire unit has been all hype and no production since game one. Credit to Cory Durden and Fabien Lovett for at least showing up last night.

The linebackers have been even worse outside of Amari Gainer, who led the team with 11 tackles but also got beat in coverage a few times. Emmett Rice and Leonard Warner simply just aren’t talented enough for this level. They missed too many tackles in the run game and were diced up in underneath coverage all night. A failed Warner blitz led to one of the long touchdown runs.

It feels like it’s time to make a change with the lack of consistency in the pass rush or coverage. A few moves I can think of are Gainer down to Fox DE in place of Janarius Robinson, who hasn’t done much of anything, and Jaiden Lars-Woodbey to STUD or OLB. Lars-Woodbey hasn’t performed up to expectation at safety following his return from a serious injury and he’s big enough to play linebacker. Just get Warner to the bench please, I could live with Woodbey, Rice, and Stephen Dix Jr for the time being.

Regardless of where the changes come, they need to and fast. Fans are already beginning to call for defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s job. If it takes pulling the veterans for this unit to begin to have a pulse, do it.

Bonus thought:

4. For the first time in a long time, Florida State competed in a big game

During the Willie Taggart Era, we simply didn’t see Florida State keep games competitive against the elite teams on its schedule. In 2018, the Seminoles lost 59-10 to Clemson, 42-13 to Notre Dame, and 41-14 to Florida. In 2019, they lost to Clemson 45-14 and Florida 40-17. Five games against top-five teams with losses by an average of 45.4-13.6. Basically, when FSU matched up with good competition, they were embarrassed. We saw that again early in 2020 as the ‘Noles lost 52-10 to rival Miami but that was prior to the change at quarterback and without their head coach due to COVID-19.

FSU was a 21.5 point underdog coming into Saturday and not many thought they would keep it close against the Fighting Irish, instead, they made them work for the win. Trailing 14-3 in the first quarter, this team could’ve mailed it in and quit, we watched them do it down in Coral Gables two weeks ago. Instead, they fought back to take a 17-14 lead before Notre Dame went up 35-20 at the break. The Seminoles stayed within reach all night and could’ve cut the deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter but Travis barely missed McDonald on a deep pass to the end zone before eventually being picked off on the drive.

This team didn’t win on Saturday night and it has a lot of work to do but this coaching staff can build off some of the heart and toughness the ‘Noles showed against Notre Dame.


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