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Efficient and elusive, Travis taking next steps in QB evolution

Jordan Travis has put together two of his best games as a Florida State quarterback, not with overwhelming passing yardage totals but with smart decisions. There were quick throws in the flat against Syracuse and as well as some precise passes and a few deep throws at UNC. 

He has been elusive. He has been efficient. He is guiding the Seminoles down the field with a smile, drives that have ended in touchdowns on afternoons that have ended with wins.

“You see the confidence building,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “We need him to play at a high level and not only with what he’s doing with his legs in managing the offense, and just the continued efficiency in the passing game. The explosiveness showed up in being able to push the ball downfield, it’s something this offense needs. That’s coupled with the receivers, the protection that he’s getting and him getting the ball where it needs to be. If we can continue that, I think it brings a great dynamic to what we want to do.”

Travis has often been just what FSU needed in the last two games. His ability to evade the pass rush takes pressure off the offensive line and has resulted in fewer second- or third-and-long situations. He’s made plenty of plays with his feet in rushing for 100 or more yards in each game — the first FSU quarterback to do that on back-to-back Saturdays — but he has also looked downfield to connect with Ontaria Wilson, Keyshawn Helton, Camren McDonald and Malik McClain, among others.

The quarterback is playing well but the big picture is the full offense is playing well around Travis. Coaches stated this was their first game where receivers didn’t have a drop. Center Maurice Smith is back, while left guard Dillan Gibbons (the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week) and others have had some of their best performances, at least in the view of coaches. Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward have continued to run with physicality, and the duo (as well as Travis) have led what is the No. 24 rush offense in the FBS.

Travis has never had a shortage of confidence but now it stems from how he prepares.

“Everything translates from the practice field to the game field,” Travis said, citing James Blackman and McKenzie Milton as quarterbacks who have helped teach him to improve by how he practices. “I’ve learned that a lot. I haven’t been a practice player. I’m just a guy that comes out here and just tries to have a little fun. Now I’ve been working hard to take every day like it’s game day.”

That’s a very good sign, the maturity of a young quarterback. And it can only help the Seminoles (2-4) as they begin the second half of the schedule, which begins on Saturday against UMass but then gets tougher in a hurry with top-25 defenses like Clemson (No. 2) and NC State (No. 6) as well as Boston College, Florida and Miami.

Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham recalled a busted first-down play at UNC where Travis had few options but instead picked up six yards on a run by making a corner miss. Instead of a big negative like a sack and second-and-long, FSU was in second-and-4.

“Because he is able to take those negative plays and he’s able to turn them into a positive,” Dillingham said. “What he needs to continue to build on is making the routine play in the pocket and being comfortable doing it. And that was one thing in last week’s game he did. And I keep saying this — that only comes with time. When guys are in green jerseys in practice, it’s really, really easy to sit in there when things are coming on you. Because you’re in a green jersey.”

Travis has done what he can with his legs but has avoided unnecessary hits by sliding. And even though he hasn’t thrown nearly as many passes this fall as in 2020 (73 in five games vs. 131 a year ago) his completion percentage is nine points higher at 64.4 in 2021. Experience on the practice field and game days has reflected in better performances — for Travis, the offense and the team.

“It’s a lot harder when there’s live bullets,” Dillingham said. “That only happens through reps and time. This is a kid who’s only played, probably a combined 14 halves of football in the last two years or last four years really. So he’s getting better every game and he’s got to continue to build on those things every game.”