When Tate Rodemaker became the fourth true freshman ever to start for the Seminoles on Saturday, most hoped that the news of the night would be about a true freshman leading his team to their first win of the season.
Things did not exactly go that way.
Despite Florida State defeating Jacksonville State 41-24, the ’Noles had to throw the kitchen sink at the Gamecocks to do it.
Instead of Rodemaker following up on a decent showing in mop-up time against Miami, the freshman was pulled and replaced by Jordan Travis in the second quarter. Once Travis entered the game, the redshirt sophomore led the Seminoles on five consecutive scoring drives that allowed them to not only get back in the game, but eventually pull away from the Gamecocks in the second half.
Up until this point in the season, Travis had purely been used as a spark plug for the Florida State offense. In previous games, he would come in for a series or two to try and generate some momentum before James Blackman would re-enter the game. There were varying degrees of success, but usually nothing substantial would come of it.
With Florida State down 14 and the energy completely sucked out of Doak Campbell Stadium, first-year coach Mike Norvell looked to Travis — and Travis did not disappoint.
“The way that he was able to execute the game plan that we had showed the mental preparation,” Norvell said postgame. “We knew that we were going to get a spark from his legs and you saw all the work he’s put in throughout the offseason and what he was able to do with his arm … He seized the moment.”
Travis threw for 210 yards and ran for 48 more — scoring two touchdowns and reversing the fortune of a Florida State team that seemed to be getting demoralized and outplayed. Travis transferred to Florida State from Louisville last season and despite always showing potential, nagging injuries have held him back.
The concern with Travis has always been his throwing ability, especially his accuracy downfield. While those reservations prevented offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham from taking too many chances in the passing game, Travis was able to connect on two key deep throws (a 41-yard pass to Keyshawn Helton and a 48-yard pass to Tamorrion Terry) that jumpstarted a dead-in-the-water offense.
“That completion to Keyshawn gave me a lot of confidence,” Travis admitted. “That was a great feeling. I’ve been going through a lot and hearing people say things about my arm but I couldn’t have done any of it without the guys up front.”
Travis threw for more yards on Saturday than he had thrown combined in his previous two seasons as a collegiate athlete.
What cannot be put on the stat sheet is the energy shift that occurred when Travis came into the ballgame. The offense, prior to Travis’ entry early in the second quarter, looked slow and anemic. They only amassed 50 yards through their first four drives. After his entry, the offense didn’t have a failed drive until there were 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The offense ran smoothly and the sheer threat to run what Travis brings to the table kept the defense on their toes and honest.
“He’s electric,” Helton explained. “He’s been doing that week in and week out for us and he approaches the work the same way every day. I’m proud of him, man. He deserves everything that happened to him out there today.”
Helton had three catches for 53 yards to accompany a good outing for nearly every position player on the offense. Freshman running back Lawrance Toafili nearly rushed for 100 yards and earned his first touchdown as a Seminole. Tamorrion Terry had his most successful game of the season with a six-catch, 77-yard performance. La’Damian Webb and Jashuan Corbin rushed for 55 and 63 yards, respectively. And Ontaria Wilson had a career-high seven catches for 86 yards in the win.
At the end of the night, Florida State had 531 yards of total offense. Nearly all of it occurred with Travis in the game.
With that being said, there are always the asterisks that come when facing an FCS opponent. A program like Florida State should be able to defeat an opponent like Jacksonville State, and the phrase ‘take it with a pinch of salt’ should be used liberally when paired with expectations moving forward — especially looking at the road ahead for the Seminoles.
Travis may not be the answer to all of FSU’s problems, but he does seem to be the catalyst that may move this team in the right direction.
“The thing that I was pleased with the most tonight (with Travis), was that the fundamentals really carried over into the game,” Norvell said. “It’s a tremendous compliment to the young man to be able to stay focused on the little things. When the moment was there, he was on point — it was a tremendous spark for the offense and really the entire football team.”
According to Norvell, the quarterback room was “pretty banged up” with both Blackman and Travis nursing injuries early in the week. The Seminoles arguably have their toughest test of the season thus far next week, traveling to face No. 5 Notre Dame.