Florida State looks to climb back to respectability in ACC

Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Mike Norvell grew up following Florida State in the 1990s during the dynasty days when the Seminoles won a pair of national titles under Bobby Bowden.

Norvell suffered through first-year growing pains that many new coaches faced in 2020, impacted not just by COVID-19 but lost time with his team.

Still, Norvell’s energy can’t be denied, and he often speaks of “the climb.” He views a 3-6 record and the difficulties of 2020 – on and off the field – as lessons for the Seminoles as they attempt to climb the ladder in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“There’s been a lot of change at Florida State over the last few years,” Norvell said. “To be able to be with my players, with our coaches, it provided an opportunity through each challenge to be an example of how you respond.”

Norvell can point to a few bright spots, notably a victory over North Carolina in October as well as a rout of Duke to finish the regular season. But the Seminoles were wildly inconsistent and dropped five ACC games by double figures, including a 42-point defeat at Miami that Norvell missed after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Florida State also had three ACC games canceled.

“There were things we had to adapt, adjust,” Norvell said. “We were able to do it together. I believe that really helped set the foundation and build the trust throughout our team of who we are, what we’re aspiring to do, where we’re aspiring to go.”

Norvell hit the transfer portal for players he hopes will be productive and bring leadership. The Seminoles landed former star UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton as well as offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons, defensive end Jermaine Johnson (Georgia), defensive lineman Keir Thomas and safety Jammie Robinson (South Carolina) and safety Jarques McClellion (Arkansas) among the 11 transfers.

Milton and Jordan Travis are the top contenders in the quarterback battle, while it’s likely the Seminoles could start a number of transfers to fill the gaps.

NEED SOME HELP

Florida State allowed 29 sacks in nine games, forcing Travis to constantly throw on the run. The Seminoles landed Gibbons, who Will Likely line up at one of the guard spots. Devontay Love-Taylor started at guard and tackle in 2020 and may again play at both spots. The coaching staff is high on tackle Robert Scott, who started seven games as a true freshman, as well as center Maurice Smith.

FEATURE THE RUN

With those concerns in pass protection, Florida State will need to a solid ground game. The Seminoles took a step forward last fall, averaging 199.9 rushing yards per game as Travis’ mobility helped keep defenses off balance. Jashaun Corbin is a physical runner who is healthy again after suffering a torn hamstring in 2019 when he was at Texas A&M. Corbin’s toughness and the elusiveness of Lawrance Toafili give the Seminoles options to build drives.

COVERED UP

Florida State could feature a 4-2-5 base defense that uses all that transfer talent Norvell has accumulated the last two offseasons. Meiko Dotson had nine interceptions at Florida Atlantic in 2019 and could start at one corner, while McClellion is an option at safety and Robinson could play safety or nickel. Cornerbacks Travis Jay and Jarvis Brownlee are part of the defensive foundation.

SPECIAL STRENGTH

Florida State has made strides on special teams. Alex Mastromanno averaged 43.5 yards per punt, impressive for a true freshman from Australia who was just getting acclimated to American football. Ryan Fitzgerald and Parker Grothaus have been accurate in camp on field-goal attempts.

SCHEDULE

Florida State will play five teams that are ranked in the AP Top 25’s preseason top 15, beginning with No. 9 Notre Dame on Sept. 5 in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will also play No. 3 Clemson, No. 10 North Carolina and No. 13 Florida on the road as well as a home game with No. 14 Miami. Florida State does play four of its first five games at home with a chance to build some momentum with its first three ACC games (Wake Forest, Louisville and Syracuse).

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.