As we all did, I thought the articles this week in Florida State football would be centered around playoff previews. However, with ‘Nole Nation needing a pick-me-up, here is the first of many pieces breaking down the magical ride of the 2023 season.
You might’ve gathered from the title, but today, we’ll be diving into he most impactful plays of FSU’s 13-0 season.
First, let me clarify the word impactful and how I ranked the plays.
These are not solely highlights — these are impactful moments made in a game that changed the course of that contest and the season. For reference, Keon Coleman’s one-handed catch against Syracuse will not be in here. Why? Although that may be the season's highlight, it was in the first quarter in a game where FSU won 41-3.
With the rules established, here is part 1 of the top 10 FSU plays of the season.
No. 10: DJ Lundy’s 4th down Sack vs. LSU on the Goal-Line
The Situation: The first play comes from the first drive of the season. The Tigers ripped off a massive play on their opening series, leading to six plays inside the 10-yard line. The ‘Noles erected a wall, and this Lundy sack culminated in the Seminole goal line stand.
Why it’s here: On the ensuing drive, Jordan Travis marched his team down the field for a touchdown, and the ‘Noles raced out to an early lead. Jayden Daniels never found a rhythm after the opening drive for the Tigers, and the goal line stand stands out as a reason why. FSU blew out Brian Kelly’s team, beginning the season with a top 5 win and receiving first-place votes in the AP poll. If Adam Fuller’s group does not wall up right there and FSU goes down early, who knows what could happen next? LSU turned into a juggernaut on offense the rest of the season, and that play went a long way in giving FSU their highest-quality win of the season.
No. 9: The ‘Noles stop Duke on 4th down late in the 3rd Quarter
The play: (15:20-15:27)
The situation: FSU found itself in a dogfight against the Blue Devils, going down double digits in the first half and finding themselves in a hole late in the 3rd quarter. With Duke driving and holding the ball for over six minutes, the Seminoles could not afford to go down by 10. Riley Leonard got hurt during this drive, and the one pass play Duke ran with a true freshman QB fell incomplete after pressure from Patrick Payton rushed the throw.
Why it’s here: Like the play above, the ensuing drive resulted in 6 points for the Seminoles. Jordan Travis finally found his groove offensively, and the ‘Noles never looked back. From that play on, FSU outscored Duke 21-0, resulting in a convincing win against a top-20 team at the time. This play is on the list due to the ramifications if the ball had been caught in the end zone. I am unsure if they could have dug themselves out of that hole, especially with the defense being on the field for so long. This play gave way to one of the best drives of the season and capped Florida State’s homestand with a 3-0 record.
No. 8: Shyheim Brown INT vs. Duke in the second quarter
The situation: The Seminole defense struggled all afternoon up to this point, giving up points on 2 of Duke’s first three drives. After some negative plays, Shyheim Brown came up with a diving interception on 3rd down to continue the FSU momentum after Deuce Spann’s return for a TD.
Why it’s here: This will not be the final time this game makes the list. This contest was the final legitimate test for FSU before the ACC title game, and this game could have gone in a different direction multiple times. This play is about the 3rd down stuff because it culminated in the secondary play since the Boston College game. FSU did not allow a passing touchdown in October; it was almost unheard of. After struggling early in the season with communication, Shyheim Brown took this game over and put to bed any concerns on the back end with this group. Ryan Fitzgerald tied the game up on the ensuing drive, and even though FSU gave up a field goal before the half, a no-fly zone started to form in Tallahassee.
No. 7: Keon Coleman’s punt return against Miami
The Situation: Florida State found itself in a grudge match with its bitter rivals and found trouble gaining breathing room throughout the contest. However, after a long Trey Benson TD (my hardest snub) and three straight punts for the Hurricanes, FSU needed an explosive play to close this game out.
After being held quiet for most of the day, Keon Coleman ran back one of his patented punt returns to the Miami 10-yard line, leading to a 14-point lead three plays later.
Why it’s here: All season long, Mike Norvella asked his players to meet the moment, and Keon Coleman did here. The legacy of the Miami game can never be understated, and this impactful play has the Michigan State transfer etched in history books. Florida State struggled to move the ball the entire day, and using special teams put FSU over the line. This was the game-winning score as a defensive SNAFU made the final tally closer than needed. Keon Coleman finished the season quietly, so this play feels like his last brush in the beautiful painting he put forth this season.
No. 6: Lawrance Toafili’s 73 yard Wildcat run vs. Louisville
The Situation: Let me set the scene even if this happened less than a week ago. Brock Glenn could not jumpstart the Seminole offense, and Mike Norvell needed to get deep into his play sheet. After utilizing the wildcat earlier in the game, the headman wanted to provide a spark for his offense after the Cardinals’ first score. With one play, LT went off to the races and ran in a play later for the game’s only touchdown.
Why it’s here: Truthfully, this play felt like the only real highlight moment on offense in a championship game. LT took home MVP after a 10-carry, 118-yard performance in a game where both teams starved for yards. Toafili represents more than just a game-winning touchdown, however. He came to Tallahassee as part of Mike Norvell’s first full-time recruiting classes. He bought into the vision that Norvell sold and put the exclamation mark on the first ACC title in almost ten years for the Seminoles. The defense just needed an ounce of breathing room, and with this score in the books, Adam Fuller’s group knew the game was over. Although the result did not go in FSU’s favor the following day, this play will be remembered fondly as one of the ugliest games of the year.
That is all for today — agree with the selections? Have guesses on what the top five will be? Head to the comment section to share your thoughts, then check-in tomorrow for the top five most impactful plays of the 2023 Florida State Seminoles season.