WINSTON-SALEMN, N.C. — Here’s the question I couldn’t help asking myself while watching Wake Forest dismantle Florida State on Saturday in front of a half-filled, half-interested crowd at Truist Field here in Winston-Salem:
Can this FSU coaching staff one day, at some point, become as good as the one at Wake Forest?
It’s not there yet. Quite obviously.
But one day? Maybe? Can Mike Norvell’s staff somehow equal the aptitude and talent of Dave Clawson’s?
That’s where we’re at. And this isn’t meant to be a dig at Clawson; I think he’s a good coach. He’s doing well at a place where winning isn’t easy.
But I think when Norvell’s FSU career started, the Seminoles’ fan base was hoping to maybe aim higher than Dave Clawson.
Now, after Saturday’s 35-14 beatdown in Winston-Salem — another poorly coached, hard-to-fathom performance on both sides of the ball — every FSU fan in America would take a Clawson-esque tenure in a second.
I’m not saying Norvell can’t be that guy. Again. We’re 12 games into his career here. But at this point, you’re not looking for Nick Saban. You just want someone who can reach respectability. And who you can have confidence will devise a game plan to at least give you a chance to win.
This is two Saturdays in a row where Norvell did the exact opposite.
I think he can change the mindset and attitude and toughness of his team. I think he already has to a certain extent. But does it matter when you’re three games into your season and your best fourth-down call, in a pivotal moment in the second half, is to dial up a designed run for your miracle-to-just-be-walking quarterback?
Or the drive before, on third-and-short, call a pass play with the other quarterback, who was promptly sacked?
And did the offensive staff get so much grief over the “Wildcat” plays last week against Jacksonville State that they just scrapped it forever?
If you believe in that formation, which offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham clearly does because he defended it on Monday, why then are you having Milton run the ball on fourth down in the red zone?
Why are you doing handoffs in the backfield on third-and-short?
Why did it disappear from the playbook? Either you believe it or you don’t. Stick to your guns. Stick to your plan. And, for the love of all that’s holy, stick to a quarterback!
I appreciated Clawson’s approach on Saturday. Pick a QB. A good one. And just roll him out there all game. It worked pretty well! But a lot of things work out pretty well against that FSU secondary.
I guess I just don’t understand football well enough, because for the life of me, I can’t figure out why FSU’s corners — who aren’t to be confused with Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley — continue to play bump-and-run, man-coverage as they give up long passes down the sideline. Either by letting the receiver run right by them, like Jarrian Jones did on the second drive of the first half, or just letting the receiver jump up and catch the ball over you, like Jarvis Brownlee did on the last drive of the half.
Back up. Back off. Learn any semblance of a zone defense. Something. Anything. To quit giving up enormous plays to receivers who simply can’t be covered by your corners.
But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s not like they defend the underneath stuff well, either. They made Sam Hartman look like the great Jack Coan.
The greatest frustration isn’t really with that side of the ball, though. We know Adam Fuller and that defense are struggling. Nobody writing or editing or reading this column is going to argue that.
But the defense was put in some impossible spots on Saturday because the special teams couldn’t avoid running into the punter (that should not have been a personal foul, by the way, but it was like the officials were making up for the missed call in the Notre Dame game), and the offense couldn’t muster any semblance of a cohesive, consistent attack.
Jordan Travis came into the game as a backup, but played a majority of the snaps in the first half.
Why? Why did Milton start the game but barely play the rest of the first half? Why did Travis not play much last week if he was clearly the guy this week?
Norvell said afterward that was the plan all along, to utilize Travis’ ability in the running game to try to exploit Wake’s defense. Well, Travis ran for 16 yards and the team rushed for a total of 92.
What, if anything, is this offense trying to do from game to game? Other than confuse and bewilder itself?
Treshaun Ward had a 22-yard run late in the first quarter and then scored on an eight-yard screen pass on the next play. He didn’t touch the ball again in the first half.
Granted, FSU barely had the ball in the second quarter because of some three-and-outs, an interception by Milton (after Travis had to leave the game for a play) and then a one-play, 65-yard TD pass from Travis to Ontaria Wilson.
The real issue, though, isn’t who is on the field at running back, it’s that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what these offensive coaches are trying to do.
It’s not just that you can’t pick a quarterback. Travis plays all of the first game, Milton plays all of the second game, you name him the starter, and then after two plays you go to Travis for essentially the rest of the first half. Then Travis gets hurt on that third-quarter sack and Milton is forced to play the rest of the way. He, too, got rocked late in the game on a sack that turned into the team’s sixth turnover.
So, the beat goes on at the quarterback position.
This isn’t how you get continuity. By going back and forth from week to week.
And if you truly believe in the Wildcat in short-yardage — it was very good to the Seminoles last year and in the Notre Dame game — how do you just abandon it on Saturday? Did the fans’ complaints bully you into not using it? Let’s hope that wasn’t the case, but it does seem odd that it disappeared completely one week after fans were the most vocal about it.
In my best Dr. Phil impression: How can any of us believe in you, FSU coaches, if you don’t believe in yourselves?
After putting up 38 points against Notre Dame, the FSU offense has now managed 31 points over its next two games combined. That’s anemic. It’s embarrassing. It’s inexcusable.
“It starts at the top,” Norvell said after the game on Saturday.
Nobody’s arguing with that.
Florida State had six turnovers on Saturday, including a fumble by Milton into the end zone on a QB sneak that probably would have been a Wildcat snap two weeks ago.
Norvell came to Florida State with the reputation as a great offensive mind, as a play-caller who had designed some of the highest-scoring offenses in the country.
Well, to be blunt, his offense is awful right now.
That side of the ball is actually a bigger problem right now than the defense, and the defense is a major problem. That’s how bad things are at this moment.
As bad as it was — it gave up 484 yards, 27 first downs and 35 points — the defense wasn’t the reason Florida State lost today.
And even with the indefensible, incredible, still-impossible final call against Jacksonville State last weekend, the defense wasn’t the main reason for that loss either.
It’s almost all on the offense.
And the offensive head coach, with his protege’ offensive coordinator, need to figure out a way to get it fixed. Soon.
Because right now, after these past two weeks, there is very little reason for hope.
A wounded team played wounded. Played without any discipline. Couldn’t execute much of anything. And limped back to Tallahassee with its first 0-3 record since Bobby Bowden’s first year in Tallahassee.
A dark season just got darker.
Contact senior writer Corey Clark at [email protected] and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.