How DJ Uiagalelei fared in his Florida State football debut

How DJ Uiagalelei fared in his Florida State football debut

TALLAHASSEE — The construction to Doak Campbell Stadium was an appropriate backdrop to Florida State football’s spring showcase Saturday.

Mike Norvell’s Seminoles looked like a work in progress on the field, too.

That’s the charitable view of 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).

“Wasn’t obviously the cleanest day,” Uiagalelei said.

But it wasn’t necessarily as bad as the numbers suggested, either.

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 were in non-contact jerseys). He missed on five of his next seven passes, too, including one that could have been intercepted by Georgia transfer Marvin Jones Jr.

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

It didn’t help that Uiagalelei’s receiving corps dropped multiple passes. Alabama transfer Malik Benson — whom Norvell called one of his best offensive players — left with an injury and did not return. That unit has a lot of work ahead if it’s going to adequately replace Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson (who will both be drafted this week). Norvell said the receivers are looking for consistency.

They didn’t find it Saturday.

Then again, FSU’s defense was a factor. The secondary is strong, with everyone from blue-chip early enrollee Cai Bates to rising star Azareye’h Thomas breaking up passes. The defensive front created pressure, with Aaron Hester among the standouts.

Yet Uiagalelei still made key plays. He was 6 of 8 on third down with five conversions (not including a defensive pass interference). His best moment was a 27-yard third-down conversion to Benson.

“I really love coaching the young man,” Norvell said. “The talent, the ability, the playmaking skills that he has, the willingness to learn…

“Really excited about where he’s going and what’s there in front of him.”

What’s there in front of him is a run toward an ACC championship.

The Seminoles don’t need Uiagalelei to be like Jordan Travis, an escape artist who became one of the best players in program history. They just need him to be productive, efficient and poised — the prototypical game manager who can also stretch the field vertically. They just need him to complement what should be a very good run game.

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

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 Saturday in a turnover-free afternoon to make that goal look attainable.

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

‘Nole notes

Construction made for a jarring scene for the 18,061 spectators in attendance. The west stands have been replaced by a patch of brown dirt, white pipes and steel. A few construction pickup trucks pulled up near the field so spectators could watch from the beds. Do not enter signs blocked 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 highlights during its Seminole Heritage games. The team has not yet worn it during a game.

Marvin Jones Jr., the former five-star Georgia signee, said playing at Doak was an “unbelievable feeling.” His dad was a Hall of Fame linebacker at FSU.

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Instagram, X and Facebook.