Five observations from the Garnet & Gold Spring Game

Mike Norvell coaches his first Garnet and Gold game since as Florida State's head coach.
Mike Norvell coaches his first Garnet and Gold game since as Florida State's head coach.(WCTV)
Published: Apr. 10, 2021 at 9:18 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Florida State held its annual Garnet & Gold game Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in front of about 10,000 fans. The Seminoles’ offense won 27-0 in the two 12-minute quarter game between the Seminoles’ offense and defense.

Head coach Mike Norvell said after the game that FSU will have its 15th and final spring practice Sunday after the team watches film from Saturday’s game.

Here are five observations from Saturday.

1. QB competition is a two-man race

Arguably the biggest storyline throughout spring practice has been Florida State’s quarterback competition. Jordan Travis was at times electrifying last season with his tantalizing combination of athleticism and deep-ball accuracy. Adding McKenzie Milton as a grad transfer early in the offseason to a quarterback room that also includes two touted second-year signal-callers, Tate Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy, made this group a lot more interesting to monitor this spring.

Purdy has been out all spring recovering from a shoulder injury, so he will have some ground to make up in fall camp.

Rodemaker has earned rave reviews throughout the spring for his improvement since being thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season. However, he struggled mightily throughout Saturday’s game. On his first series, he was intercepted by freshman cornerback Kevin Knowles.

Rodemaker looked a bit slow to get through some of his reads and did not push the ball downfield very much. The lone downfield shot he took before his final drive of the game in garbage time was underthrown ball down the seam to freshman receiver Joshua Burrell. He made a couple of nice throws that led to 20-plus yard plays on his last series, but he also took several sacks that resulted from him just holding on to the ball too long.

Right now, this competition is clearly a two-man race between Travis and Milton, who both looked excellent at times Saturday.

Travis finished the afternoon 8-for-14 with 115 yards and a touchdown pass. It was a nice finish to an impressive spring for him. Travis was the first quarterback to take snaps in the game. He ended his first drive with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Malik McClain over the middle after evading pressure. As he often does, he made several defenders miss in space once he got out of the pocket and took off. His best play of the day came on his second drive when he escaped pressure up the middle, rolled to his right, kept his eyes downfield and completed a pass deep over the middle of the field to Cam McDonald for a 35-yard gain.

Travis just looks much more comfortable going through his progressions quicker and delivering the ball on time and accurately. His short and intermediate passing was a weakness last year, but he looks improved in that area.

Milton had some ups and downs throughout the spring while learning a new offense and getting his first live-action since his gruesome knee injury at UCF in 2018.

He finished 6-for-11 with 96 yards and a passing touchdown and led scoring drives in his first two series. Milton made a few big-time throws Saturday, most notably a dime down the seam to Burrell for 39 yards. The play before that throw, he climbed the pocket and scrambled for 14 yards. Milton looks very comfortable moving around on his right leg and has seemed to rediscover much of the athleticism that made him so dynamic at UCF. It’s a miracle that he is even able to play football again after his injury, but he now seems like a legitimate contender for the starting quarterback job.

2. Young receivers shine

The wide receivers were another group to monitor this spring after they were a bit disappointing last season.

McClain and Burrell were both signed in the 2021 recruiting cycle and enrolled early this spring. They have each gotten plenty of opportunities in practice and have been two of the most impressive players on the offense.

McClain finished his spring with an outstanding performance Saturday, making three catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. He had the 44-yard touchdown catch from Travis on the first drive of the game, but his best play of the day came two drives later with Milton in the game. On a third-and-17 play, McClain beat Akeem Dent down the field and made a tremendous diving catch for a 27-yard gain along the right sideline.

Burrell had just one catch on the 39-yard pass from Milton, but he frequently got good separation out of his breaks and looked explosive. Burrell looks like he’ll have a role as a true freshman.

A third impressive young receiver Saturday hasn’t been talked about nearly as much this spring as McClain and Burrell, but he has been a reliable target. Bryan Robinson had three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.

On his touchdown reception, Robinson made a nice sliding catch at the goal line on the back-shoulder throw from Milton. Robinson redshirted last season as a freshman but will have an opportunity to crack the receiver rotation this fall.

3. Jermaine Johnson looks like the real deal

Outside of Milton, Johnson was probably the biggest FSU addition of the offseason.

The transfer from Georgia has stood out with his speed off the edge and ability to pressure the quarterback. He played for only a few series early on Saturday, but in that span, he had two sacks and another quarterback hurry.

He limped off the field and did not return to the game after the big pass play from Travis to McDonald, but his impact on the defense was obvious even in limited action.

Johnson had four sacks at Georgia last season, which would have led all FSU players last season. He is the type of athlete off the edge the Seminoles were in dire need of last season.

Johnson will be a major difference-maker for the Seminoles’ defense in 2021. He looks like a future pro.

4. Offensive line still has a long way to go

It would be premature to draw any sweeping conclusions about the Florida State’s offensive line outlook for 2021 at this point. This unit was missing a number of key players to injuries throughout spring ball, which Norvell said after the game often affected their execution.

However, this area has been the team’s most glaring weakness every year since the end of the Jimbo Fisher era, and it’s safe to say that will be the case once again this fall.

The defensive front consistently won the line of scrimmage throughout the spring, and the offensive line looked overwhelmed throughout Saturday afternoon. Thirteen sacks were allowed in Saturday’s game. To be fair, a couple of the sacks on Travis were ones that he probably escapes in a full-contact game, and at least three sacks resulted from Rodemaker holding onto the ball far too long. However, FSU’s defensive front consistently collapsed the pocket and forced the quarterbacks to improvise. Travis and Milton are both more than capable of making plays in those situations, but that is not sustainable over a full season.

The good news is that the offensive line played well enough to get Florida State’s shifty running backs in space a few times. Lawrence Toafili and Treshaun Ward combined for 87 yards on 11 carries (7.9 yards per rush). Florida State running backs had five rushes of at least 10 yards and two carries of at least 20 yards.

Florida State will have a much better idea of its offensive line situation later in the offseason as key pieces like Devontay Love-Taylor, Brady Scott, Thomas Shrader and Baveon Johnson get healthy and work their way back into the mix.

5. Kevin Knowles continues to make strong first impression

Florida State’s staff has been pleased with freshman cornerback Kevin Knowles’ consistency in his first spring with the team.

He continued to be a factor in the secondary in Saturday’s game. In his first series, Knowles had a tackle for loss and then picked off a deep throw along the left sideline.

Later on, Knowles broke up a pass in the flat to RB Corey Wren by delivering a big hit as soon as the ball hit Wren’s hands.

Norvell said after the game that Knowles has the versatility to play multiple positions in Florida State’s defense. He could push for some playing time in a deep defensive backfield.

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