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Syracuse football vs. Florida State preview: Q&A with Tomahawk Nation

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Is this poor start a mirage? Or the beginning of the end of the Norvell era?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Florida State at Wake Forest Photo by Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While this Syracuse Orange football team still has plenty of questions to answer four weeks into the season, they are 3-1 and that’s at least a positive sign for what’s to come. But not everyone’s in that boat, as our next opponent highlights. The Florida State Seminoles are 0-4 with a lot to prove as they effort to avoid a debilitating 0-5 start to the season.

Since we’re not ‘Noles fans, we went ahead and talked to someone that knows a whole lot more about Florida State than we do to share some things in advance of Saturday’s matchup. Tomahawk Nation’s Jon Marchant provides responses to our questions below, and we give some answers over there as well.

So uhhh, how are things going for Florida State this year? Things looked promising in week one after a close loss to Notre Dame, but not so much since.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but FSU is 0-4. The way to read that is, “Oh, and four”, like oh I just remembered I have four more dinner plate-sized cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. So things are going really well. The team is still working on their bowl game. They bought some clay, invested in a potter’s wheel. I heard they even put a kiln in Adam Fuller’s office. McKenzie Milton is bringing in a VHS copy of Weekend at Bernie’s later this week for the team to bond over. It’s just a really healthy time, everyone is working on bettering themselves. I think one of the players even started a non-profit working on getting the field in Doak Campbell declared a protected sanctuary.

Has Mike Norvell lost this team already?

Can you lose a team you’ve never really had? Sorry, I’m only being a little tongue in cheek there. The answer has to be no. Has he and his staff made mistakes? Absolutely. But FSU’s roster is a mess and that’s not his fault. It wasn’t really Willie Taggart’s fault either, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue. So far the players are still fighting hard. I do think Norvell is trying to find out who really wants to be here and be a part of the team and who doesn’t. Some of the players, like cornerback Jarvis Brownlee, have the right attitude. He said this week in practice that FSU will soon be unbeatable. More of the team could use some of that. My guess is we’ll see more players transfer before the 2022 season starts. Also, it’s worth noting that only five players that Norvell has recruited from HS played last week against Louisville. So there’s a long way to go before this roster becomes Norvell’s.

McKenzie Milton hasn’t looked great passing the ball so far at FSU — is that a product of him struggling or the play-calling and offensive line lending him less support (or both)?

It’s a combination of a lot of different things for sure. It’s tough to be 100% certain without all-22 film, but I think opponents clearly believe they can 1) pressure FSU’s quarterback with rushing just three or four players and 2) can man up across the board against FSU’s receivers and reliably win almost every matchup. That’s not an ideal situation for any quarterback, much less one who nearly lost his leg three years ago. It’s always tough to question playcalling because some of it is dictated by the defense and numbers in the box. Louisville ran a lot of 9-man boxes basically daring FSU to throw and for the most part FSU couldn’t execute well enough to get them out of it. I think it’s fair to say that the offense’s personnel usage could be better, but overall I think the issues are mostly a talent problem. And unfortunately those issues don’t exclude Milton. He’s far down the list of reasons why this offense is struggling, but he’s also not close to the player he used to be. This is just one of those things that’s going to take time; Norvell will have to recruit his way out of it.

Since we’re both members of the ACC, what’s your read on the conference this year? Bump in the road, or the start of a several-year spiral?

I thought with the extra year of eligibility from COVID and all, the sky-high returning production across all of college football we’d see some really high level play, including in the ACC. So I’ve been a little bit surprised at how poor the ACC has been. I think years like this happen and it’s not necessarily indicative of any kind of trend, especially conference-wide. However, I do believe that Clemson is coming back down to earth. They’ll probably still have some elite years, but I think that program will really struggle over the rest of this decade to recapture the sustained success they’ve enjoyed recently.

What’s your read on Syracuse since the conclusion of the 2018 season?

I really thought that after the 2018 season Dino Babers might be the next Paul Pasqualoni there and give Syracuse some sustained success. 2018 was a fun team that did some cool things. But since then it looks like Syracuse really fell hard instead. I actually want to ask you about what you believe happened. For me I think Syracuse is gonna have ups and downs, but they’re capable of those 8-10 win seasons. Babers is a hard coach to figure out though.

Who’s an unsung star for the ‘Noles that Syracuse fans should get familiar with?

Uh, you should have heard about him by now, his name is Bobby Bowden? Where have you guys been? Oh, you said unsung. Not exactly unsung but the premier name Syracuse fans should know is edge rusher Jermaine Johnson. Last I checked he led the country in sacks so he’s either still on top of the list or close to it. For unsung, I think I’ll go with two names, one on each side of the ball. For offense, running back Treshaun Ward. His vision, burst, and cuts are all very good. For defense, I’ll go with the other edge guy in Keir Thomas. He’s a good player.

Florida State made numerous transfer additions over the offseason. Do you feel like they’ve worked? Or is it a mixed bag?

FSU just added a few new guys from the portal in Ralen Jamsey and Wamies Jinston, and trust me the NCAA cleared them so don’t worry about it. Nothing to see here.

Um, definitely a mixed bag, which is about what I expected. I’ve read a lot of research on the NFL, and the NFL Draft is essentially a lottery. But so is NFL free agency. And in that same manner I think college football’s transfer portal works a lot like free agency. Some guys are gonna be great, like the aforementioned Johnson and Thomas. Some guys like Milton are just OK. Other guys might not give you anything. The unfortunate part is you’d like to just sign kids from high school and develop them, but Norvell’s been forced to lean heavily on the portal. He’s signed over 20 kids over the last two classes since he arrived in Tallahassee.

Is there a particular Orange player that FSU fans are most concerned with?

Don’t take it personally but FSU fans are so upset right now I’m not even sure they realize there’s another team on the field. Sean Tucker seems like a really good player, but to answer your question I’ll go with Cody Roscoe who is, last I checked, right behind Johnson in the country’s sack leaders.

I guess on a likely related note, how does FSU plan to slow down Sean Tucker? While the Seminoles have had some issues this year, the run defense is still faring well, allowing just 3.06 yards per carry.

Yeah since it seems like Syracuse’s offense kind of runs through Tucker, I know FSU will key on him. Most of FSU’s success lies in their rebuilt defensive line with Johnson and Thomas. Also anchoring is nose tackle Fabien Lovett, who has played well this year. In addition, FSU’s linebackers have been a bit better at fitting their gaps versus the run, and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller likes to blitz defensive backs. Expect Fuller to call an aggressive game. If Tucker has a lot of success it could be another long day for Seminole fans.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?

So normally I would not pick FSU because how can anyone at this point? Last week I said I couldn’t pick them until they showed it on the field and proved they could win a game. But I’m throwing that out the window and picking my ‘Noles because a little positive vibes sent out into the universe is a good thing and never hurt anyone. Plus, whadda they gonna do? Lose again? Wait, they can’t lose again can they? Just kidding, I feel nothing anymore when they lose. I have compartmentalized this team. So let’s speak it into existence.

FSU 31, Syracuse 27

Thanks again to Jon for taking the time out to answer these. Follow the site on Twitter and check out Tomahawk Nation too, for all things FSU-related.