The stars aligned.
After years of installing his offense, Mike Norvell finally had all the pieces he needed.
He returned a superstar quarterback capable of going above the Xs and Os.
A running back who could hit a home run on every play but could accumulate tough yards and wear down a defense.
Two behemoth pass catchers who ran, jumped, and overpowered opposing corners and took games over.
A Swiss army knife tight end that gave the ‘Noles a matchup advantage on every snap.
Finally, after years of horrific offensive line play, Mike Norvell had a unit he could trust and rotate through, game in and game out.
The Florida State offense always puts opposing defenses in a bind. If a team stacked the box, good luck 1 on 1 outside with those receivers. Trey Benson and Co. would pound the rock into oblivion if they played with two safeties back. Such a multiple offense does not come around often and became the hallmark of the unit.
Although the offensive outputs at the end of the season did not meet FSU standards, this was the best offense in the ACC in the 2023 season and should be remembered as such. Per FSU Sports Info, FSU was the only team in the country with a scoring stretch outscoring opponents by at least 17 points in every regular-season game in 2023 (with its eight games with a plus-24 scoring run ranked second) while also leading the conference in yards per completion, fewest interceptions and fewest total turnovers.
Which players in each position group had the most impressive performance, though? Let’s dive in.
Best performance: Jordan Travis vs. LSU
Stats: 23-31, 342 Yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 7 rushes, 38 yards, TD
Why it’s here: All offseason, the hype centered around the Tigers. Were they a national championship team? Is Jayden Daniels the best QB in the country?
Jordan Travis let his play do the talking.
Orlando became Tallahassee South, and the Seminole offense wanted to give the traveling fans something to cheer about. Travis connected with Keon Coleman for 40 yards in his first game in garnet and gold, and the game was off and running. The Seminole signal caller took complete command of the offense and never looked flustered. He threw the ball on time and on target, quickly moving through his reads and picking apart the LSU zones. When the play fell apart, he scampered away from pressure and did his patented Houdini act to get out of trouble. He launched himself into the Heisman conversation and took the country by storm during a stand-alone game on Sunday night.
The part that blew me away, was his response. After throwing his worst pass of the year early in the second quarter, Travis and the Seminole offense punted once the rest of the game. In fact, the offense scored points on every drive in the second half, except for the final kneel-down. Mike Norvell can scream response as much as he pleases, but he needs players to take action. The way Jordan Travis led his team to victory after being down early epitomized his role as a leader and his ability to maintain composure.
“I love this football more than anything in the world,” the captain said, “I’m so grateful for them, so grateful for these fans, for this coaching, this university for giving us everything. So, I’ll do whatever I have to, to make this team win.”
We are all grateful to have been able to watch Jordan Travis play quarterback at Florida State.
Honorable mention: Jordan Travis vs. Wake Forest
Stats: 22-35, 359 Yards, 3 TDs , 7 rushes, 29 yards, TD
Draped all-white uniforms, and the crowd covered by garnet and gold, Jordan Travis and the offense came out red hot. Four touchdowns powered the ‘Noles to a blowout victory over Wake Forest, a week after an emotional win over Duke, and the first of a two-leg road trip. Travis threw for the most passing yards of the season in this contest as he continually looked for #4, and found Trey Benson on a screen which went for an 80-yard touchdown.
Looking back, what I took away most from the late October contest was the efficiency that Florida State displayed in the red zone. After a blazing start at the beginning of the season, FSU began to struggle to score touchdowns and not boot field goals. On the road against a team that has had their number for years, Travis did not want to play around. On the first drive of the day Florida State found itself on third and long in the red area. No. 13 avoided two oncoming blitzers sprinted into the end zone, and directed traffic for a 13-yard touchdown score. He found Keon Coleman twice later on in the day, letting his superstar do the work as he made the right read and extended the Seminole lead. Travis gave Florida State positive momentum in ACC play and continued the undefeated charge as the ‘Noles improved to 8-0.
“I’m not trying to do too much,” the always humble Travis said postgame, “I got 10 guys around me that are great players, so I got to trust the running backs, trust the receivers, trust the tight ends, trust the O-line. So, just trying to play within the gameplan.”
If only it were that easy.
Best performance: Trey Benson vs. Florida
Stats: 19 carries, 95 yards 3 TD
If you forgot in the elation of the win and frustration at what transpired two weeks later, the Florida game was uncomfortably close as Florida State tried to survive its first full game with Jordan Travis in an extremely hostile environment.
With an all-world defensive performance keeping FSU afloat amidst a sputtering offense, the Seminoles had a two-point lead with less than three minutes in the game.
Staring down a 3rd and 3 just outside the Florida red zone, Tate Rodemaker went under center — something he had not done all day. His change in alignment gave away the play call: Trey Benson would get the ball. Benson patiently waited for a hole to develop and found the sticks for what looked like a first down. Instead of going down easily, the now-No. 18 leading rusher in Florida State history knifed through would-be tackles and found a sliver of daylight. He sprinted deep into Florida territory and ran backward into the end zone as he fought off Florida tacklers.
Season still alive.
Trey Benson, always seemed to have the put-away punch when the ‘Noles needed it. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he was the only reason Florida State had a fighting chance. He had two touchdown runs over 20 yards and was the first ‘Noles in the end zone when FSU cut into the Florida lead to change the scoreline to 12-7. The Gator defense continued to blitz and stack the box, but Benson stayed calm and eventually exploded through the gaps and threw off tacklers.
“I knew the run game was going to come,” Benson explained in a crammed Florida press room, “We just had to continue to take the crumbs. But we knew one of them was going to bust.”
Boy, did it ever.
Honorable mention: Lawrance Toafili vs. Louisville
Stats: 10 carries, 118 yards, TD, MVP
The game began to circle the drain for Florida State. Brock Glenn struggled on offense to start the second half, and the Cardinals had just mustered three points onto the scoreboard. It seemed like the valiant effort from the ‘Noles would finally get thwarted by Louisville as they started losing consistency on both sides of the ball. Then two things opened up. First, the skies began pouring rain down on Bank of America Stadium below.
Then Toafili found a crease.
In an effort to create a spark for the offense, Mike Norvell went deep into his playbook. He pulled out the half-gadget-half staple Wildcat run. He put the ball in Toafili’s hands and let the shifty back do the work. On the first play of the drive, No.9 faked the handoff and countered to the right side. Darius Washington laid a thunderous block on a Louisville linebacker, and all of a sudden it became a footrace. Toafili got pushed out of bounds at the two-yard line but scored on the next play for what became the game-winning touchdown.
As the rain and streamers came down together, a debate arose between the media.
Who would win the ACC championship game MVP?
Ultimately, Toafili won the award over Braden Fiske and, after being a part of Mike Norvell’s first full-year recruiting class, stamped himself into the FSU history books.
“I mean, I was just trying to be ready for my moment,” Toafili said at the postgame podium, “ Be able to make it happen if it needs to be done. So on that play, it actually just opened up.”
Best performance: Keon Coleman vs. LSU
Stats: 9 rec, 122 yards 3 TDs
When I first began writing this season, people around would ask me what is the best-kept secret on the team?
Keon Coleman was the easy answer, every time. Watching as he absurdly mossed corners and came down with circus catches during fall camp before the season started, I knew that he elevated the ceiling of the roster.
I did not expect what he did in Orlando.
On Florida State’s first possession of the season, Jordan Travis and the offense found themselves on the plus side of the field. Travis looked Coleman’s way on a slant pattern and darted the ball into the #4 on his chest.
The Michigan State transfer did the rest.
All of a sudden the ‘Noles are up seven as Keon turned on the burners and outraced the Tiger defense. For an encore, he came down with two more touchdowns on the day. This time, he used his 6’4 frame to physically impose himself and snatch the ball out of the air. Instantly, the country knew why the talk out of Tallahassee centered around Keon Coleman.
Coleman became the final piece of the offensive puzzle. A true do-it-all all-receiver who found himself in one-on-one coverage more often than he should have been. In a standalone game, he became the brightest star in college football.
“Really just thankful for the opportunity; Coach saying yes to me, coming to a new school after the transfer portal, and believing in me,” Coleman said after his monster game.
“I’m grateful you said yes too,” Mike Norvell exclaimed when his player finished the question.
Honorable mention: Ja’Khi Douglas vs. Pitt
Stats: 6 rec, 115 yards
Many expected Johnny Wilson not to play against Pitt. When word came through just before kickoff that Keon Coleman did not dress out, an eery feeling lingered around Tallahassee. Florida State, on the road, down their two-pass catchers, spelled a recipe for a trap game.
Veteran leader Ja’Khi Douglas made sure the Seminoles survived.
On a crucial third and three with the clock winding down to end the first half, Florida State found itself in a precarious position. The Seminoles trailed 7-0 and still could not find an offensive rhythm. Instead of trying to pound the ball for a simple three yards, Mike Norvell pushed his chips to the center. Jordan Travis chucked a deep ball down the field in the nasty weather, impressively finding agent 0 on the left sideline for a gorgeous throw and catch. FSU punched the ball across the goal line later and the drive became their launching pad. Douglas continued to make improbable catches, hauling in an over-the-shoulder grab later on in the game to allow the Florida State drive to advance. After the game, Mike Norvell did not need to announce who would break the rock. The locker room broke out in chants of “Ja’Khi”, as they knew he carried the team to victory.
“Whenever you get your opportunity,” Ja’Khi Douglas stated postgame, “Just go out there and show. I had my opportunity tonight and I did what I had to do.”
Ja’Khi made the most of his moment.
Agree? Disagree? Head to the comments to share your favorite moments and offer your guesses on who will earn the nod on special teams.