Mike Norvell's debut as the head coach at Florida State went a lot like his predecessor Willie Taggart's: utter disappointment as the home-standing Seminoles fell 16-13 on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium. It's the fourth straight season-opening loss for Florida State, something that hasn't happened since 1973-76. It was Georgia Tech's first win at Florida State since 2009.
In his first start, freshman Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims threw for 277 yards, rushed for 64 yards and tossed one touchdown on the afternoon. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder spread the wealth around, completing passes to 10 different receivers on the night. Not bad for a quarterback at Georgia Tech which, up until Geoff Collins took over for Paul Johnson prior to the 2019 season, ran the triple option.
Sims hit Malachi Carter for a 15-yard touchdown with 13:17 left in the game to tie the game at 13. Jude Kelly -- who had three kicks blocked on the afternoon (two field goals and one extra point) -- drilled a 32-yard field goal for the go-ahead score.
Florida State quarterback James Blackman was 23 of 43 for 198 yards, one touchdown and one interception on the afternoon.
Let's have a look now at a few takeaways as Georgia Tech picked up the season-opening victory on Saturday in Tallahassee.
1. Sims is a star-in-the-making: The freshman quarterback of the Yellow Jackets looks like a budding star for a program that has a big hill to climb in coach Collins' second year at the helm. There is no playbook for Collins as he transitions from the triple option to the spread, and it's something that not many modern coaches have done successfully, but Sims looks like the man who can accelerate that rebuilding process. He did his damage on the road against a good Seminoles defense despite an offseason that made it nearly impossible for Collins to install everything that he wanted to heading into Year 2 in Atlanta.
No, the two first-half picks don't look good on the stat sheet. Both of those passes shouldn't have been thrown at all, but came after long drives that gave the Jackets confidence they clearly needed late in the game. Sims isn't a star yet, but Collins has the foundation he needs for the future. It's the four-star, dual-threat stud who just led them to victory in Tallahassee.
2. Collins needed this: Georgia Tech was an afterthought last season. Aside from a win over a very average Miami (FL) team, nobody really paid attention to the beginning of the rebuild. They're paying attention now.
Posting a win over one of the most tradition-rich programs over the last 25 years on a slim opening weekend with fans and high school players searching for a compelling game will give Collins a big chance to capitalize on a perfect marketing opportunity -- and he's well-schooled on marketing. Collins has made a big push in the city of Atlanta by promoting the "404" culture with the hashtag #4The404. If he can take a bite out of the high school talent in the metro area, watch out.
3. Florida State can't block: Stop me if you've heard this before ... actually, don't stop me, because it needs to be said again. Florida State can't block. Not even a little bit. Blackman was sacked three times and the Yellow Jackets had six tackles for loss in what seems to be a recurring theme in Tallahassee that has persisted through three different coaches (Jimbo Fisher, Taggart and Norvell). This despite three key Georgia Tech defenders sitting out the season-opener.
Quarterbacks get too much praise and too much criticism. It makes sense. After all, it's the most important position on the field. But don't put this loss on Blackman. He was running for his life all night.
4. The Noles have a star at DB: Florida State defensive back Asante Samuel Jr., son of four-time Pro Bowl defensive back Asante Samuel, did the best impersonation of his father on Saturday afternoon in the Seminoles' season-opener. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior from Sunrise, Florida, picked off two Jeff Sims passes in the first half, and both of them were huge.
His first interception stopped the first drive of the game. Sims, a freshman from Jacksonville, Florida, had the Yellow Jackets cooking after going 53 yards on 11 plays. But Samuel picked off Sims at the Florida State 10-yard line and returned it 38 yards to the 48-yard line. That pick led to a Florida State touchdown on its first drive of the year to go up 7-0.
Samuel provided more red zone heroics in the second quarter after a long Georgia Tech drive. Defensive lineman Marvin Wilson pressured Sims to toss up an ill-advised pass in the middle of the field. Samuel hauled it in at the 11-yard line and scampered down the left sideline to the Florida State 42, halting the nine play, 46-yard drive by the Yellow Jackets.
Take a look at both of Samuel's first half picks here:
Samuel's father was a standout NFL star from 2003-13. He was part of New England Patriots teams that won two Super Bowls (XXXVIII, XXXIX), was named to the Pro Bowl four times and tallied 51 interceptions with the Patriots (2003-07), Philadelphia Eagles (2008-11) and Atlanta Falcons (2012-13).