I'm honestly not even sure how to begin this article. In what is likely the worst loss in program history, Florida State fell in Doak Campbell Stadium to Jacksonville State on Saturday night, 20-17. The last play basically summed up the evening for the Seminoles, poor coaching, sloppy execution, and a dismal effort.
The team we saw against the Gamecocks was not the same as the one that took Notre Dame to overtime a week ago. The offense couldn't get into a rhythm, going 5/14 on third down, 0/2 on fourth down, and punting six times. Defensively, the unit fell apart in the fourth quarter.
This was FSU's first-ever loss to an FCS program and the 'Noles even handled this Jacksonville State squad 41-24 a year ago. All of the positivity and momentum that was built over the offseason up until the Notre Dame game has been washed away. Heck, the Fighting Irish barely handled Toledo this week as is.
Head coach Mike Norvell and his coaching staff are up for their toughest challenge to this point. Will they be able to regroup this team as they prepare to hit the road for the first time in 2021? Next week's game will be telling.
Here are three thoughts on the loss.
1. This program has a long way to go
Well, after last week, it seemed like Florida State was moving in the right direction to get back to its winning ways. Now, they are farther behind the eight ball than ever before under Norvell. We are in danger territory of this program completely falling off of the wheels and the recruiting class going with it.
For everyone who thought this turnaround would be quick, it's time to temper your patience. FSU still has a long way to go to get itself back amongst the elite of college football.
The coaching staff has to take control of this situation and mend it before things get worse. If the Seminoles go into Wake Forest next Saturday and drop to 0-3, it's going to get even uglier and Norvell will be forced to make some drastic decisions.
2. The passing game is not in sync
I'll be honest, I don't really care who the starting quarterback is moving forward but it's time to establish consistency at the position. This offense isn't going to work with McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis constantly shuffling the reins after every single game. I don't know whether it's a product of Milton missing practice time during the fall or the 'Noles giving a lot of different signal-callers reps during the preseason, but the passing game is not on the same page right now.
From miscommunications, to drops, to poor throws, a lot has to change. Milton finished 18 of 31 for 133 yards with one touchdown and interception. It was an awesome moment to see him connect with Wyatt Rector for his first score in 1,000+ days but outside of that, the positives were few and far between. Veteran wide receiver Keyshawn Helton dropped a wide-open touchdown on fourth down on the first drive of the game. True freshman Malik McClain failed to secure a ball in the end zone on fourth and goal in the fourth quarter.
There was simply no rhythm to a unit we thought would take a step forward this season through the air.
3. The defense collapsed in the fourth quarter
Jacksonville State had 13 drives on Saturday night. Eight ended in punts, one was the end of the first half, one resulted in a fumble, and three turned into touchdowns. For the first 75% of the game, the defense did what it had to do and limited the Gamecocks outside of a few mistakes.
Then the fourth quarter started and everything fell apart. The defense surrendered a 97-yard scoring drive in which they stopped JSU multiple times, even coming away with an interception at one point, but were negated due to penalties. A perfect example, 3rd and 12 from the 1-yard line, the 'Noles force an incompletion but Jarrian Jones commits a puzzling pass interference penalty, surrendering a free first down.
The last play came down to a poor call from defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and worse efforts from Jarvis Brownlee and Sidney Williams. Yes, FSU should've probably played prevent defense but when the ball was caught Brownlee or Williams have to make a play on the wide receiver. They were both in position and failed to do so.
All in all, Jacksonville State put up 147 of its 350 yards of offense in the final frame when the defense needed to be at its best.
I will say, the defensive line played their tails off once again behind Jermaine Johnson's 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. It just wasn't enough as the defensive backfield continues to disappoint, much like the last few seasons.
Will this team be better against Wake Forest? It depends on which version of Florida State decides to show up.