The one play that changed the trajectory of FSU, Miami

Florida State’s crucial conversion Saturday will go down as a seismic shift between two of the state’s powerhouse programs.
The balance of power shifted toward FSU coach Mike Norvell and his Seminoles on Saturday.
The balance of power shifted toward FSU coach Mike Norvell and his Seminoles on Saturday. [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP ]
Published Nov. 14, 2021|Updated Nov. 14, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — If one play can change the trajectory of two programs — and maybe the landscape of a sport across an entire state — it happened Saturday night in Florida State’s wild 31-28 win over Miami.

The play happened with a minute left, with FSU (4-6, 3-4 ACC) down five at the Miami 25. It was fourth and 14.

Related: Why a historically lame Florida State-Miami game is still huge

The Seminoles had spent most of the last 41 minutes self-destructing, turning a 20-7 lead into a 28-23 deficit. The most recent mistake — a false start penalty — had just made a tough task even tougher.

That’s nothing new. FSU has been self-destructing for most of the past five seasons.

Saturday’s combination of missed tackles, questionable coverages, special-teams blunders and offensive droughts are familiar to anyone who’s seen the Seminoles play since the waning weeks of the Jimbo Fisher era. They’re the reason why FSU was in this situation — as a 2021 team and as a proud program stuck in a years-long rebuilding progress.

But the Seminoles still had a slim shot at victory because they did not quit. They haven’t all season, even after one loss turned into another in yet another lost season.

Florida State quarterback Travis Jordan rushed for an early touchdown.
Florida State quarterback Travis Jordan rushed for an early touchdown. [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP ]

The Hurricanes (5-5, 3-3) were in a familiar situation, too. Eight of their 10 games have been decided by one score, including the last five entering Saturday. A two-game losing streak in October put third-year coach Manny Diaz on one of the hottest seats in the country, inspiring a warning shot of sorts from athletic director Blake James. The three-game winning streak Diaz built heading into Saturday cooled the pressure and made Miami look like a program that had turned the corner.

Yes, Miami was in another down-to-the-wire game because it keeps making awful mistakes (eight penalties and three turnovers in the first 17 minutes). But it was also in great position to beat an archrival on the road thanks to the way it has learned to respond under quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half).

Two mediocre teams were right where they were supposed to be: fourth and 14 from the Miami 25, in a one-score game with a minute left.

“That’s not a real fun situation to be in,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said.

No, but FSU had prepared for it. Everything about the program is geared toward pressure-packed, do-or-die situations like this. Even if FSU had kept coming up short.

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Not this time. FSU quarterback Jordan Travis stood tall as Miami sent three rushers at him. Receiver Andrew Parchment sped past one defender and got past the sticks. He cut past another defender on an in route, then found a window.

“That’s just lack of execution on our part,” Diaz said.

Miami coach Manny Diaz is back on the hot seat.
Miami coach Manny Diaz is back on the hot seat. [ MARK WALLHEISER | Associated Press ]

Parchment leapt, caught the ball and kept running ahead, down to the 1. First down.

Two plays (and one Miami penalty) later, Travis pounded into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

While Travis’ rush was the game-winner, his fourth-down throw was the one that will join the Wide Rights, the Block at Hard Rock and all the other classics from this rivalry’s rich history.

“It was a special play,” Norvell said.

It was more than special. It was seismic.

After all the heartbreakers — the overtime loss to Notre Dame, the Jacksonville State meltdown, the close-but-not-quite comebacks against Louisville, Clemson and North Carolina State — Norvell finally has a marquee win. By ending a four-game losing streak to Miami, Norvell now has proof that his plan is working. The fact that FSU can still reach bowl eligibility and earn those precious practices for long-term development shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

“It just shows where we’re headed,” Travis said.

And where Miami is headed: the opposite direction.

FSU fired Norvell’s predecessor, Willie Taggart, after Diaz thumped him by 17 here two years ago. It’s fair to wonder whether Saturday night was a similar fatal blow for Diaz’s tenure. A five-loss season in Diaz’s third year is a failure. Getting that fifth loss with a fourth-and-14 breakdown on Diaz’s side of the ball (defense) makes the situation even worse.

Recruiting momentum intensifies the stakes. FSU has a potential program-changing recruiting class while Miami and the Gators struggle on the trail. Beating a rival on a big recruiting weekend only helps FSU, especially considering Saturday’s disastrous performance in Gainesville.

All of that makes Saturday much bigger than an annual meeting between two middling has-beens. With one unlikely conversion, the balance of power shifted in one of the sport’s most storied series.

That means the fourth-and-14 play wasn’t merely special.

It was seismic.

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