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Florida State picked up its first win of the Mike Norvell era against Jacksonville State.

The Seminoles (1-2, 0-2 ACC) came back from two 14-point deficits to take home a 41-24 victory over the Gamecocks (0-1) at Doak Campbell stadium Saturday. The Covid-19 reduced capacity was limited to 13,589. 

FSU fell behind 7-0 after true freshman Tate Rodemaker threw a pick-six to JSU linebacker Kolbi Fuqua. That lead jumped to 14-0 and finished at 21-14 at the half.

“Didn’t necessarily start it off like we envisioned,” Norvell said. 

“But like I told the team throughout the course of the week, there are only so many moments that come along through the course of your career that you can really come back to, and you see a moment where you decide to make a change and decide to go out there and become a defining moment.

“Really tonight, I think when you’re down 21-7, we had that opportunity. It didn’t go necessarily like we wanted to in the beginning, but it went like we needed it to. To see our team respond, to see them in altering phases have impact plays? I’m really proud of our guys.”

The Seminoles used a 20-3 run in the third quarter to take control of the game in the third quarter behind the efforts of redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Travis.

FSU averaged 6.4 yards per play on offense, but allowed 5.8 yards per play on defense during the game. The Seminoles finished with 529 total yards and 31 first downs. JSU finished with 307 total yards.

1. FSU needs to roll with Jordan Travis

FSU desperately needed a spark down 14-0 in the second quarter.

Travis delivered that spark. 

With normal starting quarterback James Blackman on the bench, Rodemaker got the start. His first drive ended in a pick-six to give JSU the lead, and the three drives after gained a combined 54 yards. 

Travis entered the game and immediately led the Seminoles to back-to-back touchdown drives to end the first half and opened the second half with another touchdown drive to tie the game at 21. 

Travis isn’t always pretty when he throws the football, but combined with his legs, Travis’ provides another dynamic that Blackman and Rodemaker don’t. 

FSU’s running game has struggled when Travis isn’t on the field other than a couple big plays or late in the game against UM. 

His ability as a runner is exceptional and it forces defenses to focus on that, which opens up the passing game and also opens up lanes for the running backs. 

Even with some limitations as a passer, that opening was enough for Travis to take advantage against JSU. 

Travis finished the game 13-for-18 with 215 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 39 yards on 12 carries and had a touchdown on the ground.  

“We knew we could potentially get a spark with his legs, but you saw all the work he’s put in throughout the offseason,” Norvell said. 

“There were opportunities he had in fall camp, what he was able to do with his arm, just really, really proud of that young man.He seized the moment, excited about what the future can be for him. We’ve got to make sure he can continue to take care of himself and things he’s doing to continue to practice, to continue to develop. I’m really proud of the way he played tonight.”

More: Final: Florida State rallies to beat Jacksonville State, earn Mike Norvell first FSU win

2. FSU’s defense struggles continue

FSU’s defense was on its back foot consistently against a FCS level offense while building a 21-14 lead in the first half. 

Seven of those 21 points came from a defensive touchdown, but JSU was able to consistently move the football against a FSU defense that struggled mightily in the first two games of the season.

FSU wasn’t able to get pressure consistently despite the expected talent disparity between the FSU defensive line and the JSU offensive line. 

JSU averaged 6.1 yards per play in the first half. The Gamecocks finished the game averaging 5.8 yards per play. 

FSU’s secondary, with limited exceptions like cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.’s fourth quarter interception, struggled to contain the JSU passing attack in the first half. Samuel Jr. picked up his third interception of the season with JSU driving to cut into the lead. 

JSU quarterback Zerrick Cooper was able to complete 10 of his 11 pass attempts in the first half. The Gamecocks were able to take what the defense was giving with FSU playing a lot of zone despite having better athletes. 

The lack of pressure up front allowed Cooper time to pick apart the zone, which led to two long drives for touchdowns. 

JSU was able to drive the field once again after FSU’s touchdown to open the second half, though the defense was able to stop the Gamecocks inside the 10 and forced a field goal. 

Cooper finished the game 22-for-27 for 232 yards with a rushing touchdown and an interception. 

3. The run game finally gets going

It took a while, but FSU finally managed to get its three running backs going.

True freshman Lawrance Toafili performed well against Miami late in the game, but sophomore La’Damian Webb and redshirt sophomore Jashaun Corbin both had struggled.

Once Travis entered the game, all three running backs found their success.

Toafili led the Seminoles averaging 8.3 yards per carry with 99 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Webb got the first two touchdowns of his FSU career while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Corbin averaged 4.5 yards per carry with a touchdown. 

FSU’s offensive line was able to open up some holes for the three, but all three showed why the coaches were so high on them in the preseason. 

Toafili’s burst, Webb’s balance, and Corbin’s versatility were all on display as the Seminoles rushed for 279 total yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry with sacks adjusted. FSU is credited with 256 rushing yards with sacks included, which is the most FSU has had in a game since 2017. 

FSU averaged 5.7 yards per carry once Travis came into the game. 

Reach Wayne McGahee III at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @WayneMcGaheeIII

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