In the second part of our two-part series with Tomahawk Nation’s Austin Cox. We talked about McKenzie Milton’s transfer to Florida State and the impact he can make on the Seminoles. We also discuss what the reaction is like in Tallahassee and what is Milton getting himself into at Florida State.
Eric Lopez, Black & Gold Banneret: What has been the reaction from fans to McKenzie Milton coming to FSU?
Austin Cox, Tomahawk Nation: The reaction has been very positive from Florida State fans, albeit with many including the caveat “if he can stay healthy.” While many who support FSU may not be thrilled to see UCF take the step forward in football that they have recently within their own state, Noles fans also recognize and respect what the Knights have accomplished in recent years. Obviously, a big part of that success was Milton.
Another reason FSU fans have reacted with praise of the news of Milton transfer is the success Miami quarterback D’Eriq King had in 2020. The fact that Miami was able to completely flip their offense one season to the next with a transfer quarterback is a concrete example of what could happen with Milton and FSU.
ELO: Do you expect him to start over Jordan Travis in 2021?
AC: The first thing I would say about Jordan Travis is that there is a place for him in any offense. When he first came in against Boston College in 2019, simply in a designed-run role, he had 3 carries for 94 yards and a 66-yard touchdown run. The guy is a special, special runner and one of the most elusive players in FSU history at any position. Before the Milton news, there were plenty of folks around the program who felt good about Travis being the guy heading in 2021.
I expect Milton to start over Travis next season, but I would go as far to say that it is likely Travis sees the field on offense in every game in 2021. And that would certainly include snaps at quarterback.
Having said that, I think Milton presents a higher ceiling for the overall offense than Travis.
ELO: Describe the quarterbacks that Milton will be competing against for the starting job?
AC: Other than Jordan Travis (a redshirt sophomore in 2020), FSU also brought in two freshman quarterbacks who saw significant action and started in 2020. Freshman Chubba Purdy, a former four-star recruit, started the N.C. State loss and threw two touchdowns with no turnovers. He is more of a dual threat, and a big kid at 6’2”, 212 pounds.
Fellow freshman Tate Rodemaker saw action in four games. Both freshmen were thrust into tough situations, and show promise for the future. Milton should have a decisive edge over Purdy and Rodemaker. Longtime former starter James Blackman announced he will be a graduate transfer for 2021.
ELO: Jordan Travis has shown himself to be a playmaker with his legs. So Head Coach Mike Norvell will play both Milton and Travis in the same games in 2021?
AC: No doubt about it, and like I said, I think it is likely that happens. Travis is the best rushing quarterback in FSU history statistically, and with fewer carries than guys like Charlie Ward, Christian Ponder, or E.J. Manuel.
He has a tendency for huge, explosive plays and runs of 40 to 50 yards or more. Travis is exceptional at creating a play even when the offensive line may miss a block or when things break down. He often eludes the first tackler he faces. He is a respected player on the team and in the locker room. He was arguably the biggest bright spot in 2020 for FSU.
ELO: Many UCF fans are worried about Milton’s protection with FSU’s struggles up front over the last few years.How is the offensive line recruiting and development going under Mike Norvell and OL coach Alex Atkins?
AC: If this were two years ago, I would be genuinely worried for Milton. James Blackman took a pounding during his career in Tallahassee.
But this year, the offensive line has actually taken a nice step forward. Offensive line coach Alex Atkins has done a very nice job of building a foundation and raising the floor of the overall play of the unit. The run game is actually improved, despite losing Los Angeles Rams rookie Cam Akers to the NFL. FSU has averaged a more-than-respectable 199 rushing yards per-game and 5.1 yards per-carry in 2020.
As far as pass protection, Milton’s tackles will be young but talented. Freshman tackles Robert Scott and Darius Washington received a ton of playing time and improved throughout the year. In my opinion, Scott especially could be a real nice player moving forward. FSU also signed four-star tackle Rod Orr during the early signing period.
Because of eligibility rules during the pandemic, FSU will get another year from senior Devontay Love-Taylor as he decided to return, which is a nice boost. Overall, there is plenty to work with and the combination of another off-season under this staff plus the addition of Milton is reason enough to expect even more improvement in 2021.
ELO: Who do you project will Milton be throwing the football to in 2021?
AC: Here is an area where we could see some shake-up for FSU. Just in the middle of the season, several receivers opted out, transferred, or moved on from the program (including Tamorrion Terry). It will be crucial for one or more of Florida State’s three freshman receivers to step up next season. Ontaria Wilson and Keyshawn Helton will be seniors in 2021. FSU signed just one receiver during the early period. Norvell will look to get creative and use running backs at receiver.
ELO: Will Milton have a running game to lean on in 2021 and who projected to be the ball carriers?
AC: Mentioned above, Florida State’s run game was consistent and reliable in 2020. Lawrance Toafili was fairly impressive as a freshman, showing great quickness and burst.
ELO: How do Noles fans feel about Mike Norvell?
AC: FSU fans are in a little bit of a unique place among college football fan bases and have been for a while. The Willie Taggart tenure was the first bad hire for the school since the 1970’s. That is solely because of Bobby Bowden and his legendary career. But while every other program’s fans had experienced bad hires at some point in the modern era of college football, Bowden was handing the baton to Jimbo Fisher and FSU fans were blind to the reality that every other fan base has already dealt with before.
When Taggart was brought in, the 2018 off-season had a lot of fanfare and ballooned expectations. Don’t forget a team that started 4-6 in 2017 and had a new head coach was somehow ranked #18 to start 2018. FSU fans were expecting big things. Not only was Taggart a bad hire, it was the only bad hire for multiple generations of Noles fans.
Coming off the letdown of the Taggart tenure, a lot of FSU fans were hesitant to get truly excited for Norvell after being disappointed by Taggart. Throw in a 3-6 record in 2020, and that hasn’t exactly improved optimism either.
But we all know during the pandemic season, things are not that simple. The fan base recognizes that this has been a crazy season that is difficult to draw major conclusions off of. And even in a losing season, Norvell has shown himself to be an above average play-caller and offensive mind.
Right now, the general pulse of the fan base is: it is too early to tell, let’s wait and see what happens.
ELO: What are the expectations for 2021? Can Milton turn FSU’s program around like D’Eriq King did with Miami in 2020, or is Milton part of a rebuilding process to make Travis and/or Purdy better quarterbacks for 2022 and beyond?
AC: I would say somewhere in between. A huge step froward for this program would be an 8- or 9-win season next year, and I think Milton can help FSU have a much more realistic path to getting there in 2021.
ELO: What would you tell Milton about the campus life at FSU and being in Tallahassee?
AC: You came to the right place for this question, as I am a Tallahassee native and have lived here all of my life. Also went to college at Florida State, of course. Admittedly, I am a little biased, I love Tallahassee as much as anyone.
Tallahassee is kind of split into two versions: the college area of FSU, FAMU, and TCC, and then the rest of the city. Even though it is a state capital, the non-college area really has somewhat of a small-town feel to it. As far as FSU goes, the campus life and the surrounding area are incredible.