On the first three kickoffs, as it turned out, the Jackets would have been better off simply signaling for a fair catch, which would have enabled them to start the drive on their 25-yard line without any risk of injury.
“On the kickoff return, (the Seminoles) were doing some different things because we didn’t know whether to base it on Memphis stuff or base it on Maryland stuff,” Collins said. “We watched both, didn’t really know what they were going to be doing special teams-wise. So those kind of things. You’ve just got to clean up the self-scout, the opponent-scout piece of it.”
New Tech kicker Austin Kent, a UCLA transfer, did record a touchback on his first kickoff, a win for a team that ranked last in FBS in touchback percentage last season. (“Our sideline went nuts,” Collins said.) The other three kicks were returned to the Seminoles' 32-, 34- and 18-yard lines, the first two abetted by missed tackles.
“The coverage was really good,” Collins said. “Just a couple of things (happened) with the leverage on the ball. A couple of them squirted out about six or seven yards further than they should have. But I thought all in all, the coverage team was really good.”
The best coverage followed Jude Kelley’s game-winning field goal with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter. In his only kickoff, freshman Gavin Stewart lofted a kick that landed at the 5, giving Dontae Smith the time to slow returner Travis Jay at the 15-yard line, after which Josh Blancato, PeJé Harris and Jerry Howard finished him off at the 18.
On the whole, FSU made out eight yards better than Tech in kickoff coverage on average, not an insignificant difference. In punt net, the Jackets edged the Seminoles, 36.3 yards to 34.7, thanks in part to a 14-yard return by Marquez Ezzard and an exceptional 46-yard punt by Pressley Harvin with no return that flipped the field late in the fourth quarter.
But the advantage isn’t what the Jackets might want with a talent such as Harvin on its side.
The field-goal unit perhaps needs Collins' most attention. The Jackets gave away seven points on the blocked kicks, largesse that they can’t continue to afford. Collins accepted accountability for the misses after the game and again Tuesday, saying that he chose to limit field-goals drills in the preseason. Practicing field goals against a rush require a large number of players to line up in close proximity for an extended period of time, a potential health risk that Collins didn’t want to take.
On two of the blocks, Florida State was able to penetrate Tech’s line to bat down Kelley’s attempts. The third appeared low. Collins said the team had two good periods of field-goal drills Sunday and Tuesday.
In the opener, Tech fans saw improvement from both the offense and defense compared with the units' play in 2019. After finishing last season as the least accurate field-goal team in FBS, improvement is imperative, Collins said, “because when you’re going to score points, and that play is specifically designed to score points, you’ve got to make those things count.”