Just because Florida State hired a new coach it didn’t mean the program’s problems were all of a sudden going to disappear. And that was very apparent as the Mike Norvell era kicked off with a miserable 16-13 loss to Georgia Tech in Tallahassee.
Saturday’s loss looked a lot like the two openers the Seminoles played under Willie Taggart — ugly losses that FSU fans have tried to forget. It was more of what we’ve come to expect from Florida State in recent years, especially on offense.
There was leaky offensive line play, an inability to establish any semblance of a run game, receivers failing to get much separation and lackluster quarterback play. All of that allowed the Yellow Jackets — the team predicted to finish last in the ACC — to hang around even as they made mistake after mistake.
Jeff Sims, the Yellow Jackets’ true freshman QB, threw two ugly first half interceptions in FSU territory. On top of that, three Georgia Tech kicks — two chip shot field goals and an extra point — were blocked. Yet despite all of that, Florida State was stuck after it got out to a 10-0 lead.
The Seminoles actually scored on their first two drives to attain that margin, but Norvell’s touted offense mostly floundered from there. James Blackman, now in his third season as FSU’s starting QB, couldn’t get anything going against a Georgia Tech defense that was one of the ACC’s worst in 2019.
The Yellow Jackets would eventually chip away at the lead and eventually tied the game on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sims to Malachi Carter early in the fourth. The extra point was blocked, so the game remained tied at 13-13 — but not for long. On the ensuing drive, Blackman was strip-sacked by Curtis Ryans and the fumble was returned deep into FSU territory, setting up the go-ahead field goal with 8:56 to play.
One would think that was plenty of time for FSU to retake the lead, but Blackman and the offense could not muster a single point. Blackman finished 23-of-43 for just 198 yards and, most discouragingly, made a lot of the same mistakes he has made throughout his career. He was slow with his reads and often held on to the ball too long.
But all of the blame can’t fall on Blackman’s shoulders. The offensive line still needs a ton of work and the defense allowed Georgia Tech to accumulate 438 yards with Sims — an FSU commit until Taggart was fired— leading the way with 277 passing yards and 64 rushing yards.
Norvell was known for coaching up high-powered offenses during his time at Memphis. Any time there is a coaching transition, it is going to take some time for a team to adapt to a new coach’s system. That is especially the case in a pandemic-affected offseason. Still, what you saw on Saturday was a Florida State program with a long way to go before it gets back to any semblance of its winning ways.
Here are this week’s winners and losers:
D’Eriq King: To put it mildly, quarterback play at Miami has been an issue in recent years. But Houston transfer D’Eriq King may be the answer to The U’s problems in 2020. In the Hurricanes’ 31-14 win over UAB on Thursday, King missed a few gimme throws but showed his dynamic athletic ability. King scrambled away from pass rushers with ease and ended up finishing the night with 83 yards rushing, 144 yards passing and two total TDs. King’s efforts were part of an excellent Miami rushing attack that totaled 337 yards, including a 134-yard, two-touchdown performance from Cam’Ron Harris. It was a promising debut for Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee as the Canes enter ACC play.
Spencer Rattler: Sure, it was only Missouri State, but Spencer Rattler still shined in his debut as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback. Rattler completed 14 of his 17 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns and played only the first half as the Sooners cruised to a 48-0 win. His first two touchdown passes were Kyler Murray-esque bombs, going 58 and 53 yards to Marvin Mims and Charleston Rambo, respectively. Rattler, a five-star prospect from the 2019 class, backed up Jalen Hurts last fall and now will look to lead OU back to the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame: Notre Dame wasn’t overly impressive in its 27-13 win over Duke in Saturday’s opener but showed it has two names to know at running back in 2020. Kyren Williams saw brief action last year and took a redshirt. Now he is the Irish’s top back. He showed why against the Blue Devils, putting up 112 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Williams also caught two balls for 93 yards, including a 75-yard catch-and-run. His backup, true freshman Chris Tyree, showed some juice too. The top-100 recruit rushed six times for 20 yards and also had a few nice kick returns.
Louisville: Louisville’s highly-touted offense was on display in its season-opening win over Western Kentucky. The Cardinals racked up 487 yards of offense in a 35-21 win, including a passing effort of 343 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Micale Cunningham. Cunningham’s 70-yard connection with Dez Fitzpatrick in the third quarter pretty much put the game out of reach. UL is going to be a team nobody in the ACC wants to play.
Army: Through two games, Army has outscored its two opponents 79-7 and combined for a whopping 776 rushing yards in the process. In the opener, the Black Knights destroyed Middle Tennessee 42-0. On Saturday, it was an equally impressive blowout — a 37-7 beatdown of Louisiana-Monroe. The Black Knights had 436 rushing yards while allowing the Warhawks to accumulate only 200 total yards of offense. After going 5-8 in 2019, Jeff Monken’s 2020 squad looks poised for a big turnaround.
UTSA: UTSA and Texas State played the best game of the weekend. UTSA blew a 24-7 halftime lead but managed to pull out a 51-48 win in double-overtime. When Rashad Wisdom returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown to put the Roadrunners up 41-28 with 3:24 to play, it looked like it would clinch the game. Texas State had other ideas. The Bobcats managed to force overtime by scoring two quick touchdowns. The second was a 91-yard punt return by Jeremiah Haydel that looked like it was going to put TSU ahead. Instead, the extra point was hooked and the game went to overtime. UTSA then won the game in two overtimes to start the season 1-0.
Shawk Clark: Appalachian State pulled out a hard-fought 35-20 win over Charlotte on Saturday with its ground attack leading the way. The Mountaineers rushed for 308 yards in the win with Marcus Williams and Camerun Peoples each topping the 100-yard mark and reaching the end zone. The win marked the regular-season debut for App State head coach Shawn Clark, who was promoted to head coach before the team’s bowl game last December. Clark was pleased with his team’s efforts and delivered the quote of the weekend.
Big 12: If there is a College Football Playoff this year and if the Big 12 champion is in consideration for a playoff spot, this is going to be a weekend the conference wants everyone to forget when it touts its overall strength.
Kansas State lost to an Arkansas State team that was missing nine starters due to the coronavirus. That’s the same Arkansas State that lost to Memphis in Week 1. Memphis is good, don’t get us wrong. But Kansas State should have taken care of business.
And Iowa State should have at least eked out a win. Instead, the Cyclones — the consensus No. 4 team in the conference entering the season — were thoroughly dominated in the second half by Louisiana. If both ISU and KSU win close games, we all move on and chalk it up to Week 1 randomness. But losses make that harder to do. Texas Tech needing a stop on a two-point conversion just to beat Houston Baptist doesn’t help matters either.
Fun Belt 2, Big 12 0
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Texas State K Alan Orona: We do not like piling on kickers and punters in this space. Their specialized tasks are a lot harder than they look. But, unfortunately, it’s hard not to look at Orona when assessing Texas State’s 51-48 double-overtime loss to Texas-San Antonio.
Texas State tied the game at 41-41 with 1:16 left when Jeremiah Haydel scored on a wild 91-yard punt return. All the Bobcats needed was an Orona extra point for the lead. But he missed it.
Both teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime and Texas State was forced to settle for a short field goal to start the second overtime. But Orona missed a 20-yard field goal — the same distance as an extra point — to the right from the right hashmark. All UTSA had to do was kick a field goal in its possession for the win.
The Citadel P Matt Campbell: Punters typically don’t want to be on a highlight reel. And, well, Campbell’s second-quarter punt against South Florida is going to be replayed for the entire 2020 season.
That hilarity officially goes down as a -10 yard punt as it didn’t get out of the end zone. It was caught by USF’s Omarion Dollison, who had the easiest punt return of his life.
Iowa State QB Brock Purdy: Purdy entered the 2020 season as the second-best returning quarterback in the Big 12 behind Texas’ Sam Ehlinger. And, well, he didn’t look like it in the Cyclones’ 31-14 loss to Louisiana. Purdy was just 16-of-35 passing for 145 yards and no touchdowns. He was also lucky to get away with just one interception too. He had multiple passes that could have been picked. Yeah, TE Charlie Kolar didn’t play on Saturday because of an injury, but you can’t pin Purdy’s struggles on his absence. If Iowa State is going to contend for a top-half finish in the Big 12, Purdy has to play exponentially better.
Syracuse offense: It may be a long season in upstate New York. The Syracuse offense was lifeless in a 31-6 loss to North Carolina on Saturday. The offensive line struggled against UNC’s defensive front and Tommy DeVito was just 13-of-31 passing for 112 yards. His backup, Rex Culpepper, was 3-of-7 for 22 yards and an interception. Syracuse couldn’t run the ball either. The Orange officially had 35 carries for 68 yards, but it’s worth remembering that sacks count as rushing attempts in college football. North Carolina had seven sacks.
South Alabama: South Alabama was poised to post back-to-back wins for the first time since October 2017… until it blew a three-score third-quarter lead. On the heels of an impressive Week 1 win over Southern Miss, the Jaguars led Tulane 24-6 midway through the third. From there, though, the Green Wave stormed all the way back and took a 27-24 lead with 3:18 to play. A few minutes later, it looked like USA was going to have one final chance to get the ball but a 15-yard penalty for leaping on a punt play gave Tulane an automatic first down and the chance to run out the clock.
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