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TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State was dealt a brutal lesson in the luck of the Irish.
In an overtime few imagined the Seminoles could be in, especially after trailing 38-20 with 4:37 left in the third quarter, they came up just short.
In the opening overtime period, FSU kicker Ryan Fitzgerald missed his 37-yard field goal attempt. Notre Dame kicker Jonathan Doerer responded by making his 41-yard attempt to close the door on FSU's bid fpr a statement win in its season opener Sunday.
The Seminoles (0-1) fell 41-38 to No. 7 Notre Dame (1-0) in front of a raucous crowd of 68,316 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"Disappointed we came up short, but so very proud of the way that our guys battled for 60-plus minutes," FSU head coach Mike Norvell said.
"We came into this week talking about having to be together. We knew there would be good moments, we knew there would be times that we would get knocked down. Our guys just continued to respond. My heart breaks for them. It was impressive to watch them continue to fight."
That loss does little to reflect the fight the Seminoles showed. Led by quarterbacks Jordan Travis and McKenzie Milton and a run game that amassed 264 rushing yards, the Seminoles rattled off 18 straight points to force the overtime. This was capped off by Fitzgerald's made 43-yard field goal with 40 seconds left.
But Notre Dame, in the end, was too much. The Fighting Irish built their lead in the third quarter, turning three interceptions into 21 points.
In his first start at Notre Dame since transferring from Wisconsin, quarterback Jack Coan completed 26 of 35 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
ND wideouts Kevin Austin Jr. and Joe Wilkins each made remarkable touchdown catches and tight end Michael Mayer racked up 120 receiving yards and a touchdown.
As the Seminoles rallied in the second half after falling behind by 18, they outgained ND 290 to 212 over the final 30 minutes. The Seminoles' comeback, just as hope was lost, came on a pair of methodical drives which ended with a touchdown pass to Andrew Parchment and a touchdown run by Treshaun Ward.
"(Notre Dame coach Brian) Kelly was preaching in the locker room that it’s hard to win in college football, especially in an environment like this," ND safety Kyle Hamilton said.
"(Florida State is) a very athletic, underrated team. Anybody calling them a slouch (is) very wrong."
Although it wound up as a loss for the Seminoles, their 18-point comeback was the program's largest since it rallied from 21 points down to lead North Carolina in a game it lost 37-35 in 2016.
The new-look defensive line makes instant impact
Opening against Notre Dame was quite a tough introduction for the Seminoles' many new additions through the transfer portal.
Of these new transfers, the most important right off the bat came on the defensive line with a pair of starting defensive ends in Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas.
Although you don't want to overreact too strongly to one game, it's hard to deny how impressive a performance it was from FSU's run defense. That started with the revamped defensive line.
Facing the same two Notre Dame running backs that gashed the Seminoles for 188 yards and three touchdowns last season in South Bend, FSU largely stifled the Fighting Irish's ground attack Sunday.
Notre Dame finished with 65 rushing yards on 35 carries. Last season, it had 240 yards on the ground in the first half and finished with 353 rushing yards overall.
"I feel that we definitely played really well. I feel like we set the tone," Johnson said.
"Like I said, we prided ourselves that no one is going to run on us. It's really a mindset. I feel like we went out there and did that.
There were quite a few factors in this improvement. The undeniably biggest factor, however, was Johnson. He came to FSU looking for more snaps after playing a rotational role at UGA previously.
He got extended reps against ND and made the most of them. In his first half as a Seminole, he had seven tackles (two solo), 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
"I thought Jermaine played really well. Was not only active in the passing game, but also against the run," Norvell said.
"I thought our defensive front played with tremendous energy, they were definitely very physical in their approach with what they did, and they fed off that with each other. There are still things we can improve on, but that was something that was a big focal point for us as we’re moving. Those guys have worked very hard and showed up in some good moments tonight."
Redshirt freshman defensive end Quashon Fuller had a sack and a half-tackle for loss on consecutive plays in the third quarter, both the first of his career. Thomas also added his first sack at FSU.
Over the entire game, FSU -- which averaged 1.1 sacks and 5.4 tackles per loss per game last season -- had four sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Yes, Notre Dame was replacing four offensive line starters, but they replaced them with impressive depth. That offensive front should still be one of the best on the Seminoles' schedule this season.
FSU ground game a real strength
Notre Dame dominated the Seminoles on the ground the last time the two teams met.
While ND's ground game was largely shut down this time, the Seminoles' rushing attack thrived. This was expected to be FSU's bread and butter coming into the season, but it kept them in the game when the pass game was gaining little ground.
The Seminoles racked up 264 rushing yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and scoring three of their five touchdowns on the ground.
Whereas last year, quarterback Jordan Travis did a great deal of the damage on the ground as the leading rusher, it was almost entirely FSU's running back platoon that got the job done Sunday.
Three different running backs each got at least five carries in the game. Each of them averaged over 5.5 yards per carry and had at least 34 yards.
Jashaun Corbin by far led the way with 144 rushing yards, 89 of which he got on his first-quarter touchdown run.
Walk-on-turned-scholarship back Ward had 76 yards and his second career touchdown while redshirt freshman Lawrance Toafili had 34 yards on six carries.
"Early on, Notre Dame did a good job (stopping the run), showed some things that they hadn’t shown before so we had to adapt and adjust throughout the course of the game. And that’s good coaching on their part," Norvell said.
"But our guys believed in the plan, believed in the adjustments, and we were able to hit some big plays in the run game. I thought late, it was impressive...We want that to be an identity of this football team, and when that starts happening you see what happens in the passing game as well."
The Seminoles indeed have a three -- maybe four when D.J. Williams is available -- headed monster in the backfield. And they should be able to rely on that all season long.
Quarterback duo works to effect
Travis beating out Milton for the starting quarterback job was significant.
He was given little chance to do so when Milton committed to FSU last December, but did so through an offseason of impressive improvement.
That didn't entirely translate to Saturday's game. While he had his moments of brilliance including a perfectly-placed 60-yard touchdown to Ja'Khi Douglas early in the third quarter, he largely struggled against the Fighting Irish.
His three interceptions, two of which were ill-advised late throws, led to 21 Notre Dame points, putting FSU in the hole it had to climb out of.
He played the entirety of the game into the fourth quarter before a big hit knocked him out of the game.
Milton was thrust into his first game in three years since suffering a knee injury which nearly forced his right leg to be amputated in 2018 at UCF.
Despite such a long layoff, he picked up right where he left off, leading consecutive scoring drives to tie the game and force overtime.
Between the two, they completed 14 of 26 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. It wasn't a planned usage of multiple quarterbacks considering the hit to Travis, but it worked out well for the Seminoles.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FSU football loses in overtime to Notre Dame as McKenzie Milton returns