TALLAHASSEE — When Florida State coach Mike Norvell walked out of the tunnel into an empty Doak Campbell Stadium on his first day here 47 months ago, he was full of promises.
When Norvell walked back into that tunnel Saturday night after FSU’s riveting 27-20 win over rival Miami, he could do so knowing his No. 4 Seminoles (10-0, 8-0 ACC) remain in the College Football Playoff hunt because he lived up to his word.
The process took longer than FSU fans would have liked. The climb was bumpy and isn’t over yet. But his promises are coming to fruition.
“I can tell you that this is going to be a program that’s built for playmakers,” Norvell said on Day 1.
They were all over the place Saturday.
Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman delivered another All-America performance. He made up for a flubbed punt return by taking one 57 yards in the fourth quarter. That set up another highlight, a 6-yard touchdown catch he made despite being interfered with.
“When you have a guy like this, it makes your job easy playing quarterback,” Jordan Travis said Saturday.
It’s even easier when you have a lot of them.
Receiver Johnny Wilson came back from injury with five catches for 82 yards. Receiver Ja’Khi Douglas had a 62-yard catch-and-run to set up a field goal. Oregon transfer Trey Benson ripped off a 38-yard touchdown rush by cutting through the Hurricanes’ defense and speeding past the secondary to embody another one of Norvell’s promises.
“We’re going to finish plays,” Norvell said on Day 1.
Travis certainly did while becoming FSU’s first starting quarterback to beat the Hurricanes (6-4, 2-4) in three consecutive years.
On first and goal in the fourth quarter, Travis met early resistance on a run. It didn’t matter. He helicoptered out of it on another one of his Houdini-like escapes. He kept going, somehow pounding his way all the way to the 3. It set up the touchdown pass to Coleman that ended up being the deciding score and fulfilling another Norvell vow.
“We’re going to finish games,” Norvell said on Day 1.
His Seminoles entered the week with the nation’s No. 6 second-half scoring offense and scoring defense. On Saturday, FSU was outgained 180-126 in the first half … then outgained Miami 196-155 in the second. Eighty-five of Miami’s late yards came on one play — Jacolby George’s fourth-quarter touchdown that made it a one-score game again.
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Granted, FSU ideally wouldn’t have been in a position where they had to finish a game like this. Miami is underachieving, again, with a talented roster as Mario Cristobal stumbles to the end of his second season.
Miami pounded the interior of FSU’s defense and exploited a mediocre rushing defense. The Hurricanes had only 8 yards on five attempts in the first quarter. In the second, they had 88 yards off 14 carries, including a pair of 20-plus yarders by Donald Chaney Jr.
With incumbent quarterback Tyler Van Dyke struggling (five touchdowns, 10 interceptions in the previous four games), Miami benched him for Emory Williams. The three-star freshman threw a pair of touchdown passes in his second career start and gutted out a fourth-down conversion in the closing minutes but was carted off after a significant arm injury.
But FSU, as Norvell promised, finished the game. Cornerback Jarrian Jones — a transfer portal addition from Norvell’s first offseason — made the clinching interception.
“We’re built for these moments,” linebacker Kalen DeLoach said.
But Norvell hasn’t just built FSU for these moments. He has built them for these moments at this time of the year.
“(They) remember what you do in November, right?” Norvell said on Day 1.
FSU has now won eight of its last nine games in November, and Norvell improved to 22-5 as a head coach, including his time at Memphis. That figure should easily improve to 23-5 next week against North Alabama before FSU visits Florida on Thanksgiving weekend. The Dec. 2 ACC championship game looms after that, perhaps with FSU’s first playoff appearance since 2014 at stake.
Which leads to the final promise from Norvell — one that was far from a given when he took over a program that was 18-19 in the three years before his arrival.
“This program,” Norvell said on Day 1, “is going back to the top.”
His program isn’t there yet. But when Norvell entered the tunnel Saturday night with a soldout crowd of 79,560 still frothing over another epic thriller in a rivalry that has seen a lot of them, it’s not hard to see that promise coming true, too.
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