NEW ORLEANS – Florida State dominated LSU throughout most of the game in New Orleans Sunday night, but it took a remarkable special teams play to secure the Seminoles’ 24-23 win over the Tigers and the program’s first 2-0 start since 2016.
It looked like the many Seminole fans who poured into the Crescent City for the game were going to enjoy celebrating a little early when FSU pounced on LSU’s second muffed punt of the night at the Tiger’s 10-yard line with under two minutes left.
Needing only to set up a game-clinching field goal, the Seminoles fumbled at the one-yard line on third down to give the Tigers some hope trailing 24-17 with 1:20 left in the game.
LSU’s offense then put together its only substantial drive of the game traveling the length of the field and scoring a touchdown on its last play from the one-yard line with one second left. But Florida State’s Shyheim Brown knifed through the left side of the Tiger line to deflect the game-tying extra point and send the FSU sidelines into euphoria.
“We talked to our team all week that this game could come down to one play, to one opportunity,’’ Florida State Coach Mike Norvell said. “And as you watch throughout the course of the game, I thought our guys put on display an incredible heart. Obviously, there at the end, we had some things that happened that we just can’t have. But the one thing that happened on the last play is what we absolutely needed.
“It’s determination. It’s heart. It’s a willingness that, even after a disappointing moment, our guys responded. Anybody that’s around our program, they know, they hear that word all the time, “respond.’’ How do you respond when the challenges arise? And effort showed up, guy (Brown) made a play there at the very end and gave us an opportunity to win that game.’’
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis was spectacular in passing for 260 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 31 yards, but it was his patience and accuracy on third down that was most impressive. The Seminoles were 11 of 17 on third down for the game including 6 of 9 in the first half where precision passes carved up the vaunted Tiger defense.
The Seminoles punted just twice the entire game and gained 392 yards, including 132 rushing. LSU had 348 yards with 139 of those coming on the ground.
The Noles led 17-3 with 4:17 left in the third quarter when Travis found Ontaira Wilson, who would lead FSU with seven catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns, with an over-the-shoulder touchdown pass. The play was remarkable on both ends as Travis made a perfect throw despite getting blasted under the chin which resulted in a targeting ejection for one of LSU’s top defenders, and Wilson made a one-handed catch of the perfect throw.
FSU looked like they might be able to put the game away again after going up 24-10 with 9:04 left to play, and LSU’s offense generating little headway.
While LSU’s transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels amassed 209 yards through the air and rushed for 114, Florida State’s defense was outstanding most of the game. FSU held Tiger All-American receiver Kayshon Boutte to just two catches for 20 yards and the longest pass play for LSU all night traveled just 22 yards. In addition, most of Daniel’s rushing yards came on scrambles when FSU’s pass defense blanketed the LSU receivers.
“(Florida State) outplayed us in the first half,’’ Kelly said. “Certainly, mistake after mistake after mistake for us and particularly in the first half. And, you know, obviously more mistakes in the second half. We started to overcome some of those and played with, I would consider, more of a sense of urgency the last 12 minutes. But our margin for error was so small that we couldn’t make any more mistakes.
Defensive back Renardo Green made several outstanding plays in the open field and led FSU with eight tackles. Jared Verse was unstoppable at times ripping through LSU’s offensive front for two quarterback sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Tatum Bethune showed in his second game with FSU the instinctive play that makes him so effective and his seven solo tackles were second among FSU defenders.
After an open date, Florida State returns to action Friday, September 16, at Louisville for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.