If you said coming into Sunday night that Florida State (0-1) would be tied in the fourth quarter with the No. 9 team in the country and take them to overtime, a lot of Seminole fans would've taken it. That said, the result was heartbreaking as Notre Dame (1-0) kicked a 43-yard field goal for the 41-38 win following a miss from Ryan Fitzgerald. The redshirt freshman kicker was pure on an attempt from around 50 yards out but it did not count as the officials called for a review on the previous play prior to the snap. Following that, he was wide-right from 37-yards.
The atmosphere in Doak Campbell Stadium was electric from the start of this game and the energy felt different. Head coach Mike Norvell obviously won't walk away from this one satisfied but he has to be pleased with the signs that FSU showed throughout. This team and program are slowly starting to shift in the right direction.
Here are three thoughts on the loss and what to take away from it as we move forward.
1. McKenzie Milton has to be the starting quarterback moving forward
Let's get right to it. Jordan Travis has worked his tail off to improve as a quarterback while at Florida State but he was unable to put things together against Notre Dame. Yes, he threw two touchdowns, including a perfect throw to Ja'Khi Douglas down the sideline, but he also tossed three crucial interceptions. All three turnovers would go on to lead to Notre Dame touchdowns. It wasn't just the giveaways, Travis didn't look consistently comfortable in the pocket, either panicking too early or getting rid of the ball late.
The Florida native was forced to the sideline after getting banged up in the fourth quarter and the stadium erupted as McKenzie Milton stepped onto a college football field for the first time in over a thousand days. Milton promptly completed his first five passes and drove the Seminoles to two straight scoring drives to tie the game to force overtime. His command of the offense and confidence was evident from the moment he took over.
Obviously, Milton missed some time leading up to this game and you have to wonder how much that affected the outcome of the quarterback battle. If healthy, it feels like you've got to hand the reins over to the veteran signal-caller full-time. When the lights come on, you know what he'll give you and that will allow Travis to still be used as a change of pace option.
2. The defensive line will be FSU's backbone on defense this season
A season ago, the defensive line had all of the hype in the world and failed to come close to living up to it. FSU made it a point of emphasis to retool this room over the offseason and it paid major dividends on Sunday night. Transfer defensive ends Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas made an instant impact. Johnson recorded 7 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks as he blew up multiple Notre Dame possessions. He looked as advertised after his dominant spring.
Elsewhere, redshirt freshman Quashon Fuller had a few flashes, recording a tackle for loss on Kyren Williams and then sacking Jack Coan on the following play. He has only continued to grow over the summer and will be a key rotational player at defensive end. Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper both had solid performances along the interior.
Notre Dame ran the ball 35 times for just 65 yards (1.9 YPC) as the defensive line shut down the Fighting Irish's vaunted running attack. If they can keep up this type of effort, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and the 'Noles have something to work with here.
3. Mike Norvell has flipped the Seminoles mindset
When faced with adversity, we've seen Florida State flat-out quit multiple times over the past five years. Norvell has spoken countless times about changing the mindset and attitude of this team since arriving in Tallahassee. Down 38-20 late in the third quarter, the Seminoles had a chance to pack it in and fold. Instead, they rolled back their sleeves and fought to get back into the game.
The offense scored on its final three possessions of regulation and the defense recorded three stops of its own as FSU made a furious rally to tie the game at 38. Overtime didn't go as planned but the teams from recent memory wouldn't have even been in that position.
If there was one thing we learned from this loss to Notre Dame, it's that Norvell has this program back on the right track and believing in itself. They played with pride and aren't going to go down easily this season.