FSU first thoughts: Offense struggles without Jordan Travis, poor tackling looms large in loss

McKenzie Milton made his fourth start of the season in FSU's loss against NC State
McKenzie Milton made his fourth start of the season in FSU's loss against NC State(247Noles)
Published: Nov. 6, 2021 at 8:59 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Florida State (3-6, 2-4 ACC) fell to NC State (7-2, 4-1 ACC) Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium for its second consecutive loss.

Florida State had a number of players battling the flu throughout the week, which caused several key players to miss some practice time leading up to the game. The most notable of those players was starting quarterback Jordan Travis.

Head coach Mike Norvell said after the game that there was no way Travis would have been able to play Saturday given his condition, and FSU’s offense struggled to move the ball without him.

Below are a few quick takeaways and observations from Saturday’s game.

Offense struggles without Travis

A player’s value is often best measured when he is not present. In Florida State’s case, Jordan Travis’ value to the Seminoles’ offense has never been clearer than it was on Saturday.

Travis’ absence combined with Chubba Purdy entering the transfer portal earlier this week, left Florida State with just three quarterbacks for Saturday in McKenzie Milton, Tate Rodemaker and Gino English.

FSU totaled just 271 yards of offense in the game with Milton making his fourth start of the season. The Seminoles had owned one of the best rushing offenses in the country coming into Saturday, but without the threat of Travis’ legs, they ran for a season-low 38 yards.

Florida State had seven drives in the first half. Here is how each of them ended.

FSU first-half drive chart vs. NC State
FSU first-half drive chart vs. NC State(WCTV)

Those seven drives included the following:

  • 0 points
  • 78 total yards
  • 2.8 yards per play
  • 0-for-8 3rd downs
  • 7 completions
  • 6 punts
  • 1 interception

The Seminoles found a spark at the beginning of the second half after Norvell made a gutsy call to unleash a surprise onside kick, which the Seminoles recovered. FSU subsequently put together a 7-play, 51-yard touchdown drive that ended with a wild 8-yard touchdown pass from Milton to Keyshawn Helton.

After NC State answered with a touchdown drive of its own to extend its lead to 21-7, the Seminoles responded with its best drive of the day. They marched 75 yards down the field on 9 plays, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run by Jashaun Corbin out of the wildcat.

Florida State failed to score the rest of the game though, as its final five drives ended three punts, including two three-and-outs and two turnovers on downs.

The Seminoles also converted just 2-of-16 third downs, and outside of the two touchdown drives to start the second half, they averaged just 2.0 yards per play.

Norvell and several players after the game downplayed the impact of not having Travis available, but the data is clear.

In the last four games that Travis has started, the Seminoles averaged 36.7 points per game. In the four games that Milton has started this season, that figure dips all the way to 17.0.

Explosive plays, poor tackling loom large

Florida State’s defense played a decent game overall, holding NC State to 400 yards of total offense, including just 86 yards and 2.3 yards per rush. However, explosive plays in the passing game continued to be a problem.

Three plays, in particular, doomed the Florida State defense Saturday. The Seminoles allowed three touchdown passes of over 40 yards and all of them could have been prevented with better tackling at the second level.

NC State’s first play of its second drive was a 62-yard touchdown pass from Devin Leary to Christopher Toudle, in which Jarrian Jones got burned off the line of scrimmage. Jones was in a good position to bring the receiver down after the catch but whiffed, allowing Toudle to run another 20 yards for the score.

The second explosive touchdown came on a third-and-1 from the FSU 45. Leary simply dumped off a short completion in the flat to Trent Pennix, who made one man miss along the sideline and then forced a couple more missed tackles as he cut it back towards the middle of the field and took it to the house.

The final long touchdown came on another key third-down situation. This time it was a third-and-10 from the FSU 43. Florida State brought a blitz and NC State dialed up a clever slip screen to Ricky Person out of the backfield. Jones was the only defender in sight that had a chance to bring him down short of the marker, but he missed and Person outran the rest of the FSU defense on his way to the end zone. Jones had been coming along after a rough start to the season, but he struggled mightily on Saturday. If he makes that tackle, FSU is still trailing by only one score with an opportunity for its offense to tie the game.

Excluding those three big plays, Florida State allowed just 3.79 yards per play. Overall, the defense played a solid game, but the three long touchdowns, mainly due to poor tackling in space were backbreaking.

Bowl chances dwindling

Before last week, it seemed like Florida State had a tremendous opportunity to put together a strong finish to the regular season and find its way into bowl eligibility. Two losses later though, and reaching six wins will be a daunting task.

Florida State had its chances to beat a struggling Clemson team on the road last week but couldn’t put away the Tigers late. If Travis is available against NC State, Saturday is likely a different game. FSU now must go 3-0 against Miami, Boston College and Florida to become bowl eligible.

Miami has won three straight contests and looks like a much more formidable opponent since inserting Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback. Meanwhile, Boston College is a lot more dangerous now too after Phil Jurkovec, one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, returned to the lineup this week. And for all of the drama surrounding Florida over the past several weeks, the Gators are still one of the most talented teams in the country.

Making a bowl game would have qualified as a very successful year in Norvell’s second season, and what’s disappointing is the number of narrow losses that could end up preventing Florida State from reaching that point.

The Seminoles’ first two losses of the season were by a combined six points, one of which came on a 59-yard touchdown pass against Jacksonville State as time expired. They also came up short on a furious second-half rally against Louisville after falling behind 31-7 at the half, and then there was last week’s loss at Clemson, a game which Florida State probably should have won.

If Florida State wins two or even one of those games, there is far less pressure on it to reach six wins. Now, the Seminoles have no margin for error.

It is clear that Norvell has this program heading in the right direction and that an infusion of talent is necessary. That will take time. However, a bowl-eligible season in Year 2 after inheriting one of the most difficult rebuilding jobs in the country would have accelerated that process. Bowl eligibility is still attainable, but the possibility of that happening is quickly evaporating.

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