Mitch White/FSU athletics

Starting 1-2 for a third straight season and 0-1 in ACC play for a fourth is never an ideal position for Florida State to be in, but following Saturday’s 31-24 loss, there should be more optimism about the program moving forward in 2019 than at any point this season — or at least since Dontavious Jackson and Levonta Taylor saw to it that Boise State keep the ball inside the FSU 5-yard-line.

Entering Saturday’s contest, there was little to no reason to believe the Seminoles were heading in the right direction. After blowing an 18-point lead in the 36-31 loss to the Broncos, FSU let a 21-point lead slip away against Louisiana-Monroe before holding on in overtime, 45-44, on a missed extra point. Had the Warhawks elected to try the 2-point conversion, odds are that FSU would have started 0-2.

Coming into Saturday night, the prospect of watching a rout seemed like a realistic one. FSU had not shown the ability to stop any opposing offense and was facing by far the best defense it had seen thus far and probably the best quarterback in Virginia’s Bryce Perkins.

While it was disheartening to watch the Cavaliers mount touchdown drives of at least 72 yards on each of their final three possessions, the defense played its best game of the season — even if the effort was suspect late in the game. Entering the contest, FSU was allowing 196 yards per game on the ground and 520 total yards per game.

On Saturday, FSU allowed 31 points and 415 total yards — both season-lows. It should be noted that FSU also forced a pair of turnovers in its territory, which helped thwart scoring opportunities for the Cavaliers.

Offensively, FSU did not put up the numbers that it did in the first two weeks, but against a very good defense, the Seminoles still managed to keep their heads above water. Quarterback James Blackman tied a school-record by throwing for at least three touchdowns for a fifth straight start dating back to 2017. Although Blackman missed some critical throws in the fourth quarter, the FSU offense went 3-and-out just once in the second half. FSU also did not commit a turnover for the first time this season.

The criticism of the offense following the scoreless second half of the opener against Boise State was that it didn’t adjust or couldn’t make plays with the game on the line. The offense has done just that in each of the last two weeks.

After falling behind Louisiana-Monroe in the fourth quarter the week prior, FSU answered with a touchdown drive and then won the game with a touchdown in overtime. After Virginia tied the game early in the final quarter on Saturday night, FSU responded with a 75-yard touchdown march, capped with a 17-yard scoring strike from Blackman to Keyshawn Helton. Although questionable penalties aided Florida State’s final possession, it did put itself in position to tie the game before running out of time.

While head coach Willie Taggart’s 6-9 record at FSU isn’t going to bring rave reviews, he should be commended for being able to block out the outside ire and criticism from the fan base and media — not to mention misleading or ridiculous headlines about hydration, formations and now, lemonade stands. There are still plenty to frown on from Saturday night, but being able to play a 4-quarter football game with one of the better teams on its schedule is a small feather in the Seminole cap moving forward.

Aside from blowing a 20-point lead in a 28-27 loss at Miami last season, the six other defeats for FSU came by at least 19 points and by an average margin of 31 points. Though Florida State has never been a program that hangs its hat on moral victories, both losses thus far are to teams currently ranked and weren’t decided until the final possession.

Moving forward, the schedule is not particularly daunting. Contests against No. 1 Clemson and the Feleipe Franks-less Florida Gators are both still likely hills too steep to expect the Seminoles to climb, but they should have an opportunity in every other game. With the exception of Virginia and Clemson, the only other ACC team without a loss is Wake Forest and the Demon Deacons needed to score a touchdown in the final minute to stave off a home upset against Utah State in the opener.

There were still a ton of negatives from Saturday night from missed opportunities to silly penalties for a team still clearly lacking in discipline, but FSU should feel better itself following Week 3 than after any other contest this season. While there are still a lot of winnable games on the schedule, there are a lot of loseable ones, too. Bad football teams typically don’t play with great effort week in and week out. Saturday’s home contest against a Louisville team that finished just 2-10 last season and without an ACC win should tell us a lot about this football team and Taggart’s staff.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at Mike@TheDailyNole.com.