'Not done yet': FSU up to 12-0 after finding extra 'gear' to foil UF

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Down 12-0, with a backup quarterback, on the road against its rival, Florida State did what it has done throughout the course of the season.

Found a way to win.

Behind three touchdowns from Trey Benson and an elite second-half defensive performance, the Seminoles beat Florida 24-15 on Saturday night -- their 18th straight victory and first without quarterback Jordan Travis, out for the season with a leg injury.

Florida State is 12-0 for the fourth time in school history and headed to the ACC championship game next weekend against Louisville in Charlotte, North Carolina. Coach Mike Norvell went 8-13 in his first two seasons with the Seminoles. He is 21-3 since then.

"This is a long time coming. We had a heck of a journey, and the great thing about it -- it's not done yet," Norvell said.

Though Travis was out of the contest, his presence loomed large. Travis, injured last Saturday against North Alabama, told Norvell from his hospital bed after the game he was going to be in Gainesville with the team. During the week of preparation, Travis was with the team and helped starting quarterback Tate Rodemaker prepare. He also narrated a pregame video for the team that Benson said gave him chills and served as extra motivation.

Players wore #Finishfor13 T-shirts during pregame warmups with Travis on the field on crutches, wearing his No. 13 jersey, his injured foot wrapped in a garbage bag to protect it from a steady drizzle. Asked how he felt, Travis simply said, "I'm happy to be here."

He watched upstairs from the suite of athletic director Michael Alford with his brother, Devon. Afterward, defensive end Jared Verse said the players told Travis, "We did that for you."

"It meant so much for us to go out there and put on for him," Verse said. "We gave everything we had. Everybody hit another mental gear, another physical gear. That's what we're capable of."

Florida State did not get off to a great start, as Florida put max pressure on Rodemaker and stuffed Benson and the run game. After a safety on Rodemaker made it 12-0, the Seminoles regrouped. Benson scored a touchdown just before the half that closed the gap.

Verse said in the locker room at halftime of the defense: "You looked at everybody's eyes, they got that look in their eyes, if they don't score, we win this game easy. It's not even a competition. We went out with that mindset. They got a little field goal, started feeling themselves, we were like they don't get to score again. Our offense started moving. It was over for them."

Indeed, after Florida took a 15-14 lead, the Seminoles scored the final 10 points. Though the run game came in stops and starts, Benson did what it took to find a way into the end zone. He has been a particular menace against the Gators, with six touchdowns and 206 total yards in two games against Florida.

"I just stayed patient and waited for it to pop and it popped," Benson said. "This team is built on finishing, and that describes our team."

Indeed, Florida State needed to overcome a deficit for the seventh time this season. The defense played a huge part with its second-half performance, holding Florida to 48 yards and recording four sacks. Verse in particular came up big, constantly harassing freshman quarterback Max Brown, who had 12 passing yards in the second half.

"We were never worried," defensive lineman Braden Fiske said. "Three points in the second half, that's who we are. We know we're a second-half team. We know what we prep for. It's what we prepare for all spring, all summer, all fall."

Rodemaker finished 12-of-25 for 134 yards, but he had some significant plays, including a fourth-and-3 completion to Ja'Khi Douglas that led to the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. Maybe even bigger, or perhaps more symbolic, Rodemaker scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-14 and took a shot to the head when he slid at the end of the play.

He left the game for two plays. When he returned, he handed off to Benson for the clinching touchdown.

"I wanted to finish that game more than ever, for 13. It was huge," Rodemaker said.

Florida State won at Florida for the first time since 2017. Benson said afterward he had no idea, but he enjoyed getting to clip off sod from the field with Verse to take back to Tallahassee for their sod cemetery.

While beating both their in-state rivals -- Florida State defeated Miami 27-20 on Nov. 11 -- for the second straight year is a big accomplishment, the Seminoles will try to win their first conference championship since 2014 next weekend. Perhaps then they can put a full game together instead of relying on comebacks.

"We still have a long way to go," Verse said. "We still have to put together a full game. Always strive for greatness, it's not how can we beat our rivals or if we beat this team or that team. It's when are we going to play the perfect game where we reach our full potential? If we do that, I'm sorry for anybody in the country, they're going to have to get it."