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How DJ Uiagalelei did in his football debut at Florida State

How DJ Uiagalelei did in his football debut at Florida State


TALLAHASSEE The construction of Doak Campbell Stadium provided a fitting backdrop for Florida State football's spring showcase on Saturday.

Mike Norvell's Seminoles also looked like a work in progress on the field.

That's the charitable take on a revamped offense led by former Clemson/Oregon State quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. The former five-star recruit was an unofficial 13 of 29 passing for 184 yards (including situational work before the scrimmage).

Clearly it wasn't the cleanest day, Uiagalelei said.

But it also wasn't necessarily as bad as the numbers suggested.

Uiagalelei recovered from a shaky start. His first pass in the red zone was behind his receiver. His second drop back ended in a generously called sack (quarterbacks wore non-contact jerseys). He also missed five of his next seven passes, including one that could have been intercepted by Georgia transfer Marvin Jones Jr.

There were also two miscommunications during a two-minute exercise. Some of that is expected with a new quarterback still learning his teammates and system.

It didn't help that Uiagalele's receiving corps dropped several passes. Alabama transfer Malik Benson, who Norvell called one of his best offensive players, left with an injury and did not return. That unit still has a lot of work to do if it wants to adequately replace Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson.both of whom will be called up this week). Norvell said the trustees are looking for consistency.

They didn't find it on Saturday.

On the other hand, FSU's defense was a factor. The secondary is strong, with everyone from blue-chip early enrollee Cai Bates to rising star Azareeh Thomas break up passes. The defensive front provided pressure, with Aaron Hester one of the standouts.

Florida State defensive players Azareye'h Thomas (left) and Marvin Jones Jr.  (right), spoke to reporters after the Seminoles' spring 2024 show.
Florida State defensive players Azareye'h Thomas (left) and Marvin Jones Jr. (right), spoke to reporters after the Seminoles' spring 2024 show. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]

Yet Uiagalelei still made key plays. He was 6 of 8 on third down with five conversions (excluding a defensive pass interference call). His best moment was a 27-yard third-down conversion to Benson.

“I really enjoy coaching the young man,” Norvell said. The talent, the ability, the playing skills he has, the willingness to learn

I'm really excited about where he goes and what lies ahead.

What lies ahead is a run toward an ACC championship.

The Seminoles don't need Uiagalelei to resemble Jordan Travis, a breakout artist who became one of the best players in program history. They just need him to be productive, efficient and ready, the prototypical game manager who can also stretch the field vertically. They just need him to complement what should be a very good game.

Pinellas Park High alumnus Caziah Holmes and Lawrance Toafili both ran over would-be tacklers on touchdown runs Saturday. Alabama transfer Roydel Williams walked with power. Redshirt freshman Samuel Singleton Jr. made an explosive run, and Indiana transfer Jaylin Lucas flashed his electric speed enough to look like Norvell's next do-it-all playmaker.

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With that backfield to lean on, FSU could be fine with an efficient quarterback who uses his experience (40 career starts) to keep drives alive. Uiagalelei showed enough on Saturday in a turnover-free afternoon to make that goal seem feasible.

Obviously I played a lot of football, Uiagalelei said. I feel like my best years are ahead of me.

Nole notes

Construction was underway to create a shocking scene for the 18,061 spectators in attendance. The west stands have been replaced with a patch of brown dirt, white pipes and steel. A pair of construction pickup trucks stopped near the field so spectators could watch from the beds. Don't block the signs in those four tunnels on the east side. FSU will use temporary seating this season, but expects the nine-figure renovation to be completed before the 2025 season opener.

The quarterbacks' non-contact jerseys were turquoise, a color FSU emphasizes during Seminole Heritage games. The team has not yet worn it during a game.

Marvin Jones Jr., the former five-star signee from Georgia, said playing with Doak was an incredible feeling. His father was one Hall of Fame linebacker at FSU.

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