Back in August, Jacksonville State coach John Grass was asked about his team’s reworked season opener, which will kick off this Saturday at Florida State.
“We look forward to that,” Grass said. “It will be a good thing to go to Tallahassee and play a traditionally great program.”
Grass is correct about FSU being “traditionally great.”
The Seminoles have won three national titles — 1993, 1999 and 2013 — while producing 45 consensus All-Americans. In addition, three FSU quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy — Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston — and the Seminoles rank in the top 10 among winning percentage for major college teams with at least 500 victories.
But all of that looks like ancient history these days as the Seminoles (0-2) have slumped. Since the start of 2017, once-mighty FSU is just 18-22 overall and 10-16 in ACC play.
That type of mediocrity got Willie Taggart fired last November, and Mike Norvell was hired away from the University of Memphis.
So far, things have not gone well for Norvell, either, as FSU lost a home game to Georgia Tech, 16-13, and then got blasted by the host Miami Hurricanes, 52-10, on Saturday.
Norvell, who missed the Miami game after testing positive for COVID-19, will return for the Jacksonville State game. Still, Norvell’s Seminoles are 27-point favorites against the Division I-AA FCS program.
“I hated that I wasn’t there for the Miami game,” said Norvell, who sent his team a group text after that debacle and then led a meeting Sunday via Zoom. “I embrace the times when things aren’t going well. We have the opportunity to lift guys up and refocus them.”
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are 52-12 in four years under Grass, winning at least 10 games each season and going 31-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. They have made the Division I-AA FCS playoffs nine times, losing in the 2015 national championship game to North Dakota State.
Prior to moving up in classification, the Gamecocks were a Division II power, making it to the championship game four times and winning the title in 1992.
Historically, 11 Gamecocks players have been drafted, and the NFL may also be interested in dual-threat quarterback Zerrick Cooper, who spent his first two collegiate seasons at Clemson before transferring to Jacksonville State.
Cooper, a 6-3, 225-pound senior, has started 25 consecutive games at Jacksonville State, passing for 60 touchdowns. He also threw for more than 3,400 yards in each of those two seasons, and he has run for 686 yards and six scores in two years.
FSU, meanwhile, has had issues at quarterback. Against Miami, FSU used three quarterbacks — starter James Blackman, backup Jordan Travis and freshman Tate Rodemaker — and each QB was intercepted by the Hurricanes. Blackman remains atop FSU’s depth chart, but Travis, Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy are all listed as second team.
In addition, the Seminoles’ top wide receivers were shut down at Miami. Tamorrion Terry, who had 60 catches last year for 1,188 yards and nine touchdowns, was held to no receptions and one carry for negative-4 yards. Keyshawn Helton had one reception for 2 yards.
Look for FSU to lean on its running game Saturday, including freshman Lawrance Toafili and sophomore Jashaun Corbin. Toafili had 99 yards from scrimmage against Miami and averaged 8.0 yards per rush. Corbin, a Texas A&M transfer, had 43 yards rushing (7.2 average).
“They’re still really good,” Grass said of FSU on Tuesday. “They still have Seminoles talent.”
The Seminoles can also turn to junior tight end Camren McDonald, who had six catches for 58 yards against Miami.
“Everybody has a choice,” Norvell said on Monday. “We have a choice on how we’re going to respond going forward.”
–Field Level Media