TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida State has started 4-0 with a pair of impressive wins away from home, knocking off LSU in Orlando and edging Clemson at Death Valley while scoring 30 or more points in each September game.
But there are also real flaws to the Seminoles' offense, from an often stagnant run game (147 yards per game, 81st in the FBS) to the lack of efficiency on third downs (38 percent, 85th in the nation). Those were both strengths in 2022 but now are major question marks.
"We've got to do a better job of third-down conversions, continuing to extend drives," Florida State coach Mike Norvell said.
The No. 5 Seminoles converted on just 1 of 9 third-down tries in a nail-biting win at Boston College and followed it up with a somewhat improved 4 of 13 conversion rate at Clemson. Norvell points to details such as a missed assignment, drop or penalty, sore spots for the Seminoles (2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) as they play their league home opener against Virginia Tech (2-3, 1-0) on Saturday.
Norvell often is thinking ahead on third downs, calling plays along with offensive coordinator Alex Atkins with the intention of going for it on fourth down if necessary. If it's fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2 near midfield or on the opponents' side of the 50, Norvell has been a proponent of the analytics and will often go for it.
Florida State is 7 of 9 on fourth-down conversions this fall, 13th in the FBS and the highest the Seminoles have been in that category since Norvell arrived in 2020.
"If you have a third-and-8 and you get six yards to a fourth-and-2, and then you convert on a fourth-and-2, that is a positive set," Norvell said. "You did what you needed to do to put yourself in that situation. … If it's third-and-8, you want to get the eight yards. But ultimately there's times that you can have that type of thought process, and we're going to continue to push."
While Norvell sees Florida State's flaws with a critical eye, Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry views the Seminoles for their strengths, too.
"They're scoring 40-plus points a game," Pry said. "They got the No. 1 or 2 red zone offense in the country. They protect the quarterback. He protects the ball. It's just a lot of good things going on there."
Here are five storylines for Florida State and Virginia Tech on Saturday:
Pry said it's too early to determine who will play quarterback with starter Grant Wells still recovering from an ankle injury. But even if he's ready, it might be hard to turn away from Baylor transfer Kyron Drones. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in last week's 38-21 victory against Pitt. Drones is more mobile, which figures to be important against the Seminoles' stout defensive front.
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Chris Marve was Florida State's linebackers coach in 2020 and '21.
"Obviously we know Chris Marve, defensive coordinator, Coach Pry, that's his background, and all that he's done and all the success in his career," Norvell said. "Very sound, aggressive attack style defense in what they do."
Norvell is 8-2 as a head coach at Memphis (2016-19) and Florida State following a bye week. In 2022, the Seminoles had two bye weeks and won at Louisville as well as a home game with Georgia Tech.
Florida State and Virginia Tech are facing off for just the third time in the regular season since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech won the last meeting, 24-3 in the 2018 opener in Tallahassee.
Virginia Tech is 0-2 on the road with losses at Rutgers and Marshall and will be visiting Tallahassee for the 21st time in 38 all-time meetings with the Seminoles. They are 6-14 in Florida.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Virginia contributed.
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