The Florida State defense could be on the verge of returning a major piece.
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Fabien Lovett Sr. has missed the last five games since he suffered a lower right leg injury against LSU in Week One.
Lovett tried to get back onto the field ahead of the Clemson game, but ultimately head coach Mike Norvell and the staff decided it was the best decision to wait until after the bye.
The third-year Seminole looks to be trending toward returning to the field when Florida State (4-3, 2-3 ACC) hosts Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-2) in Doak Campbell Stadium at noon Saturday.
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“It was good seeing Fabien move around, very hopeful for what that’s going to look like this week,” Norvell said at his press conference Monday.
Norvell added that Lovett has been one of the main leaders for the Seminoles, even while he has been out with an injury.
Lovett played 18 snaps against Duquesne and 43 against the Tigers. He posted a 79.5 overall defensive grade and 79.9 run defense grade, according to Pro Football Focus, in his limited snaps.
“We feel like our depth has been tested, and that’s been a position that’s really been challenged,” Norvell said. “You look at guys that have missed time, whether it’s missing games or missing periods of games, there on that defensive front, especially in that corps, and I’m excited about the growth that we’ve seen and young guys stepping up and showing that they are capable.
“But when you have a guy that has Fabien’s experience, leadership, size, strength, and speed, and just that overall mentality, it’s something that’s big for our team. I think he’s been — his involvement, even when not being able to play on game day, has been something that I’ve appreciated. He continues to earn the respect through some of the challenges and adversity that he’s had to face.
“We all know how bad he wants to be out there on the field, and I know he’ll make a great impact when he’s able to do that.”
Lovett’s return would be a welcome addition to an FSU team that has struggled against the run, ranking No. 84 nationally (157 rushing yards allowed per game).
He recorded a 60.0 run defense grade last season, to go along with 20 tackles, 14 quarterback hurries and two sacks.
“He gives you just a really tough matchup inside,” FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “It’s hard to block him with one guy just because he’s so strong. He’s strong, but he’s been in the system for three years now, so he plays with the technique necessary to be productive.
“He’s a team-first player that’s unselfish, he battles, he fights, and he uses good technique. And we saw at the beginning of the year that he’s a problem in the pass-game too just because of his ability to push the pocket. His opportunity when he’s been down has helped guys like Josh Farmer, and Malcolm, and other guys come along. But at one point, when he comes back, it’ll be good to have him back.”
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Special teams weapon
Florida State has boasted one of the best special team units in the country this season. The Seminoles 90.3 PFF special teams grade is tied for fourth in the nation with Mississippi State.
FSU special teams coordinator John Papuchis has recently said that special teams is a reflection of the culture.
Running back Trey Benson sparked the team in a blowout win over Boston College, returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. Receiver Mycah Pittman almost returned a punt for a TD against Clemson, but he was taken down by the punter.
“We were able to take the open week and work on some different fundamentals and get a little bit of a jumpstart on Georgia Tech,” Papuchis said.
“I think we’re getting close, because I think as a unit, that punt return units playing well. There’s a lot of things that go into to having success in return units. You’ve got to get the right kick, you’ve got to get everybody blocked, you’ve got to get the return man usually has to make somebody miss somewhere along the line. All those ingredients have to be in play, but I do feel like that unit certainly becoming a weapon for us.”
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Receiving corps depth
One of the strengths of the FSU roster has been its receiving corps. The receivers entered the bye week with a PFF grade of 82.0, ranking No. 6 in the FBS.
Arizona State transfer Johnny Wilson leads the team with 27 catches for 492 yards and three touchdowns. Ontaria Wilson has added 19 catches for 296 yards and two scores. Mycah Pittman has 22 catches, 266 yards and three scores. Kentron Poitier, Darion Williamson and Malik McClain also have made impacts this year at receiver.
Hybrid player Ja’Khi Douglas returned against Clemson. Winston Wright Jr. is still working his way back from a leg injury he suffered in a car crash in March.
“We are fortunate where we’ve got some big, long receivers when you talk about Johnny, when you talk about Malik and those guys who can go up and make plays,” FSU offensive coordinator Alex Atkins said.
“It is such a unique room, because you’ve got a little bit of everything. You’ve got the tall, long, big receivers. You’ve got Mycah, the short, thick (receivers). You’ve got him and Ja’Khi. There are so many guys who can do so many things. But the good thing about it is, they all know the position. So they can all play the outside receiver, the inside receiver. You can move them around.
“Of course with Johnny, he is a matchup problem just off raw talent and raw size. But overall, we don’t have to change too much because of the ability that is in the room. Whoever is out there can pretty much operate in whatever way we need him to operate. But it is a fun room to game plan, because you have so many weapons on the outside.
“We don’t have to say, overall, we have to match this person. They do a good job. That is why in the past, we’ve had different receivers show up at different times. Not necessarily because of the game plan. But because hey, we are going to take this guy and now this guy has got to step up. Or the coverage dictated things like that. We have full confidence in all of those guys in that room.”
Miami kickoff time announced
Florida State has another night game on its schedule. The ACC announced game times for games the week of Nov. 5.
The Seminoles will travel to Miami to play the Hurricanes at 7:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium.
The game will be broadcast on ABC.
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Who: FSU (4-3, 2-3 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-2)
When/where: Saturday, noon; Doak Campbell Stadium
TV/Radio: ACC Network/94.9 FM
Live game updates: www.Tallahassee.com; @CarterKarels on Twitter; @Ehsan_Kassim on Twitter; @jackgwilliams on Twitter; @JimHenryTALLY
Reach Ehsan Kassim at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Ehsan_Kassim. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).
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