Karels: Why Florida State fans storming the field was warranted after win over Florida

Fans storming the field after Florida State squeaked out a victory over Florida might have seemed like an absurd reaction.

After winning each of their last four games by at least 25 points, the Seminoles were 10-point betting favorites. The struggling Gators are rebuilding under their first-year coach, Billy Napier, and limped into the game after losing at Vanderbilt for the first time since 1988.

But more context is needed to understand the response from that sellout crowd of 79,560 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Their inspiration clearly came from more than just No. 16 FSU (9-3) defeating Florida (6-6) in a 45-38 shootout Friday.

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The narrow result against an inferior opponent served as a reminder that the Seminoles still have room to improve before they can emerge as a national title contender again. The highest scoring game in the history of the 65-year rivalry, though, also served as an exclamation point for a season to remember.

And for a season that no one saw coming.

“We are now in the national conversation,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said in his postgame press conference.

Norvell found himself in the national conversation after last season, but not in a good way. Whether Norvell could be the Seminoles’ long-term answer came into question after he started 8-13 across two losing seasons.

Even some of Norvell’s own players, like starting cornerback Jarrian Jones, were not sure about him.

“When I first got here, I felt like he was crazy. Like something was wrong with him,” said Jones, a three-year transfer from Mississippi State. “But that is him every day. He is going to give you his best every day. He is a person who is all about the work. He knows his players. …

“I would run through a wall for coach (Norvell).”

Entering this season, FSU desperately needed optimism. The Seminoles had not finished above .500 since 2017, Jimbo Fisher’s last season as their head coach before departing for Texas A&M. Fisher's successor, Willie Taggart, received the ax after compiling a 9-12 record.

Then Norvell inherited a team that required an extensive rebuild.

Picked to finish fifth in its division, per the ACC Preseason Poll, FSU was expected to continue to struggle this season. The Seminoles crushed those expectations, placing second in the ACC Atlantic for the first time since 2015.

For the first time since 2016, FSU dropped Florida and Miami in the same season and has a chance to record 10 victories. With the win, the Seminoles completed their first undefeated showing in November since 2016. They also had not defeated the Gators since 2017.

Which is all a cause for celebration.

“To be able to finish tonight 2-0 here in the state, that's big,” Norvell said. “Those two games, you guys are around this program, you know how important it is. We don't sell it short.

“It's critical for us to go and play well in these games, to go win these games, to be able to finish up as the state champs.”

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Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis (13) scores a touchdown. The Florida State Seminoles defeated the Florida Gators 45-38 at Doak Campbell Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.
Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis (13) scores a touchdown. The Florida State Seminoles defeated the Florida Gators 45-38 at Doak Campbell Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.

Florida State QB Jordan Travis delivers stellar performance vs. Florida

Jordan Travis had been more of a passer this season, averaging fewer than six carries per game.

The redshirt junior quarterback unleashed his running threat early and often this time, gashing the Gators for 83 yards and two touchdowns on 15 rush attempts. He also completed 13 of 30 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.

Travis kept several plays alive with his legs, which tormented Florida’s defense. He showed impressive elusiveness in the pocket, forcing several missed tackles on multiple scrambles that resulted in big plays via the run and pass.

“I don’t say this too often, but I did wake up today feeling a little bit different,” Travis said. “I was ready to go. I was locked in. I was going to do whatever I had to do to help this team win this football game.”

The Seminoles were somewhat bailed out by how well Travis played, along with running back Trey Benson's 111 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.

The FSU receivers, especially top option Johnny Wilson, had multiple drops in critical situations. In the third quarter, Wilson dropped what probably would have been a 45-yard touchdown reception on a slightly underthrown pass from Travis. That drive ended with a field goal.

The Gator offense found success despite being without five scholarship receivers. They tallied 262 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries. True freshman running back Trevor Etienne recorded a game-high 129 yards and a touchdown on 17 rush attempts.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson completed just nine of his 27 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. But two of his touchdown passes came on completions of 52 and 43 yards to receiver Ricky Pearsall in the first half.

Still, Travis matched the Gators blow for blow and then some. Norvell said he broke the rock after the game.

“Some of the things that he did out there on that football field were truly special,” Norvell said. “To be able to take a negative and make it into a positive. I thought he located the ball really well throughout the course of the night.

“You see his leadership. You see his confidence. There is nothing that is moving too fast for him. He is able to control himself, go out there and play at an elite level.”

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Members of the Florida State Seminoles football team and fans celebrate the team’s victory over the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.
Members of the Florida State Seminoles football team and fans celebrate the team’s victory over the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.

Jordan Travis, Trey Benson and Jared Verse address the media about their future

FSU is expected to learn its bowl destination on Dec. 4.

What matters even more, though, is what the Seminoles will learn about the future of their roster in the coming weeks.

Some players will have a choice between declaring for the NFL Draft or returning for another season. Other players might enter the transfer portal. Not to mention FSU will add transfers and early-enrolled freshmen from the 2023 recruiting class in January.

The Seminoles would dramatically raise their ceiling in 2023 if Travis alone returned for another season. Defensive end Jared Verse, Benson and Travis were each asked about their future plans. Travis’ non-committal answer practically sums up their responses.

“I’m going to continue to pray to God,” Travis said. “I’ve just got to keep working. I have so much room for improvement. I’m going to celebrate tonight. This career has been amazing. It has been a blessing from the man upstairs.

"I will keep praying to God and just keep working.”

Reach Carter Karels at ckarels@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FSU Seminoles fans storming field was warranted after Florida win