“He’s electric”: Jordan Travis gives Florida State much needed spark off the bench in win over Jacksonville State

Jordan Travis led touchdown drives on each of his first five possessions after replacing Tate...
Jordan Travis led touchdown drives on each of his first five possessions after replacing Tate Rodemaker in the second quarter.(WCTV)
Published: Oct. 3, 2020 at 8:17 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE – If last week’s 52-10 loss at Miami was bad, Florida State through one quarter on Saturday looked like it was heading for a new rock bottom against Jacksonville State.

James Blackman, the Seminoles' starter for the first two games of the season, had been the only quarterback on the roster with any starting experience. But the poor decision-making and inconsistent accuracy down the field that has plagued him throughout his career continued to persist in Florida State’s first two games of the year. After an 0-2 start with his new team, Mike Norvell had seen enough and was ready to go a different direction.

Norvell, who returned to the sideline this week after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing the Miami game, opted to give the true freshman Tate Rodemaker his first career start Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Rodemaker made his collegiate debut in the fourth quarter against Miami last week, finishing 5-of-9 for 47 yards and an interception.

The decision was not announced until minutes before kickoff. When the starting lineups were revealed on the jumbo Tron, a limited capacity crowd of 13,589 roared in appreciation once they realized Rodemaker would be getting the nod over Blackman.

The tables turned quickly though. His first possession lasted just three plays as his second pass of the afternoon resulted in a 13-yard pick-six by Alen Karajic.

Rodemaker settled down a bit on his next drive, tossing two completions for first downs and leading the Florida State offense to the Jacksonville State 32. Then he took a bad sack trying to extend the play, forcing the Seminoles to attempt a 49-yard field goal, but Ryan Fitzgerald pushed it wide right.

Jacksonville State on its next series needed just seven plays to extend its lead to 14-0, which would last through the end of the first quarter. For as bad as the Seminoles looked in their first two games, they shockingly looked to be flirting with its most embarrassing performance yet.

As a 27.5-point favorite looking for any kind of spark offensively, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at the freshman running the offense. After all, Florida State came into Saturday 25-0 all-time against FCS teams.

But Rodemaker led the offense to just 60 total yards on four series and the fans suddenly clamored for Norvell to reinsert Blackman.

Rather than handing the keys back to Blackman though, Norvell instead made a bold move and went with Jordan Travis for the remainder of the afternoon.

It paid off as the redshirt sophomore led touchdown drives on each of his first five possessions. A 14-0 deficit after the first quarter turned into a comfortable 41-24 win for the Seminoles (1-2, 0-2 ACC) over the Gamecocks (0-1) to give Norvell his first victory as Florida State’s head coach.

“Jordan told us in pre-game that he felt like he could go out and play at a high level. And so we wanted to give him that opportunity, looking for a spark,” Norvell said.

Travis had transferred from Louisville before the 2019 season but was used almost exclusively as a runner last year. He rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 but attempted only 11 passes.

He appeared in both of Florida State’s previous two games to start the 2020 season, totaling 91 rushing yards on 13 carries (7.0 yards per rush) but attempted only three passes.

On Saturday, he finally got the chance to showcase his skill set as a passer and the results were promising. Of course, it was against Jacksonville State, but he looked significantly more comfortable distributing the ball than he did in any of his previous stints with Florida State.

Travis finished an efficient 12-of-17 with 210 yards and a touchdown through the air with zero turnovers despite being limited in practice all week after injuring his knee against Miami. He had just 150 passing yards in his two previous seasons combined with both Louisville and Florida State.

“We knew we could potentially get a spark with his legs, but you saw all the work he’s put in throughout the offseason,” Norvell said. “There were opportunities he had in fall camp, what he was able to do with his arm, just really, really proud of that young man.”

Travis wasted no time making an impact. His first pass attempt of the game was a 41-yard touchdown pass deep over the middle of the field to Keyshawn Helton. Not only was it the longest play of the season up to that point for the Seminoles, but it was also their first offensive play over 30 yards in 2020.

“The completion to Keyshawn, that gave me a lot of confidence for sure. That was a great feeling,” Travis said. “I’ve been going through a lot here, a bunch of different things about my arm so it was definitely a great feeling.”

Perhaps, the overall most encouraging takeaway of the afternoon was that Florida State seemed to form a definitive offensive identity, which it sorely lacked with Blackman or Rodemaker under center.

Travis' again added an extra dimension to the Florida State offense with his legs (48 yards), but more importantly, his threat as a runner began to open up lanes for Florida State’s three primary running backs.

Lawrence Toafili (99 yards, one touchdown), Jashaun Corbin (63 yards, one touchdown) and La’Damian Webb (55 yards, two touchdowns) helped the offense tally 263 rushing yards Saturday. Florida State had just 260 rushing yards combined in its first two games.

With a rediscovered ground attack, Travis thrived off play-action as he later dropped in a gorgeous 48-yard pass Tamorrion Terry over the top of two Jacksonville State defensive backs.

“There’s something I’ve seen in practice, I’ve seen him go out and throw the ball with great velocity, with great accuracy,” Norvell said. “There were some things you saw in practice tonight, fundamentals really carry over into the game.”

“Coupled with not being able to practice as much this week, that’s a tremendous compliment to the young man being able to focus on the little things. When the moment was there, he was on point and hit some unbelievable throws downfield.”

After Florida State averaged just 3.0 yards per play with Rodemaker taking the snaps, the Seminoles averaged 7.59 yards per play with Travis under center for the rest of the game.

“He’s electric. He’s been doing that week in and week out for us. He approaches the work the same each and every day, he just comes to work each day,” Helton said of Travis. “I’m proud of him, man. He deserves everything he got out there today and I’m looking forward to going to work with him next week.”

Again, all of this success came against an FCS team, so it must be taken with a grain of salt. However, it was a major step in the right direction considering how unwatchable Florida State’s offense has been the last several years regardless of its opponent.

Norvell did not address the quarterback situation going forward and Travis also said he had not yet been told about what his role would be for next week against a much tougher opponent in No. 5 Notre Dame.

But on Saturday Florida State got its first glimpse of what an offense built around Travis could look like and it has to be encouraged with the early returns.

“I’ve just got to keep working, keep getting better every single day,” Travis said. “My main goal is getting better at throwing the ball, that’s my weakness I think right now so I’ve got to keep working, keep getting better.”

“Just go back to practice, get back to work, and just get 1% better every single day.”