We saw something from Florida State last night that this program has consistently missed over the past five years, fight, passion, and grit. The Seminoles went toe to toe with No. 9 Notre Dame and didn't flinch, even when they went down 38-20 late in the third quarter. Despite falling in overtime to the Fighting Irish, it's clear that head coach Mike Norvell has things back on the right track.
There are still plenty of areas that this team will need to continue improving on throughout the 2021 season. The defense was markedly better against the Notre Dame rushing attack but allowed 366 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Offensively, FSU struggled to get into a consistent rhythm due to the offensive line and indecision from quarterback Jordan Travis.
We'll see if the coaching staff decides to switch things up with Jacksonville State coming into town on Saturday. Let's reach into the mailbag and see what we've got on the docket this week.
Why was Baveon Johnson forced into playing center? - @blake81291361
According to Norvell, starting center Maurice Smith came into the contest against Notre Dame limited after getting banged up during fall practice. He was able to participate in the first half but Florida State elected to go with veteran Baveon Johnson after the break due to Smith's availability.
I'm unsure if he'll be able to play next week but the Seminoles might want to think about giving him a game off against the Gamecocks to assure he's healthy throughout the season.
Did you know that Jermaine Johnson would have this type of impact? - Antonio Terez
Ever since Jermaine Johnson transferred into FSU from Georgia over the offseason, it's been presumed that he would make a huge impact on the defense. One of the reasons he came to Tallahassee in the first place was the opportunity to be an every-down defensive end rather than a situational pass-rusher. Johnson flashed on Sunday night in both facets of the game, racking up 1.5 sacks and sniffing out an end-around for a negative play.
More importantly, he looked like a leader on the field and spoke like one after the loss. Johnson's presence will be huge for the defense all year.
What did you think of the improvements made on the defensive line? - Chris Snyder
With the additions of proven talents like Johnson, Keir Thomas, and Marcus Cushnie, I had a good feeling the defensive line would take a step forward. It also helped that Florida State already had guys in the fold such as Fabien Lovett, Robert Cooper, and Dennis Briggs. Quashon Fuller and Derrick McClendon have both entered the rotation after making massive leaps over the offseason.
That said, this is one of the best offensive lines that the Seminoles will face all season and the defensive front punched them in the mouth all night. FSU recorded four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss while holding the Fighting Irish to a mere 65 yards on the ground. If they can bring this type of effort consistently, the defense has the potential to be scary as we move forward.
How much will games like this impact recruiting? - Brandon Fussell
Florida State's coaching staff circled Notre Dame as "the game" all offseason and despite the loss, it looks like their investment paid off. The Seminoles hosted a plethora of talented commits and prospects inside of a rocking Doak Campbell Stadium. After the game, multiple prospects spoke about the atmosphere and the improvements that they had seen from the team.
Coming into this contest, I spoke adamantly about how important it was for FSU to simply keep this game competitive. They did more than that, nearly completing a furious 18 point comeback that saw the 'Noles push the No. 9 team in the country to overtime. I think this game helped cement the message that the coaching staff has been pushing during their recruiting efforts.
Why do you believe coach Norvell left Travis in after his three picks? - Evan Hooks
By all accounts, Jordan Travis earned the job with his performance throughout the spring and into the fall. I think Norvell owed him an opportunity to see if Travis could shake off his rough start and begin to generate consistency. Florida State had just 45 passing yards at halftime but it looked like he might turn things around after a perfect throw to Ja'Khi Douglas for a 60-yard touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter. Following that, Travis once again reverted back to holding the ball too long and throwing too late as he tossed two crucial interceptions on back-to-back drives that set up Notre Dame scores.
In my opinion, it just wouldn't have been a good look to pull the redshirt sophomore that early and I'll explain why. Let's say McKenzie Milton does get named the starter moving forward, what happens when he has a bad half or game? Are we going to go through this again and switch signal-callers in three games? At some point, there has to be consistency. This is game one and it seems like Norvell really wanted to give Travis a legitimate chance before handing the reins over to Milton.
Starting Travis vs Milton. Thoughts? I think both did well. - Teresa Morrow Howell
Milton has to be the starter, right? - Patrick Lewis
This is probably the biggest question coming out of the loss to Notre Dame. Personally, I believe that Florida State has to go with McKenzie Milton as the starter moving forward. When he stepped onto the field in the fourth quarter, you could see the difference in the way he operated and felt comfortable in the pocket despite pressure. Instead of panicking, Milton either evaded the defense or stepped up in the pocket to connect on his first five passes.
The veteran led the Seminoles to back-to-back scoring drives to tie the game and the offense moved with consistency. I respect the work that Travis has put in to improve but I just feel that Milton gives FSU more of an opportunity to be successful at this time. It'll be important to keep him healthy throughout the season.
What can our center do to improve his snapping ability? We had many miscues on snaps that killed momentum. - Dwayne Digger
It's definitely going to need to be a focal point for offensive line coach Alex Atkins this week as both Maurice Smith and Baveon Johnson had bad snaps that put the offensive behind the chains. This is an issue that we've seen dating back to the spring and unfortunately, it has continued into the fall.
I'm not sure the exact fix but you can expect Atkins won't be happy in the film room after this game.
What was the purpose of the wildcat? - Jean Bryan Lipford
It seemed like Florida State just wanted to try and mix up the looks it was showing Notre Dame throughout the game to make the defense think pre-snap. I do think it was odd that the staff waited to break it out until the third quarter when the Seminoles were on a few must-score drives but it did have some success.
What did you think about this coaching staff? Where are the quick passes? Third and 17 you sell out? Going for it on fourth down in the third quarter? - @mynoles
I thought the coaching staff made plenty of great decisions and a few poor ones. It was hard to execute quick passes because Travis kept getting flustered in the pocket, the ball was getting out a lot quicker once Milton took over late. I do agree with the third and long, if you play straight-up coverage there instead of an all-out blitz, that screen likely gets identified and shut down before it develops into a huge gain. That said, Coan had made a few big plays on third down with his arm earlier and I understand why defensive coordinator Adam Fuller felt the need to try to put some pressure on him.
The fourth-down attempt in the third quarter came down to Notre Dame having a ton of momentum after two quick touchdowns to take its largest lead of the night. It felt like the game was on the line and the staff tried to do something unorthodox to keep pace. It didn't work, but thankfully the Seminoles were able to climb back anyway to force OT.
This was game one and there were plenty of new faces on the field for FSU on both sides. The coaching staff is still feeling things out and it's going to take some time.
Where do you see the team ending up in the win column? - Mitch Livingston
What do you think would be legitimate expectations now for the season? - Richie Price
I came into this season and predicted a 5-7 finish with losses to Notre Dame, Wake Forest, UNC, Clemson, Miami, Boston College, and Florida. After last night, all of these games feel a lot more winnable for the Seminoles but it remains to be seen if this is the consistent effort we'll get from this team all season.
If so, I definitely think they'll be bowl-bound with an opportunity to win seven or eight games in the regular season. Time will tell.