FSU Football: Breaking down Mike Norvell’s offense by the numbers

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 16: Head coach Mike Norvell of the Memphis Tigers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 16: Head coach Mike Norvell of the Memphis Tigers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

With Mike Norvell hired as FSU Football’s new coach, Chop Chat’s Sam Tschida breaks down what exactly his offense entails, and how he can adapt his system year-to-year.

Mike Norvell is officially the new head coach for FSU football, announced just one day after winning the AAC title with Memphis. Norvell leaves the Tigers with a 38-15 record over four years and brought Memphis their first outright conference title since 1969 this past season. While not the flashiest hire for a lot of the fanbase, Norvell seems to have won over FSU, as Kelvin details here.

One of the biggest factors in Norvell’s successful tenure at Memphis was the consistency of his offenses. Since 2016, the Tigers have not averaged below 38 points-per-game, and have ranked in the top third in the country every season in offensive SP+. The current iteration of the Tigers, Norvell’s best team over his four years in Tennessee, Memphis is ranked 8th in offensive SP+.

Aside from maybe Nick Saban at Alabama, no collegiate coaching hire is ever a slam dunk, regardless of the job. Still, Norvell brings with him a coaching philosophy that seems to be the right fit in Tallahassee, with a different offensive scheme than his predecessor, one that fits multiple playing styles. Let’s look at what Norvell runs, and how it can be used in Tallahassee.

Florida State Seminoles Football
Florida State Seminoles Football /

Florida State Seminoles Football

Just like Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart, Mike Norvell calls the plays instead of his offensive coordinator. This has worked out big-time at Memphis. As mentioned above, the Tigers have run one of the most explosive offenses in the country over the past several years with a diversified attack. Like current offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. Norvell runs a spread offense, but he differs in the base plays and concepts.

For starters, Norvell has shown the ability to adapt his offense to his team’s strengths every season. When he took over in 2016, the offense revolved around the passing game. Quarterback Riley Ferguson, who took over for Paxton Lynch, a first-round draft pick, finished the 2016 season with 3698 passing yards, good for 11th in the country.

He followed that up in 2017 with 4257, finishing third in the country in passing yards and also added 38 touchdowns through the air, also good for third. Over those two seasons, Memphis finished 14th and 7th in the country in passing yards-per-game.

After the loss of Ferguson, Norvell then completely flipped the focal point of his offense. Memphis finished 84th in 2016 and 34th in 2017 in rushing yards-per-game, leaning on their passing offense to score on opponents.

That changed in 2018, when they finished 4th in the country in rushing yards-per-game, higher than several triple-option schools including Navy and Georgia Southern. The Tigers were led by Darrell Henderson, who averaged 8.9 yards a carry on 214 carries, which was first in the FBS.

This season, Memphis looked to once again lean heavily on the run game with Patrick Taylor returning, but after Taylor was hurt early on, Norvell once again went with the passing game. Brady White, who objectively is not as good as the two previous Memphis QBs, led the Tigers to their third straight top-ten finish in total offensive yards per game and threw 3560 yards with 33 TDs. Even without Taylor, the Tigers still had a 1,000-yard rusher and finished averaging 192.2 yards on the ground per game.

All of this is to show how Norvell’s spread scheme is adaptable because it can lean on whenever the strong point is in a given season. Although three of the past four seasons have seen Memphis gain more yards on the ground than through the air, they mainly rely on the running game to set up the pass.

Almost every play Memphis ran was a run, RPO (Run-Pass option) or play-action pass. When the defense began to stack the box to stop the run, Memphis would call a play-action and hit them deep. It led to them being one of the most explosive offenses in football, ranking first in the AAC in explosiveness according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly.

RPO, where White reads the backside OLB. When he steps up to stop the run, it’s an easy throw to the slot receiver on a slant.

Play-Action pas (not an RPO, like some announcers would lead you to believe). The threat of a run brings the defense up, Cincy sends a blitz, leaving room on the backside for a big first-down.

So what should FSU fans expect? It might be a little rough during the first season on offense. The expected departures of Cam Akers and Tamarrion Terry, along with the losses of Ryan Roberts, Tre’shaun Harrison and Gabe Nabers mean the offense should take a step back next season. One thing Norvell almost always had at Memphis was a good offensive line, a luxury that hasn’t been afforded in Tallahassee since 2014.

But with a proven ability to adapt to his personnel, and ability to help showcase his quarterback’s strengths, the offense will be exciting next season. Not always successful, but exciting.