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Meeting the Moment: Florida State battles, showcases championship-level resiliency comeback win over Duke

Florida State overcomes a nervy start to pull out a double-digit win Saturday night and maintain control of their own destiny

“When he’s in the game, you’ve always got a shot.”

Mike Norvell never lost faith in Jordan Travis Saturday night, especially when he needed him more than ever in the second half.

After a strange start for the Florida State Seminoles offense, including muffed snaps, turnovers and fourth down breakdowns, Norvell’s team was lucky to be down three. After another offense drive stalled to begin the third quarter and a red zone stand by the defense, JT looked down the field's length with four minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.

Florida State needed to go 96 yards against statistically the best defense in the ACC to retake the lead and put pressure on a backup QB.

They did just that as Travis took over the game.

Last night was a microcosm of the Jordan Travis experience packed into four quarters. We saw JT come out nervous and jittery, missing open receivers and forcing balls that were put into harm's way — we also saw the leader and fighter who battled despite adversity. No. 13 knew, as we all knew to start the year, that the Seminoles would go as far as he would take them.

So when it mattered most, Jordan Travis answered the bell.

On the 96-yard drive, he started calling his own number for the first time in what felt like a month, finding holes in the stingy Blue Devil defense. He led a masterful 14-play drive that gave FSU the lead to start the 4th quarter and then put the finishing touches after a Duke three and out on a Seminole victory. Seven plays, 74 yards to go, up 11 with 8 minutes to go, put this one out of reach. Again, Travis used his legs to open up the defense and his arm to push the ball down the field, trading in his head-scratching throws in the first half for mind-blowing ones.

Last night was also a microcosm of the whole team, from the coaching staff to the final player listed on the roster.

Norvell finally opened up the playbooks in this one, dialing up misdirection and screenplays to try and use Duke’s aggressiveness against them. But he also made some questionable calls in this one. Going for it on 4th down on your own 35 at home, down only seven, made zero sense. It sucked the life out of Doak, put a free three points on the board for the Blue Devils, and was the second 4th down failure in six minutes to open the game. His team was not ready to play at multiple points in the game.

Florida State was flagged for a delay of game out of a TV timeout and needed to take a timeout early in the second half when the entire defense inexplicably ran off the field after a third down stop when the Duke offense never moved. This is the Mike Norvell experience and the Florida State experience, pulling your hair out in one moment and pulling a rabbit out of the hat the next.

“We had big momentum swings,” Norvell said, “great plays, some disappointing plays that we have to be better at, but as a whole, like I said, that’s why we train the way we train.”

Florida State passed the toughest test on the schedule and looks to dream big as UNC, Clemson, and, of course, Duke dropped games. That is what made last night so fun and what made it so frustrating at times in the first half. As I left the stadium, I couldn’t quite understand how FSU just won, let alone by 18 points, but this is what championship teams do. They battle, fight, and claw, imposing their will on less talented teams when crunch time comes. They never panic, trusting in themselves that one big play is all it takes to get back in the game.

Ultimately, they win.

They win when they do not deserve to, they win when the game does not go their way, and they win the difficult games that make you show your championship mettle. Florida State proved what they are made of last night. The Seminoles showed the country that this team cannot be counted out and will be a force down the season's stretch. FSU is not interested in doing it the easy way.

Norvell said post-game that the win “wasn’t perfect and didn’t need to be.” He knows, and his team knows, that the ultimate goal is still in reach, and the Seminoles met the moment when they had to.

First Thought: Tight end takeover

Duke's defense made life challenging for Florida State for sixty minutes. They packed the box, preventing the Seminole run game from finding consistent success. Mike Elko kept two safeties high for most of the game, limiting the explosive plays from Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman. But they could not cover everybody, leaving the tight ends to be the difference maker Saturday night, and Norvell continued to go back to the well.

“Sometimes you’ve got to take what teams give you,” Norvell said, “and as you saw, they were trying to fast buzz everything underneath Keon and Johnny. It was a little bit of a challenge to get those guys into one-on-ones, but it opened up the middle.”

Jaheim Bell finished the day with eight catches and ten targets, leading the Seminoles in receiving and keeping Florida State drives alive. Markeston Douglas and Kyle Morlock also joined in on the action, combining for forty yards and stretching the defense vertically throughout the day. During his media availability, the South Carolina transfer said the quiet part out loud about the Florida State offense.

“I always say anybody in this offense can go at any moment, and like I said when I first got here, you can’t double everybody. I just feel like our offense is very elite.”

Duke picked their poison Saturday night and devised as good a game plan as a team can against this offense. Unfortunately for Mike Elko, Jordan Travis and company can not be kept on the mat for long, as they continued their scoring streak of thirty points or more in a game.

Second thought: Situational success

Despite two missed opportunities on fourth down, I felt that Florida State won this game because of their situational football. Duke finished 4/12 on third downs, compared to 7/13 for the Seminoles on their “cash down.” Florida State converted three third-down opportunities on their 96-yard drive and forced back-to-back three-and-outs in the 4th quarter to stymie any Blue Devil comeback attempt. The Seminoles converted when they had to, put up points when needed to, and stood up with their backs against the wall. The entire post-game availability felt like a broken record, as defensive players kept filing in, reiterating that they were ready when the pressure was the highest.

“That’s when I always say we play the best,” Patrick Payton boasted, “when we know our backs are against the wall.”

Florida State went a perfect 4/4 in the red zone and scored touchdowns, not field goals. On the flip side, the 4th down stop on the Seminole four-yard line changed the game’s complexion, as the Blue Devils left points on the table. When the brightest lights shine, and the pressure cooker hits the highest temperature, expect Florida State to be ready when their number is called.

Third Thought: Pass the rock

Florida State says that a defense cannot stop everyone on this offense. They took that literally. The FSU offense had nine receivers catch a pass, and six different ball carriers registered a rush on Saturday night. It took an entire team effort, and the depth of Florida State has come through in spades. One player who did not record a catch on Saturday was Deuce Spann. Spann came through the transfer portal after bouncing around positions and looking for consistent playing time. He has not always found the field, but like everyone on this team, he made the most of his opportunities. The Illinois transfer turned the game on its head with a kick-off touchdown and broke the rock for the ‘Noles postgame. He is another example of the depth in the roster as the backup receiver made the play of the game.

“It shows that our football team has a lot of playmakers that can make plays all around, like at the position, like receiver, running back, we can all make plays, so it shows we have a lot more playmakers.”

Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson flashed at points on Saturday, but the Duke defense is too schematically sound to drop back and take deep shots against time after time. Florida State needed to get creative to move the ball and leaned on their entire roster to pull out a victory. Shyheim Brown said it post-game, “Trust your brother.” Jordan Travis and the FSU offense believed in each other to make plays, and their faith paid off.