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Picking up the pieces in pursuit of perfection: Reflecting on Florida State’s heartbreaking win

While Saturday night shook the program, the season is far from over.

Peyton Baker/Tomahawk Nation

Everyone will have a story from Saturday; I’m lucky to share mine.

This is my first year as a beat reporter for Florida State, and boy, did I pick the right year to start. Being a student, writing about an undefeated team, never having to participate in a losing press conference, only worrying about 1st world issues like should FSU have won by 30 points instead of 15 or should Washington be ahead of them in the playoff. This is the life!

Then Saturday happened.

A day later, staring at my computer screen, I’ve had to restart this piece three different times already. How am I supposed to quantify what Jordan Travis meant for this team, this program, this university?

To his team, he has meant everything. Travis is the unquestioned leader and the voice of the group. Everyone in that locker room says they would do anything for him, and being around the locker room, it’s true. They would not be undefeated if he did not play under center. The Houdini acts, poise under pressure, and attitude kept this team together when it felt it could be heading south. Being a part of the post-game press conference was something I will never forget. Jarrian Jones and Lawrance Toafili understandably and respectfully asked the media not to ask any more questions about the injury. The pain was too great. Mike Norvell, clearly emotional, tried to put into words the sentiment he felt, getting teary-eyed as he did.

“I can’t say that I did block it out. You go, and you coach, and you do everything, just like I said earlier, for the players that are out there on the field. I went to them too, but it doesn’t lessen anything of the impact of when you have any players that goes down.”

To this program, he put them back on the map. Florida State does not rank No. 4 in the polls and 3 in the country in recruiting if not for his transcendent play. The ‘Noles do not end up on ABC for most of their games if there is no superstar under center. Five straight home game sell-outs to end the year because every FSU fan wanted a glimpse of the special season happening in Tallahassee. Even Mike Norvell may be out of a job if not for Travis putting on a cape the last two seasons. All of this can be attributed to one man: Jordan Travis.

To this university, he changed the lives of the student body. In my third year in school here, I have seen how students react when No. 13 enters a room. The aura he has about him, the way that everything just seems to stop. Everyone knows they are in the presence of greatness, except him. Jordan Travis stops with every fan to give his autograph or take a picture. At basketball games, fans constantly pester him, but he makes everyone feel they are important to him.

The way he acts around the facility or football is well documented, but being a fellow student with him, I understand how special of a person he is.

This explains the heartbreak we all feel—the asking questions of why. The tears shed in the stands and the press box Saturday night. Not because of the player. Injuries happen; that’s why my parents never let me play football. But because of the person. Go to his Instagram story and listen to his message given out to the world. No person deserved a more memorable evening yesterday than Jordan Travis. It should have been a beautiful evening on senior night, honoring his legacy.

Instead, a night filled with so much promise ended in heartbreak.

With all this emotion in mind, Florida State found themselves down 13 points to an FCS opponent.

They went on a 58-0 run.

I find it remarkable they found the strength to continue to play. Yes, I know they are a top five team and in theory and on paper walkons could have won this game. However, every player’s mind was thinking of Jordan Travis. The sideline, visibly shaken with players in tears, gathered themselves and, as they all tweeted this morning, finished for 13. It feels unnatural to comment on the game after the injury, but here are three thoughts from Saturday night.

First thought: Florida Tate

I did not envy Tate Rodemaker Saturday night.

As the medical team tended to Jordan Travis and the sideline visibly broken, Tate Rodemaker started to warm up his arm. He most likely expected to play at some point yesterday.

Not under these circumstances.

With that being the undertone of his entrance, the redshirt senior played as well as anyone hoped. He led Florida State deep into the red zone on the same drive he entered and commanded the offense. Rodemaker through the ball on time and on target throughout the day. He did a great job stepping up in the pocket and extending plays on an off night from the offense line. He made difficult throws to the sideline, and his arm strength popped multiple times. His receivers did not help him, dropping multiple passes, but he continued to battle and finished the day over 200 yards. Mike Norvell did not call the offense any differently with Tate in the game, and the head man praised him post-game.

“I think that was something that was really impressive to me because he never seemed rattled in the moment. He knew he was prepared and ready, and that’s what you have to do at every position, but obviously, the quarterback position gets magnified to the elite level. I thought he did a wonderful job. He went out there, and I thought played really well.”

Tate proves time and again that he can be the guy. Last year against Louisville, the season looked lost after both JT and JV went down. He led the ‘Noles in a shootout victory and kept a promising season alive. Saturday will be different circumstances. On the road, at night in the swamp, can eat up even the most experienced QBs. However, nothing on tape can distinctly prove that he cannot go into Gainesville and execute at a high level.

The season is far from over.

Second thought: Running Wild

Florida State seems to have one of these once-a-game.

This week, CJ Cambell burst through the offensive line and dashed into the endzone for a 70-yard score, putting the ‘Noles lead over 30 points and effectively ending the evening. Five of the seven touchdowns that Florida State put on the board came from the running variety. Each of the backs played well, especially when the offensive line did not play their best game. Trey Benson bounced off tacklers the entire game, and his effort was the only reason he scored his touchdown in the second quarter. LT finished the game with four catches, as his chemistry with Tate showed. Post-game, he gave a ringing endorsement to the presumed Seminole starter the rest of the way.

“Tate has been here for four years. He came in with me. He has been prepping for this. I know he is ready. He is ready to step up to the plate.”

Most impressive seemed to be the young backs Sam Singleton and Rodney Hill. This week, the former got removed from the practice squad and proved his lightning burst. The freshman finished averaging 8.7 yards a carry and excited the Seminole fans during a game that had turned into a blowout. The ladder continues to make great plays in the screen game. Hill naturally catches the football, quickly turns upfield, and consistently breaks tackles. Florida State looks to have some pass-catching play sets for him, and he allows takes advantage.

Circling back to what I said earlier, is it time to worry about the offensive line? According to PFF, the highest-graded run-blocking offensive lineman was D’Mitri Emmanuel, who only reached 69.8. Most of the Seminoles finished in the 50s against an *FCS opponent*. Adding salt to the wound, Maurice Smith went down early in the game and did not return as the injuries along the front began to pile up. The rest of the way will be all hands on deck, and Alex Atkins must quickly find a solution.

Final Thought: Roller coaster

Three weeks in a row, the defense makes life more complicated than it needs to be. Against Pitt, the ‘Noles should have been down 14-0 if not for a game-saving forced fumble by Fentrell Cypress. Against Miami, a bust in coverage let the Hurricanes back into the game, and the lead cut to seven. The worst of the group was last night.

The Seminoles found themselves down 13-0 at home to, say it with me now, an FCS opponent. Adam Fuller’s group did not have an on-time start, and the gimmicky offense gave the ‘Noles fits. In what could be a concerning stat the rest of the way, Florida State gave up four passing touchdowns through 9 games this season and has given up 4 in their last two games. Of course, when they decide to figure it out, they are “flat dominant,” as Mike Norvell said last night.

UNA only finished the day, averaging 3.5 yards per play and 65 passing yards. They went 3/16 on third downs and could not muster any offense after the third quarter. Asked post-game about the challenges and adjustments from the defense, Jarrian Jones explained the thought process clearly.

“If your eyes are in the right spot, you play your keys, I mean, no trick play is going to get you. In the beginning, I mean, we were kind of all over the place in a sense. Once we settled down and just read our keys and stuff, that was kind of what it was.”

Why does it take so long for this team to settle in?

Beats me.

The entire Tallahassee community, like detectives, has been trying to figure this out. However, we keep saying they will get burned by it, and it has yet to happen. The defense rallied when they needed to and slammed the door shut. I tip my cap to them because things were on the verge of getting away from them, and they made the necessary adjustments. The senior leadership led the charge with results following. I am concerned about facing a dangerous UF running attack this week, but the moment never feels too big for them, and they will be ready come Saturday night.

Also: I will be doing a mailbag this week. Submit any and all FSU football questions to the link below, and I will give my best opinion. The link will stay open until Tuesday at 6 P.M: