GAINESVILLE, Fla.- On the bus ride to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Levonta Taylor watched videos of interceptions on his phone.
He envisioned himself making game-changing plays over and over as Florida State and Florida were set to take the field foe the 62nd time.
When the clock hit triple zeroes and the Seminoles finished off their fifth straight win over the Gators, Taylor had two interceptions that directly impacted an emotional 38-22 victory over his team’s biggest rival.
“I’ve always wanted my first career interceptions to come in a big game,” Taylor said after the game, a big grin sweeping across his face. “So I’m happy it came against the Gators like this.”
With the game tied at 7-7 in the first quarter, Taylor snagged his first career interception out of the air on a bobbled catch by UF’s Josh Hammond at the Gators’ 20-yard line.
A few plays later, the Seminoles scored a touchdown to reclaim a lead that they would never relinquish.
“I saw on film a lot when the receivers line up on the outside hash of the numbers, they’re running, 100-percent, a slant,” Taylor said. “I just played inside technique and didn’t let him get across my face. I looked up and saw the ball and caught it.”
“I was seeing his ability back in high school,” said defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, a former teammate of Taylor’s at Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, Va. I was waiting to see things like today (happen).”
In the second quarter, with the Gators backed up on their own 16-yard line, Taylor saw another opportunity to impact the game. This time he stepping in front of a Felipe Franks pass attempt, racing into the end zone with the pick-six and extending FSU’s lead to 24-7 with 3:46 left in the half.
“On the second interception I had already jumped one out route so then they did it again and I just housed it,” Taylor said of the play. “I was just thinking in my head put points on the board, have to score.”
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Added Nnadi: “The second he had the first (interception), I was one of the first ones running over there, picking him up. I picked him up and carried him to the sideline. The second time, I wasn’t really expecting that big play, but I was just so excited for him.”
For the 5-9 Taylor, this was the type of performance he’d been waiting patiently for since his arrival last year. Taylor’s smaller frame has led to his being tested by opposing teams numerous times this season.
It’s part of what drives him, the edge that he carries to eliminate any doubt he’s an elite outside cornerback.
“I see what people say sometimes, about me being small and this and that,” Taylor said. “I just ignore it and go out and play football, go out there and compete.
“I feel I have an edge because of film. And I’m fast. So, I just use technique and make sure no one gets anything on me.”
“In the summer people kept trying to say he needs to play in the slot and stuff,” added Ermon Lane, who spent time playing with and against Taylor in the Noles’ secondary and receiving corps. “He kept telling us he was going to keep it locked down (outside) and he’s been doing that all year.”
While his statistics didn’t always show it, Taylor has been one of FSU’s better defenders this season, and his effort on Saturday was part of larger breakthrough performance for the Seminoles’ defense.
With Taylor leading the way, the Noles intercepted three passes and forced four total turnovers, turning those into 28 points leading to the victory.
“He was outstanding today,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He puts his heart and soul on the line every week in practice and in games.
“Statistics don’t always tell the story, because he still gets pass breakups and things like that. But today he was able to get those numbers to back his play up.”