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New-look Seminoles offense offers glimpse into the future in loss at NC State

N.C. State running back Ricky Person Jr. (8) tries to escape from Florida State linebacker...
N.C. State running back Ricky Person Jr. (8) tries to escape from Florida State linebacker Amari Gainer (33) during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.(Ethan Hyman | ehyman@newsobserver.com)
Published: Nov. 15, 2020 at 6:19 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Chubba Purdy jogged about 35 yards to the end zone to meet Warren Thompson III, who picked himself up off the Carter-Finley Stadium grass with the ball in his right hand and pumped his fist in celebration.

The sophomore receiver had just climbed over the top of an NC State defensive back to haul in an impressive touchdown reception from his true freshman quarterback with 1:41 left to go. Purdy’s second touchdown pass of the night capped off an impressive seven-play, 74-yard scoring drive with mostly underclassmen on the field. It was a positive finish to an otherwise forgettable evening once again for Florida State (2-6, 1-6 ACC) in a 38-22 loss to NC State (5-3, 5-3 ACC).

Quickly coming over to surround Thompson was La’Damian Webb (sophomore), Keshawn Helton (junior) and Wyatt Rector (sophomore), in addition to Purdy. With several injuries and opt-outs happening this past week, those five will be a key part of the Florida State offense for its remaining three games left in 2020, and possibly next season too.

Jordan Travis not making the trip to Raleigh due to an injury sustained last week against Pitt, along with James Blackman leaving the program earlier this week, left Mike Norvell with just two scholarship quarterbacks - both true freshmen - on the roster Saturday.

Purdy made history by becoming the fourth different quarterback to start a game for FSU in 2020.

The Seminoles are the first team to start four quarterbacks in one season since Kent State in 2016 and the first ACC team since 2004. Florida State also has not done that since 1985.

With a true freshman quarterback getting his first career start against a solid conference opponent, some early growing pains were to be expected, especially without top pass-catcher Tamorrion Terry and offensive tackle Devontay Love-Taylor.

But even against a pedestrian NC State defense that entered Saturday allowing an ACC-high 472.1 yards per game, the Seminoles really struggled early without some of their key players. Florida State gained just 98 total yards in the first half (3.5 yards per play).

Terry’s absence left the offense without a consistent big-play threat on the outside and Purdy was under constant duress without Love-Taylor in the lineup. It got even worse when Darius Washington went down in the first quarter with an apparent leg injury.

The Seminoles scored just three points in the first half, but then Norvell seemed to open up the playbook a bit more for Purdy with the game pretty much out of hand. The 2020 four-star prospect from Arizona responded by showing off his impressive combination of mobility and arm talent that drew Norvell’s interest after he was hired back in December.

Purdy finished the game going 15-of-23 for 181 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He led three touchdown drives and completed two passes of 20-plus yards in the fourth quarter, including a 69-yard bomb to Ontaria Wilson where he spun out of pressure before showing off his arm strength.

“In the second half, I felt like we started opening up a lot of our plays that we were doing throughout the week,” Purdy said. “I felt like in the first half, we were just handing it off a lot, and we were just trying to be consistent in getting yards. I felt like in the second half, we really let it loose.”

After Purdy’s first three series, Norvell turned to fellow freshman Tate Rodemaker for two drives to close out the second quarter. Rodemaker completed 3-of-5 passes for 19 yards with an interception and did not lead the Seminoles to any points.

Norvell went back to Purdy to start the third quarter and rode him the rest of the way, which made a big difference. The multiple switches early in the game seemed to make it even more difficult for the two freshmen to establish any rhythm with the offense.

“We knew we were going to get Tate in there around the fourth drive,” Norvell said. “We wanted to get Tate in a two-minute situation there before the half. But yeah, that was our plan throughout the course of the week. Both of those guys were preparing, both of those guys are doing good things.”

Purdy’s second-half production was all in garbage time, which Pro Football Focus defines as trailing by 21 or more at any point in a game, so it’s difficult to conclusively determine whether his performance was a harbinger or a result of NC State’s defense playing with less urgency.

On the other hand, Florida State has been in those garbage time situations often this season, but that hasn’t necessarily made generating offense easier. In fact, Saturday was the first time since the Notre Dame game on Oct. 10 that the Seminoles scored any offensive points in the second half.

So the fact Purdy led Florida State to 19 second-half points against NC State after going a full month without scoring in the final 30 minutes at all is encouraging.

Purdy made brief appearances at the end of Florida State’s previous two games against Louisville and Pitt, but both games were well out of reach by the time he entered.

Saturday was the first time Purdy took the majority of the snaps for the entire game, and it provided the first good look at his long term potential.

“That felt good,” Purdy said. “I haven’t done something like that in a whole year. The last time I did that was my senior year, last November. It felt really nice to go in and starting fresh, and knowing this game depends on me and how I played and how my team played.”

Norvell would not commit to naming a starter for next week after the game. At this point, Florida State has nothing significant to play for in 2020. Even if it wins all three of its remaining games, the Seminoles will still be below .500.

That being said, it may be wise to ride with Purdy as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season even if Travis comes back healthy. Travis is undoubtedly the best option to win now, but that doesn’t matter at this point. Norvell has also already seen enough to know what he has when Travis leads the offense.

With Florida State not a factor in the ACC race at this point, why not use these last three games to see what Purdy can do and assess if he or Travis is the better option to lead the offense next season? More importantly, it would help determine if Purdy is a quarterback around whom Norvell can legitimately construct his roster for the next two or three years.

Rodemaker is only a freshman too, but Purdy was the higher-rated recruit and has not flashed nearly the same potential in a small sample size.

If Norvell believes right now that Purdy is the future of this team, then he needs to be the starter against No. 4 Clemson next week.

Even if Travis is healthy enough to play against the Tigers, Florida State will have to pull off a miracle to win next week’s game, so why not give Purdy the experience of playing against top competition early in his career before he heads into his first offseason with the team?

Giving Purdy his second-career start against a national championship-caliber opponent might look ugly this year, but Florida State gains a lot more long-term by letting the young quarterback get his feet wet in this kind of game.

Let him continue to develop chemistry with the other young offense players like Webb, Thompson, Helton and Wilson, who will likely all be returning next year with Purdy. The more reps all of them get together, the better the offense will be next season.

Assuming Norvell continues to lead the Seminoles to gradual improvements over time, allowing Purdy to learn how to manage the adversity he’ll face against a team like Clemson will only prepare him more for big games in the future.

That will only lead to better results if and when Norvell can put the pieces together for Florida State to be a legitimate challenger in the ACC.

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