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How Bucs quarterback Josh Rosen helped spark Mike Norvell’s FSU debut

The Bucs’ new practice-squad passer led a historic comeback in 2017 that contributed to Jimbo Fisher leaving Florida State.
Josh Rosen's heroics for UCLA in the 2017 season opener helped spark the chain reaction that leads to Mike Norvell's Florida State debut this weekend.
Josh Rosen's heroics for UCLA in the 2017 season opener helped spark the chain reaction that leads to Mike Norvell's Florida State debut this weekend. [ DANNY MOLOSHOK | AP ]
Published Sep. 7, 2020

Although new Bucs quarterback Josh Rosen won’t be starting for Tampa Bay this weekend (or anytime soon), he has already made a notable impact on Florida football. And no, we’re not talking about his forgettable tenure with the Dolphins.

Squint hard enough, and you can see the line connecting the Bucs’ incoming practice-squad passer to Mike Norvell’s Florida State debut Saturday against Georgia Tech.

Related: No Cam Akers, no Dalvin Cook, no problem? How FSU’s run game is moving on under Mike Norvell.

Before Rosen became the No. 10 overall pick in 2018, he was a five-star recruit who had an up-and-down career at UCLA. One of his biggest ups came against Texas A&M in the ’17 opener.

The Bruins trailed by 34 points late in the third quarter when Rosen began rallying his team. He led UCLA on five consecutive touchdown drives, capped off by a spectacular trick play — Rosen faking a spike, then throwing the game-winning score with 43 seconds left. All four of his touchdown passes came in the final 13:22.

Rosen’s 45-44 triumph was the second-largest comeback ever. Or, through the lens of the Aggies, the second-largest collapse in major college football history.

For Josh Rosen, UCLA's 45-44 victory was an epic triumph. For Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, it was his point of no return.
For Josh Rosen, UCLA's 45-44 victory was an epic triumph. For Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, it was his point of no return. [ DANNY MOLOSHOK | AP ]

Coach Kevin Sumlin was already under pressure after five mostly mediocre seasons at A&M. The UCLA loss didn’t get him fired immediately, but it was the no-confidence tipping point — like Willie Taggart’s debacle at Wake Forest last season.

Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel described it this way in the immediate aftermath: “If Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin does end up getting fired at some point this year — and at this point it’s hard to imagine that he won’t — this game will likely be the first line in the obituary.”

A few hours after the final whistle, one Texas A&M regent wrote: “(When) the time comes my vote will be that Kevin Sumlin needs to GO. In my view he should go now.”

A&M chancellor John Sharp admitted he was still upset about the UCLA loss a few weeks later. When asked whether Sumlin’s job was safe, Sharp replied, “I’m not the athletic director.” Ouch.

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In the wake of the UCLA collapse, Houston Chronicle reporter Brent Zwerneman began hearing that A&M’s top target would likely be FSU’s Jimbo Fisher.

Sure enough, Sumlin was fired that November. The speculation intensified around Fisher, who fanned the flames with his silence, then bolted a day before the Seminoles’ regular-season finale.

Fisher’s late, scorched-earth exit left FSU scrambling as the inaugural early-signing period approached. The ’Noles rushed to hire Taggart in a process they later called “too quick.”

Less than two years later, Taggart was gone. Careful to learn from its mistakes, FSU conducted a thorough, deliberate search last fall that ended with Norvell as the program’s fourth coach in the last four decades.

Related: Every Florida 2020 college football game, ranked from worst to first

Would Norvell still be coaching in Tallahassee this weekend without Rosen’s historic comeback? Maybe. Sumlin had been on a perpetual hot seat in College Station. It’s possible that even a season-opening thrashing of the mediocre Bruins might not have saved him.

But Rosen’s heroics at the Rose Bowl cemented Sumlin’s exit from A&M — and helped spark a chain reaction that leads directly to Norvell’s Doak Campbell Stadium debut this weekend.

Georgia Tech at Florida State

3:30 p.m. Saturday, Doak Campbell Stadium

TV: ABC

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