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First impressions: Travis, Noles hold on to edge UNC

Florida State looked like the better team for the majority of the game against 5th-ranked North Carolina and managed to hold on for a 31-28 victory on Saturday night in front of 18,000 plus fans in Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles improve to 2-3 after taking a 31-7 lead at the half and holding off a furious second-half comeback by the Tar Heels. It was FSU’s first ACC and FBS win of the year.

“I am so very proud of our football team,” said FSU head coach Mike Norvell.

The first half saw FSU play complementary football to take an early lead. The Seminoles blocked a punt after stopping the Tar Heels on their first possession and one play later Jordan Travis ran for a 23-yard touchdown on the offense’s first play of the game and the never looked back. And the defense did its part in the first half to allow the offense to thrive behind the arms and legs of its quarterback. Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s unit forced UNC to punt on its first four drives and had a huge fourth-down stop on the their fifth possession with the Tar Heels threatening to score. It only got better for the Seminoles’ defense on UNC’s sixth possession. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh picked off a Sam Howell pass and returned it for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 24-0 with 2:26 on the clock in the second quarter. The defense also held UNC out of the end zone on fourth down on the Tar Heels’ first drive of the second half to stay ahead 31-7. It was pretty much all Tar Heels after that as UNC scored 21 unanswered points and had an opportunity to win the game on their last drive but were able to get close enough to attempt a field goal to tie the game. In the second half that complementary play continued but just not quite as efficiently. After a fourth-quarter interception thrown by Travis that gave the ball to UNC inside FSU territory the defense forced a field goal, which the Tar Heels missed. And while the offense didn’t score on its next drive it did hold onto the ball for almost seven minutes and kept UNC’s offense off the field. UNC did drive down the field to score a touchdown following the missed field goal but couldn’t finish the comeback, turning the ball over on downs on its final drive as the Seminoles pressured Howell into some tough throws, which he was unable to compete.

Here are the Osceola’s keys to FSU win over UNC:

Jordan Continues to Rule

FSU’s offense and its quarterback were virtually unstoppable in the first half mostly because of the legs and arm of Jordan Travis. The Seminoles scored on four of their first six offensive possessions. Travis made plays with his legs in the quarterback run game, extended plays with his legs in the passing game and continued to prove he is the dynamic playmaker this offense he needs. He finished the game 8-of-19 passing but ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns, often leaving UNC defenders grasping at air. His aforementioned third-down runs on FSU’s first drive of the fourth quarter might have been just as crucial to the victory as any of the scoring drive for FSU. And while his play and toughness was impressive throughout the game he was dominant in the first half in leading FSU to a lead that the Tar Heels couldn’t overcome. Travis was 6 of 13 in the first half for 182 yards and a touchdown. He also led the team in rushing in the opening half with 68 yards on nine carries. Travis’ leadership and toughness were evident in the second half and he played through pain for most of the fourth quarter but he did say he felt great after the game.

“I think Jordan is an incredible competitor,” said Norvell. “He made some incredible plays out there tonight.

Big plays against UNC’s aggressive defense

FSU needed to take advantage of UNC’s aggressive style of defense, which featured a variety of blitz packages that allowed for man-to-man opportunities for Travis and the Seminoles wide receivers. And they did just that. On FSU’s second scoring drive, which consisted of eight plays and 91 yards, ended with a field goal to take a 10-0 second-quarter lead. Travis hit passes of 36 yards to true freshman tight end Preston Daniel and a 58-yard pass to wide receiver Ontaria Wilson against man coverage. On FSU’s very next offensive series the Seminoles scored to make it 17-0 with one of the key plays being a 39-yard pass to wide receiver Keyshawn Helton, which put the ball on the UNC 12-yard line and was finished by a 1-yard touchdown run by Travis. The FSU offense also took advantage of the Tar Heels’ man-to-man coverage when a 33-yard completion to wide receiver Warren Thompson keyed a five-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Camren McDonald to give FSU what would be the deciding score of the game.

Welcome to the Show

FSU needed a big game from its defense and, while it wasn’t always pretty, Adam Fuller’s defense played with intensity throughout the game and came up with a number of big plays, including Kaindoh’s touchdown and some even bigger stops. While UNC totaled 558 yards on the night FSU’s defense was able to get off the field consistently during the game. UNC was 2 of 11 on third down and forced the Tar Heels to punt on their first four possessions of the game and only allowed them to score one of the two times they were inside the red zone. Howell was under constant pressure from a defense that played its most aggressive game of the season and its defensive front finally showed some of the potential it was thought to have coming into the season. And that pressure payed dividends, Howell game into the game completing 68 percent of his passes but was able to complete 55 percent of his attempts Saturday. The FSU defense was only credited with four pressures on the night but Howell was under constant duress and forced out of the pocket early and often and allowed the Seminoles’ offense to build a lead UNC couldn’t overcome. Marvin Wilson, Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson all had their best games of the season. The trio combined for 12 tackles on the night. Dennis Briggs, who had opted out of playing in the preseason, rejoined the team for this week’s game and he also made an impact with three stops. Stephen Dix started at middle linebacker and led the team in tackles (nine) and linebacker Emmett Rice was third on the team with seven stops.

“I thought the defense responded incredibly,” said Norvell of his defense responding with a winning performance after a rough start to the season.

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