ORLANDO — No. 8 Florida State prematurely pronounced it was back among the nation’s elite programs after last year’s win over LSU.
Sunday’s 45-24 triumph over the No. 5 Tigers left no doubt about it.
This wasn’t a victory over a head coach making his debut, as last year’s win in New Orleans was; Brian Kelly is established at LSU.
This wasn’t an empty-calorie win over a paper tiger, like last year’s victories over Miami, Florida and Oklahoma. The Tigers (0-1) are the reigning SEC West champions and loaded with NFL-caliber talent, from all-SEC quarterback Jayden Daniels to All-America linebacker Harold Perkins.
This wasn’t a down-to-the-wire close call, either. This was a three-score victory that should have been four. This was hard-hitting defense and high-flying offense. This was gutsy play-calling, second-half dominance and FSU’s most impressive performance since a 51-14 top-five trouncing of Clemson during the 2013 national championship run.
This was a program that, finally, looks back. Just as coach Mike Norvell envisioned.
“I told them before today that they’re built for a time like this,” Norvell said.
They’re built for times like this because they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Jordan Travis continued to dazzle, completing 74% of his passes for 342 yards. He accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) to move him past former Heisman Trophy winner and Bucs No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston for the third-most total touchdowns in program history (75).
In FSU’s seven-game win streak (dating to last year), Travis has accounted for 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
It helps that his supporting cast is built for times like this, too. Norvell has used the transfer portal and traditional recruiting to create a roster teeming with playmakers.
The newest one is Keon Coleman, a receiver from Michigan State who snagged three of Travis’ touchdown passes, including a 40-yard catch and run in the first quarter, and a 7-yard jump ball that gave FSU (1-0) a two-score lead with 10 minutes left in front of an announced crowd of 65,429 at Camping World Stadium.
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But there were others, too.
Johnny Wilson (104 yards) and Coleman (122 yards) became the first FSU duo with 100 receiving yards in the same game since Tamorrion Terry and D.J. Matthews against N.C. State in 2018. Former Lakewood High quarterback Deuce Spann converted on third and 1 with a 17-yard trick play pass. Pinellas Park High product Lawrance Toafili took a fourth-and-short pass for 41 yards to set up a score. South Carolina transfer Jaheim Bell caught a touchdown pass and ran for another.
All things that Travis envisioned Saturday night.
“I knew it was a matter of time,” Travis said.
It was a matter of time because FSU has improved in the area that matters most — along the lines. The Seminoles’ offensive line held LSU’s standout defensive front without a sack. Perkins had five tackles but was a relative non-factor.
FSU (1-0), meanwhile, had four sacks against a good LSU offensive line. The biggest one came on the first possession when a personal foul penalty gave the Tigers six plays inside the 5. FSU shut them out, ending the sequence with DJ Lundy’s sack.
There were plenty of things to clean up before and after that, namely missed tackles and penalties. But FSU persevered because Norvell built them for times like this through his focus on finishing every play, every quarter and every game.
FSU turned a 17-14 halftime deficit into a three-score win that should have been four. The Seminoles allowed 293 yards in the first half but only 167 in the second — and 75 of them came on a garbage-time touchdown.
Excluding the end-of-game kneel down, the Seminoles scored on their final six drives (the last one of the first half and all five in the second). LSU’s last six drives: field goal, punt, interception, punt, turnover on downs and meaningless touchdown.
“That second half, that was a glimpse —a glimpse — of what I think this team can do and where I think it can go,” Norvell said.
So where can this team go? Judging by Sunday’s showing, the College Football Playoff hype is justified. Barring a massive upset by Southern Miss on Saturday or at Boston College the following week, FSU should enter the mammoth Week Four showdown at Clemson in the top five. Win that, and the buzz will grow even louder.
But for now, the focus should be on another four-letter B-word.
Because the Seminoles are finally back.
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