TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State feels like it has talent at receiver, but the group goes into the season on Sept. 2 against Alabama lacking in depth and experience.
The Seminoles lost their top four pass catchers from last season due to graduation and early departures for the NFL draft. Of the seven scholarship receivers on the roster, only two have caught passes in games.
“This is as thin as I’ve been since we’ve been here. It’s going to be a challenge. But the talent is there, they can get the job done,” receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey said Sunday at the team’s media day.
Florida State will be counting heavily on a pair of juniors who emerged over the second half of last season. Nyqwan Murray had two touchdowns in the Orange Bowl win over Michigan — a 92-yarder that is the longest receiving score in the bowl game’s history and a 12-yard score for the game-winner with 36 seconds remaining. Auden Tate emerged as a threat in the red zone.
Over the final six games, Murray had 22 receptions for 395 yards — including two 100-yard games — and five touchdowns. Tate was almost as productive during the same stretch with 17 catches for 291 yards and a touchdown.
The challenge for both is proving they can produce over the course of an entire season.
“I’ve been really excited about what those guys have done so far. They both have a lot of ability to make plays,” offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. “I think we have a chance to be a pretty dynamic receiving group. And when you have a quarterback that can get it to them, and you have guys that can get open, it sure makes the passing game a lot better.”
Coach Jimbo Fisher thinks that Murray will emerge as the Seminoles’ top receiver. At 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, Murray doesn’t have the size, but he is shiftier than other receivers. Redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James said that Murray is very good technically and can create separation.
Murray said he is embracing Fisher’s challenge and that the reason he came to Florida State was to be the No. 1 receiver.
“Last year I felt like I could relax a little bit in practices but now those guys are gone and I have to be the veteran,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people underestimating us. We have to fine tune the little things.”
Tate is more of a red zone threat because of his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame. His breakout game last season came in a victory over Boston College on Nov. 11 when he had six receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
“Most of our guys don’t do the same thing. You’ve got me, the big physical type, Noonie (Murray), the quick threat. I think it compliments each other very well,” Tate said.
The bigger concern is who is behind Tate and Murray? Junior Da’Vante Phillips, who was the only other receiver with a catch in a game, is suspended due to felony charges related to theft. Sophomore Keith Gavin, who had a 66-yard kickoff return during the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl, has shown flashes of potential during the first week while freshmen D.J. Matthews and Tamorrion Terry are still learning. To counter the lack of depth, senior Malique Jackson has moved over from defensive back.
Fisher though is more concerned about quality than quantity.
“At LSU, I never had more than seven guys on scholarship the whole time I was there. Ever at one time. And you’re going to play five consistently, most likely,” he said.