Youth propels Seminoles on Senior Day

After not playing a down of football in nearly a month, the Florida State Seminoles (3-6) took the field at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday and defeated the Duke Blue Devils (2-9) on senior day, 56-35. 

Although it was a day to honor the seniors, it was the youth that helped the ’Noles run away with the game and stay unbeaten against Duke (21-0 all-time). The Seminoles scored the most points against an ACC opponent since NC State in 2014, where the team also scored 56 points.

“I thought our guys battled throughout,” coach Mike Norvell said. “We played a lot of young players. To see those guys continue to work and invest in their improvement – it was a great sight to see tonight. We also want to recognize the seniors. I’m grateful for all the investment that they have made in this program. There has been a lot of change, plenty of ups and downs, and I absolutely appreciate them and their commitment to this program.”

The Seminoles are a banged-up football team, even after an unintentional three-week stretch without any games. Norvell did not want to give an exact number as to how many players under scholarship he had available, simply saying that the team was “pretty into its depth.”

However, the need to go deep into the depth chart for the game against the Blue Devils has pointed the spotlight towards a promising young core group of players — one that fans can be excited about for the future as another disappointing season nears its end. 

The running back room dominated the game for the Seminoles. Six runners (including Jordan Travis) combined for 324 rushing yards. This was the most rushing yards in a game this season. The previous record was 265 yards against Louisville.

It was true freshmen leading the way, as both Ja’Khi Douglas and Lawrance Toafili both found ways to contribute out of the backfield. Toafili rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown, while Douglas hauled in two touchdowns of his own as a wide receiver, including a 68-yard catch and run from the slot. 

“A lot has been asked of them, but they are mature … they can handle it,” tailback Jashaun Corbin said. “They are explosive players, they make plays and they work hard every day in practice. So seeing that out there was no surprise to me, because I see what they can do. I’m just glad they had their moments tonight.”

Corbin contributed three touchdowns and 72 yards on 16 carries, and walk-on Treshaun Ward scored his first touchdown as a Seminole on a 26-yard carry. 

Every touchdown scored by the Seminoles on Saturday was scored by underclassmen.

“It’s great watching that,” Travis said. “It’s a great feeling looking next to you, seeing those guys and knowing how much talent they have. Just handing the ball of to them and letting them do their work is awesome. I can just hand the ball off and kind of relax.”

Despite a lackluster second quarter, the youth on the defense also showed up big when they needed to. True freshman Sidney Williams was second on the team in tackles, redshirt freshman Travis Jay recorded his first interception as a Seminole, and sophomore Brendan Gant not only forced a fumble but also caught a circus-like interception to stop a Blue Devil drive in Seminole territory. 

In the end, Florida State’s defense forced four turnovers and five tackles for loss against a respectable Duke offense.

“I have seen so much growth,” senior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen said. “Especially from when I met them as freshmen to now. A lot of it has to do more with the (COVID) stuff that doesn’t have to do with football. It’s helped develop a lot of the people on our team.”

Mike Norvell hinted to something similar during his press conference, talking about the sacrifices and protocols that the players have to go through daily just to play a game that they love. That in combination with a difficult month full of outside noise, the players and coaching staff seem to agree that it has brought the team closer together in an unusual way.

“It’s been a long season, and it has been a challenge on their bodies and on their minds,” Norvell said. “But when they choose to come in here every morning and bring the right approach, that investment builds confidence. That’s what we are working for and I’m glad these guys got to have that experience in our last game at Doak.”

The Seminoles will look to carry over that momentum and confidence to a final game against Wake Forest on Saturday.

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