Noles look to run as they seek to duplicate magic vs. UNC

The game, really the first half, was the highlight of the 2020 season. Florida State knocking off a ranked North Carolina on Oct. 17 with an impressive 31-point first half while also holding off UNC’s late rally in a 31-28 victory.

Mike Norvell called it one of, if not the best, half of football he had been a part of as a coach. The Seminoles scored on their first offensive play, with the benefit of a punt block, and then added 24 points in the second quarter behind an efficient ground game (241 yards, 6.7 yards per carry) and Joshua Kaindoh’s 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.

“I feel like a big reason as to why we were able to win that game last year is because of how we ran the ball in the first half, just overwhelming them physically, coming downhill,” tight end Camren McDonald recalled on Tuesday. “Trying to run the ball, no gimmicky plays, just run right to the heart of their defense.”

As FSU (1-4, 1-2 ACC) prepares to face North Carolina (3-2, 2-2) on Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C., there are few outside of the program and the fan base who see the Seminoles pulling off the win. The Tar Heels, a 17.5-point favorite, are 20th in the FBS in scoring (37.6 points) and have a prolific quarterback in Sam Howell. A one-time FSU verbal commitment, Howell has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1494 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.

While FSU and UNC are in separate divisions, the teams faced off as part of an adjusted schedule in 2020 in addition to this year’s game as part of the ACC’s scheduling rotation. Familiarity with an opponent has helped the Seminoles as they prepare for the upcoming matchup.

“They’re similar,” defensive tackle Robert Cooper said. “I see the same offense. Quarterback lost some of his main tools he had last year, his running backs and receivers. Same O-linemen. They use two different centers. It’s pretty much the same thing, RPO and that kind of stuff.”

McDonald caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Travis in last year’s game vs. UNC, but much of the Seminoles’ damage that day came on the ground as Travis and La’Damian Webb each had 100-yard rushing games. Travis also ran for a pair of touchdowns.

There could also be similarities in FSU’s game plan Saturday compared to 2020. The Seminoles have run a variety of ways, at times with Jordan Travis as starter and others with McKenzie Milton, but the run game has created big plays and is averaging 201.4 rushing yards on the ground (28th in the FBS).

“We’re gonna have to do some more of the same stuff this year with just different variations of plays and different ways to attack guys,” McDonald said. “But ultimately it’s the same type of game plan. We’re gonna play downhill football. Coach Norvell has been talking to us about the physicality all week. We’re not trying to come in and do all the smoke and mirrors. We’re going to try stop the run and run the football. That’s the key to success this week.”

Milton a nominee for Comeback Player of Year

Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton is a nominee for the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award. The award will be presented in January to a player who has overcome injury, illness or other challenges.

Milton suffered a catastrophic knee injury while playing for UCF in 2018. A two-time Heisman Trophy candidate, Milton suffered artery and nerve damage to his leg, a dislocated knee and multiple torn ligaments and tendons. He nearly had his right leg amputated after the helmet-to-knee hit caused a lack of blood flow to his leg.

Doctors removed a vein from his left leg to help create a new artery for his right leg to restore blood flow and successfully save this leg. The main goal from the surgeons who operated on him was for him to hopefully one day walk without a limp and without pain. After eight surgical procedures, he persevered through more than 1,000 days of rehabilitation, and in December 2020, transferred to FSU.