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Florida State Stays in Playoff Hunt

Florida State Stays in playoff hunt

No Jordan Travis, no problem. It didn’t come easy, but the Florida State Seminoles escaped the Florida Gators on Saturday night, leaving Gainesville with a hard-fought 24-15 victory. The Sunshine State Showdown rivalry win marks 18 straight victories for the program and a perfect 12-0 regular season finish. That means Florida State stays in the playoff hunt with the latest CFP rankings putting them at #4.

FSU has been no stranger to dealing with pressure and adversity throughout the 2023 season. Saturday was certainly no exception, as the pivotal nature of the matchup went much deeper than what appeared on paper. Playing a talented Gators squad with nothing to lose and a bowl game to gain to close out the regular season was menacing enough. Doing so with a new starting quarterback in a big-time SEC environment like the Swamp was nerve-wracking. Despite all these factors and implications, the Seminoles had to come out with a victory in order to maintain dreams of a potential National Title.

Replacing the injured Jordan Travis, fourth-year junior quarterback Tate Rodemaker made the first true road start of his career. He was shaky for the most part but relied on his experience and the talent around him to manage the game well down the stretch. Having your first start on the road in Gainesville is no small feat, and Rodemaker somewhat got thrown into the fire. Moving forward, he can definitely learn from the pressure brought on by the intense matchup. However, Florida State’s escape over Florida can largely be attributed to the defense and running game stepping up.

RB Trey Benson

Unquestionably the offensive MVP of the game, Benson was the scoring source FSU needed. The Noles offense found paydirt only three times. Benson was the man who provided all three scores that proved to be decisive. He has been red hot to close out the regular season. Benson has now logged at least one rushing score in the past five games, finding the end zone eight times in that span. For his efforts, he was named the ACC Running Back of the Week.

Benson has all the momentum on his shoulders as one of the nation’s best scorers at the position during the second half of the season. The question remains: can he continue maintaining that momentum moving forward? Louisville has been solid against the run all year long and possesses the best run defense in the conference. However, the Cardinals haven’t faced quite as deep or talented a stable like the one the Seminoles possess. If utilizing the ground game is part of the game plan, expect Benson to lead the charge and build upon his dominant form.

DL Jared Verse

Verse has had a disappointing 2023 campaign following a stellar 2022 season. Fans have been patiently waiting for a standout performance; one they’d grown accustomed to seeing last season that garnered first-round pick buzz for the defensive lineman. That breakout performance happened Saturday night in the Swamp. Verse had perhaps his best half as a Nole, and helped lead a defensive resurgence that held the Gators offense to just three second-half points. He logged three tackles for loss, tied for the most by an FSU defender on the year. Even more impressive, his 2.5 sacks marked a new career-high. For his efforts, Verse also received weekly conference honors, as well as being named the Reese’s Senior Bowl Player of the Week.

Verse’s re-emergence as the most dangerous threat on the defensive line should open up more opportunities for his fellow linemen down the road. Players such as Braden Fiske and Patrick Payton, who added two sacks of his own against Florida, should have ample chances to get to the quarterback and disrupt plays with offensive lines targeting Verse. The Seminoles defensive line unit has more pressure placed on them than ever before, especially with the offense not quite being the same without Travis at the helm.

Aftermath

The win did just enough to move the Noles back into the top four of this week’s Playoff rankings. A big question that remained following the win was how the committee would view FSU’s chances with Rodemaker as the new starter. The Seminoles rejoining the unbeatens at the top of the pack and remaining ahead of the dangerous one-loss teams lurking below is undoubtedly good news for the team’s College Football Playoff hopes. That is, they’ll need to remain undefeated. This is the next great hurdle Rodemaker and company will have to clear. Next Saturday is perhaps the greatest challenge yet, with Florida State meeting up with the Louisville Cardinals in the ACC title game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

Florida State Stays in playoff hunt
Photo courtesy: Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun

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