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Game story: Jacksonville State’s last-second heave dooms FSU in first ever loss to FCS foe

Is this officially rock bottom?

NCAA Football: Jacksonville State at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Tallahassee, FL- “Did not have our team ready to play today,” said Mike Norvell after the game. That unpreparedness was evident from the start in FSU’s 20-17 loss to Jacksonville State. On offense, the ‘Noles committed penalty after penalty, had more than a handful of drops, and could never find a rhythm. For most of the night, FSU’s defense was solid, but undisciplined play and blown coverages cost them. Six days after the Seminoles nearly took down a top-10 team, they suffered their first ever loss to a FCS opponent. FSU is 0-2 on the season.

Moments that mattered:

Milton gets start, drops doom offense on opening drive

After sparking the ‘Noles late in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, McKenzie Milton earned the start for FSU tonight, his first start as a Seminole and his first start as a college QB in nearly three years. Jashaun Corbin started the drive with a nine-yard run, before Milton connected with Camren McDonald for a first down. Another nine-yard run from Corbin moved the ‘Noles across midfield. While rolling pout to his right, Milton threw a dime to Malik McClain down the field, but the freshman couldn’t haul it in. A run for loss set up a fourth-and-four near midfield. Milton found a wide-open Keyshawn Helton streaking down the field, but Helton dropped a would-be touchdown. The Seminoles’ next three drives all resulted in punts, including back-to-back three-and-outs.

JSU opens scoring with 15-play, 79-yard TD drive

The Seminoles’ defense made up for the offensive miscues in the first two drives. Jacksonville State produced just three total yards in their first two drives. The Gamecocks found their footing just before the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper scrambled for 11 yards on third down to avoid a three-and-out. After a sack, Josh Samuel ran for 14 yards for another first down. On third-and-two, Cooper kept the ball again and ran for his second third down conversion. A pass break up by Renardo Green brought up another third down, but Cooper found PJ Wells for a 23-yard gain to push JSU near the red-zone. On the 15th play of the drive, Samuel found his way into the end-zone on a two-yard run. The FSU defense was on the field for nearly seven minutes as Jacksonville State converted three third downs on the drive, more third-down conversions than FSU had in the half.

McClendon forces fumble to spark FSU

The Seminoles’ offense responded to the 15-play JSU drive with their second straight three-and-out. And four plays after getting the ball back, the Gamecocks were back into FSU territory. It seemed that things were snowballing on the ‘Noles, but Derrick McClendon sparked the ‘Noles. On 2nd-and-10 from the FSU 17, McClendon laid a big hit on Pat Jackson, which forced a fumble. Sidney Williams scooped the ball off the ground and looked on his way to the end zone, but was taken down on a shoe-string tackle near midfield.

Milton connected with Jordan Wilson on the first play of the drive for a short gain, but a face-mask penalty pushed FSU into JSU territory. Back-to-back Treshaun Ward runs gave FSU a first down. Andrew Parchment hauled in a 12-yard reception near the sideline to put the ‘Noles into the red-zone. Corbin got the ‘Noles on the board on the next play. Dillan Gibbons and Darius Washington combined to open a big hole on the left side of the line, which led to a 12-yard rushing TD.

Helton sets up short field, Milton converts to give ‘Noles halftime lead

FSU’s defense followed the touchdown with a back-to-back three-and-outs. Keyshawn Helton returned a punt 32 yards to put the Seminoles on the JSU side of the field with 1:38 left in the half. Milton and co. took advantage of the short field. Corbin burst through the middle of the line for a 27-yard gain on third and one to set up 1st-and-goal. After two short rushes, Milton rolled to his right on a play-action pass and found Wyatt Rector for a touchdown to take their first lead of the game. It was Rector’s second touch and his second touchdown at FSU.

FSU extends lead by three in sloppy third quarter

The third quarter was a back-and-forth slop fest. In the quarter, FSU held Jacksonville State to just forty yards and 2.7 yards per play. But the offense couldn’t take advantage because of mistakes. The Seminoles had 100 yards of offense and 5.6 yards per play, but could only add three points on the scoreboard. In the quarter, McKenzie Milton was picked off and FSU committed forty yards of penalties. The only points of the quarter came on a 53-yard field goal by Ryan Fitzgerald.

4Q mistakes keep Gamecocks in the game, JSU takes advantage with last-second heave

The Seminoles put together one of their best drives of the day to start the fourth quarter, but couldn’t find the end-zone, or even the scoreboard. A targeting and unsportsmanlike conduct handed the ball to the Seminoles at Jacksonville State’s 20-yard line. One play later, the Seminoles had first-and-goal. The ‘Noles made it to the one-yard line, but Lawrance Toafili was driven back for a two-yard loss on third-and-goal. On fourth down, Milton lobbed a fifty-fifty ball to McClain, but he couldn’t find control of the ball until his foot had dragged out of bounds.

The Gamecocks drove the ball into FSU territory on the following drive, but it seemed that the Seminoles had taken back control of the ball on a Jarvis Brownlee interception. The interception was overturned as Kalen Deloach was called for targeting of the quarterback after review. Two plays later, a miscommunication in the defensive backfield resulted in a 23-yard TD pass from Cooper to Ahmad Edwards. It capped off a 11-play, 97-yard drive.

Jacksonville State shut down a Corbin run out of the wild cat on 3rd and one to force a Florida State punt with 1:32 remaining in the game. The Gamecocks converted on two third downs to make it to their own 41-yard line. Three straight incompletions brought up 4th and 10 with six seconds remaining in the game. With Jacksonville State having just one play left to win the game, the ‘Noles played two-deep, man-under coverage instead of prevent defense.

Norvell said, “Ran a two deep, man under. Wanted to make sure we got pressure on the quarterback but having coverage over the top. They still had one timeout, to not give up something underneath or the intermediate we did not go to immediate prevent.”

Cooper hit Damond Philyaw-Johnson in stride, as he broke away from Brownlee and Sidney Williams to score a game-winning, 59-yard touchdown as the clock hit 0.

FSU notables:

Milton: 18-31, 1 TD, 1 INT

Corbin: 15 runs, 109 yards, 1 TD

Ward: 8 runs, 45 yards

Williamson: 3 rec, 32 yards

Johnson: 11 tot tkl, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL

Deloach: 7 tot tkl, 1 sack, 1 TFL

McClendon: 0.5 sack, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF

Up next: Florida State will hit the road for the first time this season next week as they travel to Wake Forest for their first ACC game. The Demon Deacons have started their season 2-0 with wins over Old Dominion and Norfolk State. In their last matchup, WF topped FSU 22-20 in 2019. FSU is 30-7-1 all-time vs. Wake. Kickoff is at 3:30 PM on Saturday.