5 questions with a Florida State beat writer

In advance of Georgia Tech’s season opener against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., we’ve leaned upon Florida State beat writer Curt Weiler of the Tallahassee Democrat for insight into the Seminoles. A graduate of Brookwood High in Gwinnett County, Curt has covered FSU for the Democrat since 2018 and covered its teams for other media starting in 2015. You can read his work here and follow him on Twitter here.

Q: I think most of what the average fan might know about first-year coach Mike Norvell’s time at FSU is the storm raised by players complaining about him on social media in August. What is your sense of how things have gone thus far?

A: No doubt that, on a national scale, it has been a tough first offseason of news for Norvell at FSU. The main buzz of any kind he’s gotten has been his star defensive tackle calling him out on social media and a wide receiver questioning FSU’s safety protocols during preseason camp.

That being said, those have been two blips on what has largely been a very positive offseason for Norvell. Building trust has been difficult during an offseason spent partially apart due to the coronavirus, a problem accentuated by a group of players that is being led by its third head coach in the last four seasons.

But Norvell and his staff have made major strides in winning their team over behind their impressive football knowledge and intense attention to detail, two things that were notably lacking on the previous FSU staff. These players didn’t come to FSU to be a part of the struggling team they have been the last three seasons, and they’re fully behind Norvell as the man who can get them back to relevance.

Q: What, as you see it, will be the hallmarks of Norvell’s tenure?

A: One thing you hear when talking to people about Norvell is that he’s not the type of coach who gets out-coached on game day often. He’s well-regarded as an offensive mind, served as the primary play-caller when he was the head coach at Memphis and is expected to do the same at FSU. The thing he always says is that his offense is built for playmakers and that he’s able to mold it to the strengths of each year’s roster.

A look at the statistics from his Memphis tenure shows he’s adapted his offense to a more run-based attack or a pass-heavy playbook depending on where he feels the strengths of that year’s roster lie. At FSU this year, I expect that to mean a heavy dose of preseason All-ACC wideout Tamorrion Terry.

Norvell also holds a strong belief in a commitment to special teams, calling these units the backbone of a team in his introductory press conference at FSU. This has been an area of concern for FSU of late, especially in the coverage units, so this newfound commitment should be a welcome change for the fan base.

Q: What’s the floor and ceiling for the Seminoles this season?

A: I think there’s a lot more variance in every team’s ceiling and floor this season because of the unpredictable COVID-19 factor. If you happen to face Clemson when Trevor Lawrence is sidelined due to contact tracing, that game suddenly becomes much more winnable. On the other hand, if you lose one of your best players, a promising start to a season could be quickly halted.

Not taking this unknown into account, the truth of FSU’s situation entering 2020 is they were done no favors by their brutal schedule. They face each of the top four and five of the top six teams in the ACC preseason poll. Because of this, there’s definitely a world where FSU faces adversity, isn’t up to the task and finishes the season below .500. However, I also could see FSU pulling off some upsets, taking care of the games where it is favored and finishing as high as 8-3, although I’d say 7-4 is far more likely.

Q: What weaknesses does FSU have that you think Georgia Tech could try to exploit?

A: It’s no secret that FSU’s offensive line has been the team’s major weakness for some time. The Seminoles have struggled to field an offensive line that finds any level of consistent success. They allowed 48 sacks last season and haven’t allowed fewer than 30 since 2015. It hasn’t helped matters that this unit is now being coached by its fourth different position coach in as many seasons. If healthy, the FSU offensive line should be marginally better this season, but that jump will probably only put them in the average realm, leaving plenty of room for GT’s pass rushers to impact the game and stifle the FSU offense.

Q: Who are three players that Georgia Tech will have to have an answer for?

A: I briefly mentioned Terry above, but he bears mentioning again here. At 6-foot-4 with impressive breakaway speed, he is a matchup nightmare who has been quite the big-play machine for the Seminoles over the last two seasons, averaging over 49 yards per touchdown.

Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson shocked everyone when he passed on being a likely first-round NFL draft pick to return for his senior season. In his first season as a full-time starter in 2019, Wilson was a force to be reckoned with on the Seminoles' defensive front. He’s capable of being a presence both as a run-stopper and a pass-rusher, amassing 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season, and is looking to make an even larger impact this season.

Finally, junior cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. enters the season as perhaps the ACC’s best defensive back, leading all conference DB’s in preseason All-ACC voting. The son of a longtime NFL cornerback, Samuel plays far larger than his 5-foot-10 frame. He broke up 15 passes last season and is now the veteran of an FSU secondary that has underachieved the last few seasons, but remains very talented.

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