No. 16 Florida State ended a three-game losing streak to rival Florida on Friday night with a dramatic 45-38 victory behind quarterback Jordan Travis and a late defensive stand in the game’s final minute. Travis made big plays through the air and on the ground all night, while the Seminoles defense came up with a fourth-down stop in the final minute as the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium reached fever pitch.
Gators QB Anthony Richardson’s heave to the end zone fell incomplete with 39 seconds left, turning the ball over to Florida State on downs and effectively ending the highest-scoring game of the rivalry’s storied history. What will be discussed for ages are two plays on the final drive, a fourth-and-18 pass interference called against FSU that extended Florida’s comeback attempt, and a clear facemask on Richardson that went uncalled during the aforementioned incomplete pass.
Richardson threw three touchdowns in the first 21 minutes of game action as the Gators jumped out to a 21-14 lead, but the redshirt sophomore later went cold with 11 consecutive incompletions. The third quarter proved particularly consequential as Florida State forced three straight three-and-outs against a Florida team that did not punt in the first half.
The win marks the first in the rivalry for third-year Florida State coach Mike Norvell, and he has Travis to thank for it. The redshirt junior threw for 270 yards and a touchdown and ran for 83 more yards and two more scores. Running back Trey Benson added three scores on the ground for the ‘Noles, who improved to 9-3 with the win.
Travis runs wild
In a game packed with momentum swings and highlight-reel plays, the elusive running of Travis stood out on a few occasions. With the Seminoles trailing 21-14 and facing a third-and-10 from the Florida 11-yard line in the second quarter, it appeared as though Florida was about to sack Travis for a significant loss. But as Travis retreated 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage, he managed to elude five different Florida defenders, including a couple who had more than one chance to bring him down. He finally slid down just short of the end zone and scored on the next play.
Then, in the third quarter, Travis replicated the play in a nearly identical situation. Facing a third-and-11 from the Florida 13-yard line, Travis took off and avoided multiple tacklers before sliding down just short of the goal-line. The play gave the Seminoles a first-and-goal and set up a touchdown run from Benson that put FSU ahead 31-24.
While Travis completed just 13 of 30 passes, he also came through with his arm in a key late situation. Facing a third-and-6 with the game tied at 38 in the fourth quarter, Travis found Johnny Wilson for a 21-yard completion to extend the drive that let to FSU’s game-winning score.
Closing with a bang
Florida State started 4-0 and rose to No. 23 in the AP Top 25 in the process. Then came adversity. Amid a bad run with injuries, the ‘Noles dropped three straight as pressure began to mount on Norvell. After consecutive losing seasons to begin his tenure, it appeared they might struggle just to make a bowl game in his third year. But since the bye week, which came after a 34-28 loss to Clemson on Oct. 15, the ‘Noles are a perfect 5-0.
While some of that success has corresponded with a lightening of the schedule, much of it came in dominant fashion. Entering Friday, FSU’s four-game winning streak featured four wins of 25 points or more. While the run of dominance ended with a tight game against the Gators, the Seminoles put their improvement on display in a national showcase spot against a bitter rival. With a bowl victory, Florida State can finish with 10 wins for the first time since 2016, which was Jimbo Fisher’s next-to-last year as coach.
Florida wide receivers Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Xzavier Henderson, Justin Shorter, Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Marcus Burke all missed the game due to injury, leaving Richardson with few proven targets in the passing game. In their absence, Richardson only completed passes to three players with a returning Ricky Pearsall serving as his primary target. The redshirt junior set a new career-high for yards receiving when he hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass with 11:35 left in the second quarter. That was Richardson’s final completion until 4 minutes remained in the game.
Nonetheless, the Gators still managed to rally from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter behind a strong running attack. Trevor Etienne totaled 129 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, including a 45-yard touchdown run that tied the game with 7:41 remaining. Montrel Johnson Jr. added 85 yards and a score on the ground, while Richardson rushed for 41 yards. If the Gators are able to get healthier at receiver for their bowl game, their offense could be far less one-dimensional than it proved to be for much of Friday’s game.