Florida State coach Mike Norvell tested positive for COVID-19 a week before the Seminoles game against Miami What he saw, watching last Saturday's game on TV nearly 500 miles away, was a reflection of just how challenging his rebuilding job will be.
The first-year Seminoles coach watched his team commit 12 penalties for 113 yards, while three interceptions — by three quarterbacks — halted the offense’s efficiency in a 52-10 loss to Miami. And the Seminoles’ defense allowed Miami to convert on 11 of 16 third-down plays.
“We understand that there’s great strides that need to be made and they need to be made quickly,” Norvell said. “And that’s one of the things that we’ve emphasized that we have to be able to carry over the work from practice into the game and maintain that consistency.”
The Seminoles are 18-20 in the last three seasons, struggles under coaches Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart as well as mixed success in Odell Haggins’ two stints as interim head coach in 2017 and ’19. Norvell went 38-16 in four years at Memphis but the Seminoles have looked shaky in their first two games.
Norvell talked about details, discipline and communication as part of the areas he is looking for improvement as the Seminoles move forward to Saturday’s game against Jacksonville State, which will be playing for the first time in 2020.
The Gamecocks may play in the FCS, but they present a challenge with quarterback Zerrick Cooper — who has thrown for 3,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. Cooper will face a Florida State defense that has recorded just one sack despite returning experience across the defensive line.
“We got to keep trying to build it,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said of the pass rush. “We’ve got to create it with just volume of players. We try to pressure more schematically, just bring people — corners, linebacker, safeties.”
Norvell has a dilemma on offense, too. Starting quarterback James Blackman has struggled, completing just 56.5% of his passes. But the supporting cast overall hasn’t helped as Tamorrion Terry, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, did not have a catch against Miami while the running game has been held to just 3.7 yards per carry.
“I truly embrace the times when things aren’t going well, when you have that opportunity to truly help lift guys up and kind of refocus them,” Norvell said.
That opportunity continues Saturday against Jacksonville State. Some other areas to watch:
Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, Florida State’s preseason All-American, will miss the first half of Saturday’s game as he serves the remainder of the targeting penalty from the second half against Miami. The status of defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, the team’s leading tackler in 2019, are also questionable with knee injuries.
Florida State had a non-conference schedule of Florida, West Virginia, Boise State and Samford. None of the matchups materialized and the Seminoles instead turned to Jacksonville State, with administrators agreeing to a game in a flurry of conversations over just six days. Jacksonville State will earn a $400,000 guarantee.
Jacksonville State features Cooper, a redshirt senior who has thrown 60 career touchdown passes (one shy of tying Ed Lett’s school record). Cooper, who began his college career at Clemson, is the only quarterback in JSU history to surpass the 3,000-yard mark in a season and his 32 touchdown passes in 2018 is also a school record.
John Grass has won 76.3 percent of his games at Jacksonville State, which is second among active FCS coaches who have been a head coach for at least 30 games. Grass is 58-18 at Jacksonville State, which plays an abbreviated fall schedule of four October games. The Gamecocks will also face Mercer, North Alabama and Florida International.
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