TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – All offseason, Florida State’s quarterback competition was the most pressing question heading into the fall.
When Jordan Travis assumed control of the starting spot against Jacksonville State three games into the 2020 season, he showed in spurts that he could be the conductor of an explosive offense when healthy. The group became plenty more intriguing when McKenzie Milton announced his intentions to transfer from UCF to Florida State prior to spring ball.
Then there were two second-year signal callers that the staff has been high on since their arrival. Tate Rodemaker struggled in his lone start as a true freshman last season, but Mike Norvell has frequently raved about his improvement since last year. Meanwhile, Chubba Purdy, the more touted high school recruit between the two, appeared in three games, including one start against North Carolina State. The Seminoles were trounced 38-22 that night in Raleigh, but Florida State fans got their first real glimpse of Purdy’s tantalizing combination of mobility and arm talent that has had Norvell and his staff gushing about what he could become in the future.
Still, the consensus heading into this season was that the quarterback competition was a two-man race between Travis and Milton, while Purdy was an afterthought. Norvell delayed naming a starter until the last possible moment, but he was predictably asked about the quarterback battle almost every time he spoke to media members from the start of spring ball all the way up until Florida State’s Week 1 game against Notre Dame. His answer each time would follow a noticeably similar script. Norvell would offer brief complimentary remarks of both Travis and Milton but would not tip his hand as to whether one of them had separated from the pack. He would then proceed to extol his two younger quarterbacks, particularly Purdy, often for several minutes uninterrupted.
It was typical coach’s speak from Norvell, who has routinely been calculated in his conversations with reporters during his two seasons in Tallahassee. But from watching Purdy practice in fall camp and throughout this season, one could see that Norvell’s frequent appraisal of the young quarterback was not all smoke and mirrors. The skillset that made him a four-star, top-200 overall prospect coming out of high school in 2020 was evident.
Purdy finally got his opportunity to translate his impressive practice performance into a game situation Saturday against UMass.
Midway through the third quarter, Travis and the FSU offense had opened up a 38-3 lead. After UMass punted on its second drive of the half, the Seminoles huddled along the sideline. Travis roamed around from the outside and had replaced his helmet with a garnet ball cap. His day was over.
Normally, that would have meant Milton, his backup, would be inserted in the game, but instead it was Purdy who began throwing outside of the huddle a few feet to Travis’ left. Moments later, Purdy led the offense out onto the field to the delight of over 50,000 fans inside of Doak Campbell Stadium.
“McKenzie, I guess he talked to coach Norvell and he wanted me and Tate and the younger guys to get some reps, so I can’t thank him enough for that,” Purdy said. “I really appreciate that, and McKenzie wants nothing but the best for me, Jordan, Tate, whoever gets in the game.”
Purdy responded to his number being called by leading FSU’s offense to touchdowns on all three of his drives, going 5-of-5 in his passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns in Florida State’s 59-3 win.
“It was good to see Chubba come in and be able to get a couple drives, had a couple touchdown passes. I think he was perfect on his passes. He seemed very in control, and that’s something that you guys have seen as I’ve seen it. He’s getting better, and he’s continuing to work away. It was good to see him translate that into a game situation.”
When Purdy was called upon last season as a true freshman, the raw talent popped, but the game often looked too fast for him. In his first career game against Louisville, all nine of his passing attempts resulted in incompletions. Two weeks later against Pitt, he completed 12 of his 21 throws but tallied only 38 yards with an interception. The following week was his lone start of the year against North Carolina State, and it was easily his best performance to date. He completed 15 of his 23 passes for 181 yards with two touchdowns. Like any freshman quarterback who lacks game experience, he just needed more reps.
UMass is several notches below the level of competition he faced last year against three ACC opponents, but the increase in comfort level running the offense as a result of simply having more snaps under his belt was conspicuous.
“I felt way more comfortable today getting in there,” Purdy said. “I just felt like I knew that game plan way better because going through the week all the quarterbacks are always asking each other questions, making sure we’re locked in and I feel like this year I’m just more locked in. I’ve matured more in a year…so compared to last year, I feel like I had my head on the right track for this game.”
Purdy was a bit behind the other quarterbacks on the roster heading into the fall. He’s battled a number of injuries since enrolling at Florida State prior to the 2020 season. During preseason camp last year, he broke his collarbone only a few weeks before the start of the season. An infection in his left shoulder also required him to undergo surgery.
He worked his way back from the preseason injury to be available towards the end of the year, but after the NC State game, the same shoulder began to flare up again. Florida State decided to shut him down for the rest of the season, so he could undergo another procedure.
Purdy could make it through only a few practices this past spring before the shoulder issues continued. He experienced depression as he battled through the recurring ailment, and returned home to Gilbert, Ariz. to rehab and focus on his mental health.
Purdy returned to Florida State for the start of fall camp, finally healthy enough to manage a full workload. Since returning, he’s consistently practiced with a wide smile on his face and has continued to flash captivating upside.
When Travis was ruled out for Florida State’s game against Louisville several weeks ago, Norvell anointed Purdy to be Milton’s backup and once again expressed utmost confidence in the young quarterback.
Purdy would not wind up seeing his first action of the season until Saturday, but his performance inspired plenty of confidence that he can run Florida State’s offense effectively if needed at some point down the stretch.
“I was just super excited and I just can’t thank God enough for that opportunity,” Purdy said. “Just everyone around me has been supporting me, and I’m just glad to be healthy and be back and just practicing and just getting back in the swing of everything. “
Norvell mentioned following Saturday’s game that the Seminoles have a unique quarterback room in today’s college football landscape in that all four of their scholarship players have started a game in their college careers. With the transfer portal constantly looming over programs nowadays, quarterbacks are leaving programs more than ever as soon as they aren’t the go-to guy. Florida State’s quarterback room is unusual in that it not only has four guys who have been willing to stay and compete against one another but are genuinely happy to see each other succeed.
“It’s a special room, but that’s what you want,” Norvell said. “You want that within your football team because that speaks to the culture of what’s here, the relationships, the type of young men that we have, and that’s an incredible group. It’s wonderful to see them all support each other.”
In a modern era where the supply of capable quarterbacks far outweighs the number of opportunities for them to take snaps, not too many would do what Milton did Saturday and defer his chance at playing time to two younger quarterbacks who haven’t taken a snap yet this year.
Even Travis, the starter of the group, who was demoted in favor of Milton for a couple of games earlier in the season, has consistently been nothing but encouraging when one of his fellow teammates is summoned into action. Saturday could have been a game where he pushed to lead a couple more drives in order to build confidence heading into FSU’s game at Clemson next week, but he was all for the decision to insert Purdy into the game.
“Jordan and McKenzie have been awesome,” Purdy said. “They always help me out. Every time I have a question they help me out, so I really look up to both of them…I’m super blessed to have them in my life.”
When Purdy capped off his appearance by firing his second of two touchdown passes on the afternoon to a wide-open Jordan Young in the back of the endzone, Travis and Milton celebrated on the sideline and were among the first to run over to Purdy and congratulate him.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” Travis said. “Just seeing your teammates succeed, it’s really special. Standing on the sideline watching Chubba throw a touchdown, I was more happy about his touchdown than my touchdown. I haven’t been that happy in a long time.”
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