Seminoles Lean on Stifling Defense to Claim Conference Title
The Florida State Seminoles rode a dominant defensive performance to defeat the Louisville Cardinals 16-6 in the ACC championship game on Saturday night. The win gives Florida State its first ACC title since 2014, capping off a surprising 13-0 campaign in head coach Mike Norvell’s third season.
However, despite entering the game ranked 4th in the latest College Football Playoff poll, the Seminoles’ ugly offensive showing against Louisville may have damaged their case to earn a playoff berth. The selection committee will announce the four playoff teams on Sunday afternoon.
Florida State’s defense set the tone early, forcing a three-and-out on Louisville’s first possession. The Seminoles then marched down the field on the ensuing drive, cashing in on a field goal to take an early 3-0 advantage. That would be the only offensive score Florida State would need, as its defensive unit flexed its muscles all night.
The Seminoles registered six sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the game, utterly stymying Louisville’s offense. Florida State also forced three turnovers, including an interception by standout defensive end Jared Verse that set up the Seminoles’ only touchdown.
"I’m so proud of our defense – they played out of their minds tonight," Norvell said after the game. "It was a dominating performance that showed what we’re capable of when we’re locked in."
|Key Defensive Stats
|Tackles for Loss
While the defense shone brightly, Florida State’s offense sputtered for much of the contest. With starting quarterback Jordan Travis sidelined by a leg injury, the Seminoles leaned heavily on the ground game but managed just 139 rushing yards on 42 attempts (3.3 yards per carry). Backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker struggled in his first career start, completing just 10-of-20 passes for 79 yards.
The lackluster offensive display will likely raise questions for the playoff committee, who may hesitate to include an undefeated Power 5 champion that failed to score an offensive touchdown in its conference title game.
"Our offense has got to be better than that if we want to compete with the elite teams in the playoff," Norvell admitted. "We’ll need to correct some things and have a much cleaner performance if given the opportunity next week."
Rodemaker Guides Seminoles to ACC Crown in First Start
Thrust into the starting role after Jordan Travis injured his leg last week, redshirt sophomore Tate Rodemaker experienced some expected growing pains in his first career start. While he had a few nice throws and led Florida State on a couple scoring drives, Rodemaker appeared rattled at times by Louisville’s pass rush and struggled to push the ball downfield consistently.
He finished just 10-of-20 passing for 79 yards while taking two sacks. Rodemaker seemed hesitant to test Louisville’s secondary too often, relying mostly on checkdowns and screens in the short passing game. The Seminoles were likely hoping to protect their young quarterback in his first start, but almost became too conservative offensively as a result.
However, Rodemaker came up huge when his team needed him most. Clinging to a 13-6 fourth quarter lead, the sophomore quarterback engineered a back-breaking 17-play, 66-yard drive that drained over seven minutes off the clock. Rodemaker converted multiple third downs with his arm and legs to bleed the clock before finally punching in a field goal that essentially sealed Florida State’s ACC title.
"I’m proud of the way Tate battled tonight," Norvell said. "That final drive with the game on the line showed a lot of poise and guts."
While Rodemaker’s performance left plenty to be desired from an offensive perspective, he made enough winning plays for Florida State to secure the conference championship. And with Travis’ health still uncertain heading into next week, Rodemaker’s clutch drive under pressure could pay dividends if he’s pressed into starting duty in the playoff.
Stout Seminoles Defense Carries Team to Brink of Playoff Berth
Florida State’s defensive dominance was the driving force behind its unbeaten regular season, and that unit shone brightest when the stakes were highest in the ACC title game. The Seminoles completely smothered Louisville’s offense, holding the Cardinals to just 186 total yards while forcing three turnovers.
Defensive end Jared Verse was the catalyst for Florida State’s pass rush all season, and he turned in a signature performance on Saturday. Verse racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss while generally wreaking havoc in the Louisville backfield. His interception and 19-yard return also set up Florida State’s only touchdown in the second quarter. Fellow bookend defensive end Derrick McLendon added 1.5 sacks.
The Seminoles secondary also lived up to its billing as one of the best units in the country. Cornerback Greedy Vance blanked Louisville’s top receiver all night in coverage, while safety Jammie Robinson snatched his team-leading fifth interception of the year. Florida State came into the game leading the FBS in interceptions and padded that mark in the ACC title game. Robinson is a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and leads a loaded defensive back group.
First-year defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has orchestrated one of the most imposing defenses in college football. Florida State leads the nation in sacks this season and has shown the ability to completely overwhelm opponents up front. The Seminoles’ speed, length, and ball-hawking secondary also allows them to take away big plays.
That elite defense now must hope it did enough to impress the playoff committee on Saturday night. Florida State made a compelling closing argument as the top defensive team in the country. Now it awaits the final verdict on Sunday.
"I’ll go to battle with our defense against anyone," Norvell stated emphatically in his postgame press conference. "That is a championship-level defense that can win games by itself."
|Key Defensive Leaders
|DE Jared Verse (14.5)
|LB Tatum Bethune (100)
|S Jammie Robinson (5)
Travis Injury Creates Uncertainty Entering Playoff Selections
The lone dark cloud lingering after Florida State’s ACC championship triumph is the health of star quarterback Jordan Travis. The dynamic dual-threat quarterback missed the title game with a lower leg injury suffered late in the regular season finale last week.
Travis had put together an outstanding junior campaign, accounting for over 3,000 total yards of offense and 24 combined passing and rushing touchdowns prior to the injury. He was in the Heisman Trophy conversation and operated Florida State’s offense at an elite level all season.
But with his status up in the air after missing the ACC championship, it creates uncertainty for the Seminoles entering the playoff. Backup Tate Rodemaker gutted out the win on Saturday, but looked overmatched for stretches and doesn’t pose the same game-breaking threat as Travis.
If Travis can return healthy, Florida State’s offense reaches another level. His prolific passing and creativity as a runner could cause issues even for elite playoff defenses. But if his leg injury lingers or suffers a setback, relying on Rodemaker for three high-leverage postseason games is a dangerous proposition.
Norvell declined to provide an update on Travis’ status after Saturday’s game. The star quarterback was in uniform and went through warmups before coaches made the decision to hold him out. But Norvell admitted Travis is still "day-to-day" in his recovery.
With the playoff field set to be announced on Sunday, the committee has likely already factored Travis’ health into their evaluation of Florida State. His absence undoubtedly raises concerns over how explosive the Seminoles can be offensively against playoff-caliber opponents. All eyes will be on his rehab efforts this coming week.
"Jordan means so much to our offensive success," Norvell said. "Like all our players, we obviously want him healthy and hope to see #13 back out there soon."
Playoff Hopes Unclear After Ugly ACC Title Game Win
Despite an unblemished 13-0 record and ACC championship in hand, Florida State faces a tense wait heading into Sunday’s playoff selection show. Their ugly offensive performance without Travis in the conference title game may have opened the door for two-loss Alabama or other contenders to sneak into the four-team playoff instead.
The Seminoles already faced a precarious position sitting 4th in the playoff rankings entering Saturday. With TCU and USC both winning their league championship games convincingly, they appear to be playoff locks at this point. That likely leaves Florida State vying with one-loss Ohio State and SEC runner-up Alabama for the final spot.
"I think we belong in that playoff with the elite teams," Norvell stated. "But I understand it’s up to the committee now. Hopefully our full body of work and conference championship carries us through."
Florida State boasts one of nation’s best defenses and few can match their résumé of ranked wins. However, the committee has shown it values offensive explosiveness and firepower in playoff matchups. Without Travis and the offense sputtering versus Louisville, it may poke holes in the Seminoles as true championship contenders.
The waiting will be tense in Tallahassee for the next 24 hours until the playoff field is unveiled. Florida State laid dominant defensive markers for 13 straight weeks but saw its offense betray them at the worst possible time. Now their dream season hinges on the whims of the committee, who holds the fate of the Seminoles’ playoff aspirations in its hands.
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