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Upon further review: FSU Football week 1 standouts and more takeaways

No. 9 Notre Dame escaped with a 41-38 win vs. Florida State Sunday
No. 9 Notre Dame escaped with a 41-38 win vs. Florida State Sunday(247Noles)
Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 9:35 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2021 at 9:15 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - No. 9 Notre (1-0) defeated Florida State (0-1) 41-38 in an overtime thriller Sunday night. Here are some takeaways from the Seminoles’ performance on both sides of the ball after rewatching the film.

A more in-depth look at the quarterbacks’ performance can be found here.

Offense notes

One of the most pressing questions coming into Week 1 was how Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham would split up carries among three or four quality running backs. Auburn transfer DJ Williams did not play Sunday night, which meant all the snaps were divided among Jashaun Corbin, Treshaun Ward and Lawrance Toafili. Corbin, as expected, started the game, and led the team in carries (15) and yards (144). After that, it was a mild surprise to see Ward start the second series at running back instead of Toafili. Ward was featured on a couple of drives during the second half. He had multiple runs where he showed terrific patience and excellent vision before turning on a second gear in the open field. His downhill, one-cut running style is a great luxury to have later in games as defenses start to wear down. Ward had the second-most carries among the three running backs (11) and 60 of his 76 yards came in the second half.

How the wide receiver group rotated reps was another interesting part of the offense to monitor. Keyshawn Helton, Andrew Parchment and Ontaria Wilson were the first three in the game as expected. It also was not surprising to see true freshman Malik McClain be the first receiver off the bench. McClain made only one reception, but it was a nice catch and run for 21 yards. On Florida State’s fourth possession, redshirt freshman Darion Williamson was inserted. Williamson was not expected to be much of a contributor following spring ball, but after a strong preseason camp, it looks like he will have a role. True freshman Joshua Burrell checked in on FSU’s fifth series. Burrell had no catches, but he could develop into a nice red-zone target later in the year with his 6-4 frame. He’s a good blocker on the perimeter too. Redshirt freshman Kentron Poitier also saw the field on Florida State’s 10th possession.

One thing that got lost in the shuffle of the McKenzie Milton mania was the changes along the offensive line during the second half. Here was the starting group: LT Robert Scott, LG Dillan Gibbons, C Maurice Smith, RG Devontay Love-Taylor, RT Darius Washington. At the start of the second half, Baveon Johnson replaced Smith. Norvell said after the game Smith was banged up coming into the game and that it got to a point where Johnson was the better option for the rest of the night. Smith had a couple of bad snaps in the first half that could have resulted in turnovers. More curious though was the decision to replace Devontay Love-Taylor at right guard with Dontae Lucas at the end of the third quarter. Love-Taylor looked like he was limping a bit on the possession before he was removed. However, when Gibbons went down in overtime, Love-Taylor came back in at right guard and Lucas moved to left guard to replace Gibbons.

It was interesting that Florida State’s two longest carries of the night by running backs resulted from the same play concept.

Corbin run pre-snap
Corbin run pre-snap(WCTV)

On Corbin’s 89-yard touchdown run, the left guard (Gibbons) and the left tackle (Scott) pulled to the right side of the offensive line. Gibbons does a nice job sealing the defender on the edge, while Scott does a good job getting to the second level to take the linebacker and create a big hole for Corbin.

Corbin run blockers pull
Corbin run blockers pull(WCTV)

Corbin makes a nice cut and shows the speed to go the distance. He looks much more explosive this season after being another year removed from his leg injury in 2019. He might not have scored on this play last year, but Corbin looks primed for a breakout year.

The Seminoles ran the same concept to the opposite side on a 20-yard Toafili run at the start of the second quarter. In that case, it was Love-Taylor and Washington pulling to the left side to open a nice hole.

More first down success leads to more third-down success

Florida State scored 24 second-half points after netting just 14 in the first half. One of the reasons the Seminoles had more success in the final 30 minutes was their increased efficiency on third downs. Florida State was just 1-for-6 on third downs in the first half and 6-for-10 in the second half.

Here’s the key. FSU was far more efficient on first downs in the second half, which often made converting third downs easier. Take a look at the disparity in first-down production between the two halves.

  • Travis complete to Corbin, -5 yards
  • Ward carry, 0 yards
  • Travis incomplete pass, 0 yards
  • Travis carry, 1 yard
  • Travis sacked, -5 yards
  • Travis complete to McClain, 21 yards
  • *Corbin carry, 6 yards
  • Bad snap, -5 yards
  • Travis complete to Corbin, 10 yards
  • Travis sacked, -13 yards

*followed two false starts, net -4 yards

END HALF

  • Toafili carry, 2 yards
  • Corbin carry, 2 yards
  • Travis incomplete pass, 0 yards
  • Travis incomplete pass, 0 yards
  • Travis carry, 3 yards
  • Ward carry, 2 yards
  • Corbin carry, 9 yards
  • Ward carry, 13 yards
  • Toafili carry, 10 yards
  • Toafili carry, 1 yard
  • Travis incomplete pass, 0 yards
  • Milton sacked, -3 yards
  • Milton complete to Douglas, -2 yards
  • Corbin carry, 4 yards
  • Milton carry, 5 yards
  • Ward carry, 12 yards
  • Milton carry, 4 yards
  • Corbin carry, 5 yards

Two first-and-goal plays that resulted in two-yard touchdown carries were removed to avoid skewing the average.

In general, FSU generated a lot more positive outcomes on first down during the second half. Only two of its 18 first-down plays in the second half resulted in a negative play. The Seminoles had a much easier time sustaining drives because of it. With Travis in the game especially, staying on schedule in early downs is so important in order to piece together long drives.

In the first half, Florida State had eight drives. Its longest one lasted six plays and only one other time did the Seminoles exceed three plays.

In the second half, they put together scoring drives of 15 plays (touchdown), 12 plays (touchdown) and 10 plays (field goal).

Defense notes

Florida State believes it has three interior defensive linemen in Fabien Lovett, Robert Cooper and Dennis Briggs, Jr. who could start for a lot of power-five teams. Those three rotated along the interior defensive line throughout the game, as expected. The fourth interior defensive lineman to see time was sophomore Jarrett Jackson. He was competing with Malcolm Ray and Joshua Farmer for that last rotational role. Norvell went out of his way multiple times in camp to mention Jackson as a guy who could make an impact on the defensive line this year. He had two tackles Sunday.

In Florida State’s visit to Notre Dame last year, the Seminoles had a difficult time containing the running back duo of Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree, who each ran for over 100 yards in that game. FSU’s defensive line was one of its most disappointing groups on the team last year, but that was not the case Sunday. Williams and Tyree combined for just 73 yards on 25 carries in large part because of how well the defensive line clogged up running lanes between the tackles.

The difference in the game was Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan surprisingly throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns. However, after going back and watching the tape, there was only one massive coverage bust in the FSU secondary on Sunday. It was the fourth-and-1 play on the first series of the game that led to a 41-yard touchdown catch by Michael Mayer.

Mayer TD
Mayer TD(WCTV)

In this play, Florida State brought a zone blitz from the left side with Travis Jay on an island to the right. Notre Dame had Williams run to the flat and Mayer run a corner route up top. Jay decided to take Williams in the flat, which left Mayer wide open downfield because of all the defenders allocated to the other side of the field.

Other than that, FSU’s coverage in the secondary forced Coan to make some difficult throws into tight windows. He just executed perfectly several times. Coan had two long completions to Kevin Austin, Jr. with Jarvis Brownlee and Travis Jay, respectively, right there with him. On one of his touchdown passes, Jay had perfect coverage on Joe Wilkins, Jr. but Wilkins just wrestled the ball from him on the way to the ground. The secondary might be viewed as a major concern after Sunday, but they played better than the numbers indicate.

Norvell’s two critical game-management decisions

There were two game-management decisions from Norvell that were heavily scrutinized. The first instance was midway through the third quarter when Norvell decided to go for it from his own 33. It resulted in Travis throwing his third interception of the night and Notre Dame subsequently scoring a touchdown to open up a 38-20 lead.

Not a lot made sense about this sequence. First of all, the two plays called before the fourth-down play were Corbin runs out of the wildcat. I’ve never understood the point of the wildcat. Unless you are occasionally going to throw the ball out of this formation (which nobody ever does), it is the most predictable offense a team can run. Everyone in the stadium knows that the back is just going to take the direct snap and keep it himself, while the quarterback stands out wide and halfheartedly acts as a decoy. It’s basically playing 10-on-11.

Second, although the defense had just allowed consecutive touchdown drives, it was only an 11-point game by then with an entire quarter left to play still. Why such desperation so early? Furthermore, Florida State has one of the best punters in the country at its disposal. Why not pin Notre Dame deep and make its offense drive the length of the field?

The second instance was in overtime when Norvell called a timeout that wiped out Ryan Fitzgerald making a 50-yard field goal. The previous play was ruled a fumble and Norvell wanted to challenge that it was an incomplete pass in order to give his kicker a closer attempt. Norvell won the challenge and it resulted in Fitzgerald missing a much closer 37-yarder to keep the game tied. Despite the outcome, it was absolutely the correct decision on his part.

First of all, on the negated 50-yarder that Fitzgerald made, the play had already been blown dead, and there were no rushers coming after him. Because of that, Fitzgerald took his time on the approach, which made the kick easier than it would have been had the play been live. In addition, Fitzgerald’s career-long to that point was only 43 yards. Why should Norvell be confident that he will knock through a kick seven yards longer than his career-long when the pressure has never been higher?

Further, even if Norvell does not call timeout and Fitzgerald makes the kick, there’s no guarantee Notre Dame settles for a field goal on its next possession. If Florida State had scored, the Irish would have been much more aggressive with their play calling, rather than three straight conservative plays to set up a field goal. But because they needed only three points, they smartly took the safe route and settled for the field goal to win.

Stock up

DE Jermaine Johnson

Johnson was the best defensive player on the field Sunday night for Florida State. He had seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. All of that production came in the first half, but he went back to the locker room for a series in the second half and didn’t play as many snaps. It was an impressive FSU debut for the Georgia transfer.

DE Quashon Fuller

Fuller was the first defensive end to come into the game behind Johnson and Keir Thomas. He had three tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Fuller looks primed for a big step forward in his second year.

QB McKenzie Milton

Milton led two long scoring drives to tie the game at 38 before the end of regulation. His final stat line (5-for-7, 48 yards) does not stand out but he made a couple of big-time throws and looked much like the quarterback who threw for nearly 9,000 yards in three seasons at UCF. Expect him to be a bigger part of the offense moving forward.

RBs Jashaun Corbin/Treshaun Ward

Corbin and Ward received the bulk of the carries, combing for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts. Corbin looks more explosive than ever, while Ward’s vision and shiftiness are a nice complement. They could be an excellent one-two punch.

RB/WR Ja’Khi Douglas

Douglas transitioned from running back to more of a receiving role this offseason and it looks like he’s going to be a nice fit there. He had three catches for 80 yards, including the biggest pass play of the night that went for a 60-yard score. It will open up Florida State’s offense if he can provide the home run threat he showed Sunday.

CB Jarvis Brownlee

Brownlee looked like one of the most physical players on the field Sunday. He had six tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. The redshirt freshman cornerback consistently got downhill and was a factor against the run. He also held up in coverage pretty well and looks much improved in that area from last year.

S Akeem Dent/Sidney Williams

The two safeties combined for 11 tackles and each delivered a couple of hard hits on the back end. Dent made the transition back to safety after struggling at cornerback last year and is finding some success.

Stock down

QB Jordan Travis

Despite clear improvements as a passer in the offseason, Notre Dame exploited some limitations that Travis still has in that department. He completed just 9 of 19 passes for 130 yards with two touchdowns but three interceptions too. He was also well off the mark on a couple of short passes to open receivers. When Travis’s running ability is neutralized, FSU is a bit limited in what it can do offensively.

WR Ontaria Wilson

Wilson led the Seminoles in receiving last year among returning players and the staff is hopeful he takes a significant step forward this season. He had just one catch for -2 yards Sunday. His most memorable play was committing a false start penalty on a screen pass designed for him.

TE Cam McDonald

McDonald is another player expected to take a step forward in his second year as a starter. The tight end was not targeted once despite being on the field most of the game.

C Maurice Smith

Maybe this isn’t fair since it sounds like Smith was hurt throughout the week and questionable to play. That might explain why he struggled a bit in pass protection. However, he also had a couple of poor snaps, which is a recurring issue, and there were no such problems when Baveon Johnson replaced him in the second half.

LB Stephen Dix, Jr.

Dix was the favorite to claim one of the starting linebacker spots after a nice spring, but Kalen DeLoach and DJ Lundy have since outplayed him. Dix had only one tackle. On a big third-and-goal situation late in the game, Dix had a chance to stop Kyren Williams short of the goal line, but he missed the tackle and Williams scored to extend Notre Dame’s lead.

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