FSU showed resolve early and often in its season opener. The FSU defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive to Notre Dame to start the game and the offense had a combined minus-19 yards against the Irish on six plays on its first two drives. Not the way you want to start the game as an underdog against a ranked opponent.
The defense only allowed Notre Dame 50 yards on its next four possessions on a combined 17 plays. The offense then scored on its third and fifth possessions of the first half to give the Seminoles a 14-7 lead with 10:05 left in the first half. Notre Dame took a 17-14 lead into the locker room after taking advantage of an ill-advised throw by Jordan Travis that resulted in a short field for the Irish. How FSU would respond to early adversity was a question coming into game. That question was answered time and time again by this still very young team.
They showed the same ability to fight back from adversity in the second half. After a third-quarter touchdown by Notre Dame to give the Irish a 38-20 lead, FSU answered with a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of its own to make it 38-28 after a successful two-point conversion. Down 38-28 over halfway through fourth quarter FSU again marched downfield on an 88-yard scoring drive to cut the Irish lead to 38-35 with 5:36 left in the game. Big plays by both Travis and McKenzie Milton played huge rolls in the drive. Travis ripped off a 25-yard run to give FSU the ball near midfield. Milton entered the game two plays later and completed four straight passes in his first action as a Seminole. The defense then forced a three-and-out by the Irish to give FSU the ball back on its own 29-yard line with 4:15 to go. Milton then led the team on 10-play, 46-yard drive that resulted in a 43-yard field goal to tie the game 38-38 with 40 seconds left in regulation.
The outcome on the scoreboard ultimately didn’t go FSU’s way, losing 41-38 in overtime, but there is no doubt this team is headed in the right direction. There are of course a lot of things to clean up moving forward but you can’t doubt this team’s resiliency and effort as it fought to not only stay in the game but to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the opening games of the college football season. This team got a loud ovation as it left the field tonight and it should have. If the resolve we n Sunday tonight ends up being a constant theme for Mike Norvell’s second FSU football team it could exceed the expectation of most as it moves into its ACC schedule in two weeks.
Playmakers at QB
Travis looks much more confident and comfortable in the pocket. His 60-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Khi Douglas could not have been thrown any better. Travis stood tall in the pocket and hit Douglas in stride as he streaked past a Notre Dame defensive back and into the end zone. And he still hasn’t forgotten how to run the ball, consistently making something out of nothing, eluding pressure and gaining positive yards. Travis was 9 of 19 passing for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Milton has some magic left. Called into action deep in the fourth quarter, he completed five of six passes in the series and a half he played in regulation that led to 10 points and big cheers from the FSU fans. Milton finished the game 5 of 7 passing and added six yards on the ground. His legend continues to grow.
We thought having both quarterbacks playing might benefit this team and it did so tonight despite the outcome.
Defense Can Defend Run
FSU needed to show overall improvement defending against the run and the pass this season. And they had great success slowing down the Irish ground attack. Notre Dame totaled just 65 yards on 35 attempts in the game. The defense is playing with more confidence and togetherness than a year ago. They swarmed to the ball as a unit and seemed to have a better understanding of the defense as a whole. Players understanding the defensive call and where there help was coming from in relation to leveraging the ball carrier looked much better than a season ago. Playing within the defense was one reason Notre Dame’s longest run of the night was 12-yards. It was the only attempt of the night that went for more than ten yards. Those type of runs happened in bunches in just about every single game last season. This team will give itself more than a few opportunities to win games this year if it can validate its performance against Notre Dame be continuing to play against the run like it did against the Irish.
That being said the defense continued to show a propensity to give up too many big plays in the passing game. Notre Dame had completions of 41 (for a touchdown), 23, 29, 37, 55 and 24 yards, which put the defense on its heels — especially in the second half. Granted FSU’s pass rush and pressure wasn’t as good in the second half but the pass defense allowed Irish quarterback Jack Coan to operate with way too much efficiency, something that was an all-too-familiar theme last season. Coan finished the game 26 of 35 for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks were very efficient against FSU last season and that was the case again tonight.
Run Game Produces
We thought FSU’s running game might be the strength of the offense and it was. FSU ran for 264 yards on 48 attempts. And most of the yardage came on designed runs and not from Travis runs or scramble plays. Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward combined for 220 yards on 26 carries. FSU’s offensive line validated its improvement from a year ago and from what we had seen in practice.
There were questions about its ability to protect the passer entering Sunday night’s game and there is still much improvement to be made. Notre Dame finished the game with five sacks and was credited with eight pressures. Travis and Milton both were forced from the pocket multiple times in order to extend plays.
Turnovers Are Costly
You can’t turn the ball over against good football teams. Travis’ three interceptions led to three Notre Dame touchdowns. Take away one of those interceptions and this game might have had a different outcome. Of course, in a tight game like FSU found itself in last night a different outcome on any number of plays or situations could have been the thing that turned the game the Seminole’s way.