January 31, 2023

Despite a roaring comeback taking advantage of multiple Florida State miscues, it was LSU that made the final mistake on Sunday night in a 24-23 victory by the Seminoles at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Trailing 24-10 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers scored the final 13 points of the game, but a blocked extra point with no time remaining cost them a would-be comeback opportunity in overtime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels hit Jaray Jenkins for a 2-yard touchdown with 1 second remaining to score what was seemingly the game-tying score to end a 99-yard drive begun by a FSU goal-line fumble. But Damian Ramos’ extra point was blocked by Shyheim Brown with no time left on the clock to give the ‘Noles the win. 

The only reason LSU had the chance to tie it late was because Brian Thomas Jr. was initially ruled out of bounds with a second left at the 1-yard line. Replay showed that he was in bounds, but LSU snapped the ball on the whistle to get the final play off in regulation.

It was a wild ending to a stellar drive that probably should have never happened. LSU had a chance to tie it late because of a rare mistake by the ‘Noles rushing attack. Treshaun Ward fumbled an ill-advised pitch on the goal line to give it back to LSU with 1:20 to play. That was the only reason Daniels even had an opportunity to lead his team down the field for what appeared to be the touchdown that would have sent the game to overtime. 

It was a remarkable turn of events because it appeared that Florida State had the game won when LSU’s Malik Nabers muffed a punt on the 8-yard line with 2:05 left. Ward had two carries for 8 yards to get to the doorstep and force LSU to burn their first timeout. The fumble occurred on the first play coming out of the timeout. 

The dramatic fourth quarter was the story of the night, but Florida State QB Jordan Travis was the star of the evening. The second-year starter hit Ontaria Wilson on a double-reverse flea-flicker for a 39-yard score early in the second quarter to put the ‘Noles up 7-3, a lead they would never relinquish. Travis connected with Wilson again in the third quarter on a beautiful over-the-shoulder dime near the right pylon to make it a 17-3 ballgame and crank the pressure up even more on a Tigers team that simply couldn’t get going offensively. Travis finished the evening 20 of 32 for 260 yards with two touchdowns, eight carries and 31 yards rushing.

Daniels got the start under center for coach Brian Kelly, who was making his debut in the purple and gold after a successful 12-year stint at Notre Dame. He went 26 of 35 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, adding 114 yards on the ground. Part of the reason that Daniels was essentially the only effective piece of the offense was an offensive line that simply couldn’t hold the Florida State defensive front back. LSU gave up six tackles for loss, which included four sacks.

What are the primary takeaways from the thriller in New Orleans?

Travis is the real deal

The ‘Noles’ signal caller looked like a different player Saturday in a hostile environment one one of the biggest stages of his career. The pass over Ontaria Wilson’s shoulder for FSU’s touchdown in the third quarter couldn’t have been put in a better spot, and the fourth-quarter drive that made it a 24-10 game included a tremendous 15-yard reception on the run over-the-middle to big 6-foot-7 target Johnny Wilson.

That’s a great sign moving forward. The ACC is loaded with stud quarterbacks, and Travis wasn’t included in the group that included Devin Leary, Tyler Van Dyke, Kedon Slovis and others. Go ahead and add Travis to that group because he looked like a bona fide star against a fast and physical Tigers defense.

Special teams told the tale

The missed extra point with no time on the clock will be the one that everybody remembers, but it was a blocked field goal attempt earlier in the game that set Brown to make the decisive play of the game. 

Ramos’ first field goal attempt of the night was a 30-yarder that was blocked by Jared Verse, who came through the left side of the Tiger offensive line. Kelly told reporters after the game that the pressure that came through was enough for the Tigers to switch up some personnel. Clearly, that didn’t work and opened the door for Brown to make history. 

Kelly said after the game that Nabers, who muffed two punts on the night, was rock solid in practice and was shocked when the two fumbles happened during the game. It is clear that he will reassess his punt return lineup after the game as well, because those mistakes simply can’t happen.

Third downs were huge

Third-down conversion percentage is one of the most important stats in college football, and Florida State was money when it mattered most against LSU. The Seminoles converted 11 of 17 attempts, including 5 of 8 in the second half. Travis was a big reason why. He was 8 of 12 for 92 yards and a touchdown on third downs, and all eight of his completions moved the chains. That helped the ‘Noles win the time of possession battle and demoralized a Tigers defense that had no answer for the majority of the game. It worked both ways as well. LSU’s offense finally got going in the fourth quarter but converted just 3 of 7 through the first three quarters. LSU has plenty of problems to address, and its issues on third down on both sides of the ball should be at the top of the list. 

LSU’s offensive line needs work

It a big concern heading into the season, and it remains an issue. Daniels never seemed to be comfortable and was relegated to a “one read and bail” quarterback for the majority of the evening. That led to massive frustration, most notably with star wide receiver Kayshon Boutte; the two were caught on the broadcast having some clearly intense conversations. 

That’s not something that is easily addressed, either. The most important part of any offensive line’s progression is continuity, and the fact that there are four new starters up front clearly showed. Luckily for LSU, Daniels is mobile enough to escape and make some plays with this legs when necessary. That isn’t something that is sustainable for a full season, though. Especially in an SEC West that is loaded with studs in the front seven. 

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