After a week off, Florida State (2-4, 2-2 ACC) returns to Doak Campbell Stadium riding a two-game winning streak. Head coach Mike Norvell has the ‘Noles clicking at all three levels — offense, defense and special teams. The path to .500 is on the table, but first, the Seminoles must take care of business against a familiar name.
In 2018, Walt Bell served as the offensive coordinator for the ‘Noles under then first-year head coach Willie Taggart. Fast forward to 2021, and Bell is combined 2-20 three years into taking the head coaching gig at UMass (1-5). Similar to FSU, the Minutemen are also coming off a bye week. In their last game (Oct. 9), the Minutemen defeated UConn 27-13. The offense's success was predicated on running back Ellis Merriweather, who rushed 39 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
The game is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 23. Kickoff is at noon on ACC Network.
The importance of a strong start
At no point in this game should Florida State allow UMass to think they have a chance. From kickoff, it's imperative the ‘Noles start off aggressive, while also staying disciplined and playing smart football. Against Jacksonville State, Florida State held a one-score lead at halftime.
If halftime comes Saturday and it's a one possession game into the third quarter, Florida State fans should be concerned. The talent advantage is clear, but let's not forget what this team looked like earlier this season. At times, the defense looked discombobulated and the offense went stagnant on multiple drives.
A possible opportunity for the younger players
Ever since arriving in Tallahassee, Norvell has slowly infused a youth movement. We could see true and redshirt freshmen in the second half Saturday if the ‘Noles handle business as many expect.
I’ve talked about the possibility of quarterback Chubba Purdy seeing playing time, but it hasn’t happened up to this point. The fanbase could see the 2020 four-star recruit behind center for multiple offensive drives Saturday.
Does the Florida State offense pick up where it left off?
The last time we saw the Seminoles' offense, it poured 35 points on North Carolina in three quarters. Quarterback Jordan Travis hit the century mark in passing (145) and rushing (121), and accounted for all five touchdowns. Wide receiver Ontaria Wilson caught two touchdowns, and the running back duo of Jashaun Corbin and Treshuan Ward combined for 129 rushing yards.
Against a UMass defense who allows just under 481 total yards per game, Travis and the ‘Noles offense should have no issue piling up points. Freshman wide receiver Malik McClain, who caught his first career touchdown against the Tar Heels, could produce after a great week of practice.
How many sacks can the defensive line register?
UMass allowed five sacks in its season-opening 51-7 loss against Pittsburgh Sept. 4. Florida State had just two combined sacks in its victories over Syracuse and North Carolina.
The defensive line unit of Jermaine Johnson II, Fabien Lovett and Keir Thomas should have their most productive day of the season against a less talented offensive line.
I wouldn’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Adam Fuller sends a couple of linebackers on blitz packages to cause havoc in the UMass backfield. Amari Gainer and Kalen DeLoach each have one sack this season.
Let’s be honest, this game shouldn’t be close. Florida State is more talented in every facet of the game — offensive, defensive and coaching personnel are all in the ‘Noles favor. There is no excuse for Norvell and company to let UMass stick around and make this game close. In other words, this should not be another Jacksonville State.
Florida State 45, UMass 17