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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Tomahawk Nation’s Jon Marchant

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Hey, I get to do one of these again! Cool!

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The always affable (to me, anyway!) Jon Marchant of Tomahawk Nation, BSD’s Florida State counterpart, reached out to me for a Q&A, and I was only too happy to oblige, and Jon obviously did too! Here are my questions to him and his answers.

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BSD: Not to get too Seinfeldian here, but what’s the deal with FSU? What I mean is, between Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher, you guys had a run of probably something like three decades at or near the top of the college football food chain. Jimbo leaves, the Taggart tenure is yikes, and now you’ve got Mike Norvell at the helm. On the one hand, Norvell is in his first year in about the most challenging landscape anyone can find themselves in, and Norvell is distressingly young (I use that term because he’s literally barely older than my older brother; oh God I wasted my youth, what am I doing) so writing him off seems unwise. On the other hand, I can’t say I’ve thought to myself that Norvell is for sure the answer in terms of first impressions either. Am I on point here? What’s the temperature like there in Noles country?

TN: Oh trust me, I get the existentialism haha. It all started at the end of the Jimbo Fisher era. Multiple reports say his staff largely stopped recruiting in his last season as Fisher’s issues with the athletic department and boosters came to a head (you should really read that article, it’s wild). Add culture rot in the locker room and Murphy’s Law on the offensive line, and Willie Taggart inherited a mess. No OL, no culture, and the country’s worst APR, so he couldn’t make roster moves he needed to in order to fix the culture. So it’s not all his fault. But the problem with Taggart is while he did improve the APR and the talent on the OL, everything else was a mess. There were reports of disorganization so bad it affected every aspect of the program including recruiting, and his lack of accountability as a player’s coach undermined any efforts to change the culture. Did I mention the largely awful staffs he hired? Consequently, the rest of the roster got more or less nuked, leaving FSU with some top heavy talent and not much behind them.

That’s the situation Mike Norvell stepped into. We at Tomahawk Nation have referred to this as Year -1 for Norvell. Not Year 1, not even Year 0. That’s where the program is at - it needs a full rebuild, and, I argued earlier this season, a hard reset. That reset appears to have happened in recent weeks as FSU has seen a large exodus of players either opt out or transfer. Some kids just won’t be here for the rebuild, like Marvin Wilson, Tamorrion Terry, and James Blackman. Others may have been asked to move on. More or less the kids that are still around are the ones that want to be around. Is Norvell the guy? There’s just no way to know at this point, and he may not ever get a fair shot. I believe he can coach, but two new-coach transition classes in three seasons in the early signing day era will nuke almost any program. Then you add in covid on top of a mess like this, and Norvell has arguably had one of the more difficult first-year jobs you’ll ever see. But after Taggart FSU needs stability and continuity (and also literally can’t afford to fire Norvell). I suppose time will tell. But FSU fans are FSU fans, and some are already calling for the head of Adam Fuller, the team’s defensive coordinator. After a year like this, with this team. I’ll never get it.

BSD: It seems like the QB situation has settled in since Jordan Travis took over as the starter. Was that expected, or was it more an unexpected necessity?

TN: It was expected after we saw the play of James Blackman earlier in the year and we knew FSU had to make a change. Blackman is a great kid and a great representative of the program, but inconsistency plagued his time in Tallahassee. The offense we saw earlier this year just didn’t work and it became obvious FSU had an alternative. In stepped Travis; so I’d say it was an unexpected necessity. The offense Travis runs is more of a read-option offense, so nothing like the one Blackman was running. This is one of the things that leads me to believe Norvell can coach; he and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham basically built out this offense for Travis on the fly. Still, Travis is pretty raw as a passer. So the question going forward is whether Travis will be the starter next year, or even the year after that. UCF transfer McKenzie Milton complicates things for next season, and who knows where true freshman Chubba Purdy will be by then.

BSD: Who should Wake fans watch for and/or watch out for? Give me one obvious pick and one under-the-radar pick for guys who might change the tide of the game.

TN: The obvious pick is safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, who finally returned last week from a knee injury sustained in the last week of last season. Nasirildeen just makes FSU’s defense a lot better, and he’s always around the ball. For an under-the-radar pick I would go with running back Lawrence Toafili. For a true freshman that kid has flashed, and he runs with good power.

BSD: Is there anyone on the Wake team that FSU folks are dreading facing off against? I know I almost always have at least one guy on the opposing roster who makes me go, “Ah crap.” when I realize he’s gonna be on the other side in a given week. Is that just a Wake thing?

TN: It’s definitely not just a Wake thing; there’s a lot of good players in this league. This season for Wake it’s Jaquarii Roberson. A 15-yard average on 50 receptions is really good and definitely no accident. FSU has some issues at cornerback so I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Wake might find some big plays on the outside. The even bigger Donavon Greene also gives me heartburn.

BSD: Has COVID impacted FSU in any significant way? I can tell you Wake has had a couple of major opt-outs and at least one flare-up within the program that required contact tracing and whatnot.

TN: Yes, unquestionably. FSU hasn’t released exactly how many players have tested positive on the team from June to now, but we believe it’s probably a sizable chunk of the roster. FSU has also had players opt out due to covid, as well as having to cancel the Virginia game due to an outbreak and contact tracing. The Clemson game was somewhat infamously also canceled due to FSU’s health protocols (and someone bringing a symptomatic player with them to Tallahassee), which a certain someone loudly disagreed with. One of the reasons FSU’s health protocols were stricter is some players called out the program before the season because they didn’t feel safe. FSU made changes, and even had one player later opt back in. We may also see the team choose to simply end their season after this weekend’s game so they can finally go home and see their families.

BSD: Getting away from football and existential dread for just a second, been binging anything good or picking up any new hobbies during quarantine? I could always use some good recommendations, to be honest.

TN: Good question. Can’t say I’ve picked up any new or at least helpful hobbies haha, but I did get a new puppy, who is adorable. Binging tv has been fun, I definitely have to give a huge recommendation to HBO’s Succession which I discovered this year. You have to get 4-5 episodes in for it to grab you but when it does it doesn’t let go. Excellent tv. I also enjoyed The Undoing. I discovered The Expanse on Amazon Prime way back in January or February pre-pandemic that I like and I’m about to start The Queen’s Gambit from Netflix which everyone says is good.

BSD: Finally, give me a prediction. Who wins? Any unusual predictions within the game you want to make so you can look like a sorcerer if they go down?

TN: I want to say FSU wins by 10 because I want to believe this team has started to turn the corner, but I have to remind myself it’s premature. I guess I’ll go with Wake 26 - FSU 23 so the ‘Noles cover, but by Saturday I might have changed my mind. As for fun in-game predictions, I’ll go with a little bit of a parlay with two fumbles, a missed field goal, and a big touchdown over 40 yards.

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Thanks to Jon for the answers! Read my answers to Jon’s questions here Give Jon some love for being such a good sport and make sure his article gets lots of love, will ya?

What do you guys think of his answers/predictions? What’re your thoughts on the game in general? Sound off in the comments, and as always, Go Deacs!

—SF