Mike Norvell was hired as the new Florida State Seminoles football coach after an interesting search that flirted with names like Deion Sanders and Bob Stoops. Norvell comes to Tallahassee from Memphis where he made a name for himself by posting a 38-15 record with the Tigers. Memphis played in four straight bowl games under Norvell, including a trip to the Cotton Bowl after a 12-1 record in 2019 (12-2 after the bowl not coached by Norvell).
A former wide receiver at Central Arkansas, Norvell is an offensive genius that works a combination of hurry up no huddle into a spread offense that loves to put up big points. The Tigers 40.4 points per game in 2019 put them at 8th overall in the country. Bill Connelly’s SP+ had Memphis finish the 2019 season 17th overall; including 8th in offense, 40th in defense, and 13th in special teams. Last year’s Memphis offense put up rare numbers with a 4,000 yard passer, 1,400 yard rusher and 1,200 yard receiver.
Norvell hasn’t had quite the journeyman run we’ve seen from other ACC head coaches. Starting as a graduate assistant in 2006, Norvell has coached at Central Arkansas, Tulsa, Pittsburgh, Arizona State, Memphis and now FSU. The ‘Noles are in disarray compared to where Coach Norvell left the Tigers. Per Bill Connelly’s SP+ analytics, FSU is expected to finish 26th in the country in 2020, with the 30th best offense and 33rd best defense. Miami is expected to finish 23rd, with the 63rd best offense and 9th best defense.
The starting QB looks to be James Blackman. Blackman started 10 of FSU’s 13 games in 2019 and has been a part-time starting QB at FSU since Deondre Francois injured his knee in 2017. Last season, Blackman completed 63% of his passes, while throwing 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also averaged eight yards per passing attempt while throwing for over 2,000 yards.
Gone are the days where FSU dominates the pre-season All-ACC lists for Athlon Magazine. The ‘Noles have one first team offensive player in wide receiver Tamorrion Terry. The defense is better off with three first teamers in defensive lineman Marvin Wilson, cornerback Asante Samuel, and safety Hamsah Nasirildeen. In 2019, Terry caught 60 balls for 1188 receiving yards (an amazing 19.8 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns.
You can’t find another Seminole on the preseason list until the 3rd team with running back Jashaun Corbin. Corbin is a transfer from Texas A&M who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Corbin ran for 483 yards and two scores as a back up last season.
Wilson is clearly the leader on the ‘Noles roster. He logged 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2019. Samuel is an absolute stud who has lived up to his recruitment billing. Samuel recorded 14 PBU’s in 2019, but only had one interception. Nasirildeen made 101 tackles adding two interceptions last season.
The 4th team has offensive lineman Dontae Lucas, defensive lineman Cory Durden, and punt returner D.J. Matthews. I’m stunned an FSU lineman made the list as they’re pretty horrible up front. Durden logged 6.5 TFL’s with five sacks a year ago, while Matthews averaged only 6.6 yards per punt return in 2019.
Scheme on O
Mike Norvell runs the show on offense, but he’s brought the band back together after one season and hired Kenny Dillingham away from Auburn. Dillingham has served as a protege of Norvell’s for years. They first began working together at Arizona State, and Dillingham followed Norvell to Memphis, spent a year at Aurbun with Gus Malzahn, and has now arrived at FSU for year one of the Norvell experience. If you remember, I wanted Dillingham to be the Miami OC when Manny Diaz hired Dan Enos. Memphis QB Brady White followed Dillingham from Arizona State to Memphis.
While at Memphis, Norvell used a tight end in his offense but not as often as other teams, and not in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) pictures as often, either. What I mean by that is that even when the tight end was on the field, he would line up split out as often as he would be in a wing or inline.
I wouldn’t expect an offense that different from what Coach Longo runs at UNC, or from what Rhett Lashlee plans to do at Miami (or at least we hope, fool me once!). If FSU plays anything like Memphis has, expect tempo to be high. The run game is traditionally inside zone, outside zone and guard wrap- with the QB as an option to run on read option. RPO’s are part of the offense both as screens and as pop passes and even some deeper throws. The passing game includes a lot of fades off play-action, smash concepts, bubble-sit combos and flood routes.
Below- you can see a simple guard wrap from the pistol. Memphis is a hard nosed, fast paced football team. I expect Norvell to bring that to Tally.
Below- here’s a quick shot of the play-action and deep shot game. This is just one of many times Memphis used it against PSU. It’s a common theme in their offense and will be at FSU, too.
This is the 2nd trick play Memphis dialed up against Penn State in the Cotton Bowl. The first was a reverse that went for a big loss. This time the reverse pass hits White for a huge gain. Norvell and Lashlee both like the razzle dazzle (that’s for the old farts on here).
Scheme on D
Memphis was great on O but just average on defense. They put up a fight against Penn State but eventually gave up 53 points to the Nittany Lions. The Tigers gave up 26 PPG over the season, good for 54th of 130 FBS programs. DC Adam Fuller came to Memphis from Marshall, and before that UT-Chattanooga.
When Fuller was at Marshall the Thundering Herd put up the 22nd best defense per the S&P+ (what the SP+ was called in 2018), up from 41st the year before. The Memphis defense was 87th before Fuller and improved to 40th. Fuller has worked reclamation projects in the past and FSU’s defense isn’t one at all compared to their dreadful offense.
The top screenshot is Memphis defending a standard 11 personnel set. The shot directly above is defending a 3x1 trips open (spread trips, no TE or wing) look. Against the 5 man box above, I’m hoping Lashlee sees a chance to run something with a QB read option. The defense would be outnumbered in the box and D’Eriq King and Cam’Ron Harris should tear that apart.
Above- 3rd and four with the game on the line, Memphis went press man against PSU. Memphis gets beat on a shallow drag and gives up the first down.
Canyonero keys to victory
They keys for success to beating FSU under Mike Norvell are fairly simple. Miami’s defensive line needs to dominate FSU’s terrible O-Line. Getting a pass rush with only four should be easy for
Gregory Rousseau, Quincy Roche, and Nesta Silvera. Being able to drop seven gives Miami the ability to cover the deep shots and intermediate passing game.
Lashlee knows that FSU has two elite defensive backs. You can’t completely game plan away from someone like Samuel but forcing him to have to think and react more than just play ball has to be the key. Keep Samuel involved in the run game and keep him having to switch coverage responsibilities.
Establishing the run game has to be a priority for Miami against FSU. The winner of the Miami-FSU rivalry game is usually the more physical team that plays more balanced football. Even in the pass happy ‘Canes offenses of the late 80’s and early 90’s- Dennis Erickson knew to establish the run against the ‘Noles.