Mistaken identity: Second-half Tigers look like cubs as FSU erupts

NEXT PLAY?: LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels looks toward the sideline Sunday night as No. 8 Florida State humbled the fifth-ranked Tigers. (Photo courtesy LSU Athletics)

By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. – The No. 5 college football team in the country allowed 31 consecutive second-half points in its season-opener Sunday.

It went almost 35 minutes without scoring a touchdown.

It got shoved around on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

It allowed a former in-state high school receiver to catch three touchdowns from a quarterback completing 74 percent of his passes.

The only conclusion after eighth-ranked Florida State steamrolled LSU 45-24 in Citrus Bowl Stadium was simple.

LSU, as college football’s fifth-ranked team, was a case of mistaken identity.

“I’ve got to get our team to understand you’ve got to play this game for four quarters with a mentality and we did not,” LSU second-year head coach Brian Kelly said. “For some reason, we thought we were somebody else. We thought we were the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs or something. I don’t know what we thought but we were mistaken.”

A loud FSU-dominated crowd of 65,429 watched their team physically dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage in the final two quarters. It came after LSU could manage a mere 17-14 halftime lead after scoring just two touchdowns and a field goal in five first-half trips to the red zone.

Starting with its closing possession of the first half, Florida State scored on the final six of seven possessions of the game including touchdowns on five straight possessions.

“That second half is a glimpse of what this team can do and where this team can go,” Florida State head coach Mike Norvell said. “I didn’t think we played our best game, but we finished the way we wanted. I told them we will go out and score on every drive in the second half if we focus.”

Sixth-year Florida State starting quarterback Jordan Travis completed 23 of 31 passes (including his last 12 of 13) for 342 yards and four touchdowns.

LSU’s only TD of the second half was Tigers’ quarterback Jayden Daniels’ 75-yard pass to Brian Thomas Jr. with 1:15 left in the game.

By that time, though, many of the Tigers’ fans wandered out of the stadium into the night, stunned at the beatdown in which FSU outgained LSU 494 yards to 460.

Travis and tall, talented FSU receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson combined for 16 catches for 226 yards and three TDs. The duo feasted on LSU’s defensive backfield which featured three new starters.

Coleman, a 6-4 Michigan State transfer and former Opelousas Catholic star, caught nine passes for 122 yards, including three TDs. His 40-yard first-quarter TD gave FSU a 7-0 lead, his 21-yard second-quarter TD grab tied the game at 14-14 and his 7-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter provided the Seminoles with their first two-TD lead of the game.

The 6-7 Wilson, who transferred to FSU last season after beginning his career as one of Daniels’ receivers at Arizona State, had seven catches for 104 yards.

“They make my job easy,” Travis said of Coleman and Wilson. “We started slow in the first half with a couple of drops. I had to put the ball higher on many throws and make it easier on the receivers.”

Daniels completed 22 of 37 yards for 347 passing yards, but 130 yards came on LSU’s first offensive snap of the night (a 55-yard throw to running back Tre’ Bradford) and its last offensive play (the 75-yard TD to Thomas Jr.).

For the second straight year after FSU edged LSU 24-23 in the 2022 season opener, the Tigers’ third-down defense was horrendous. FSU converted 9 of 14 third downs and 1 of 1 fourth downs.

LSU’s offense was terrible on third downs, converting just 3 of 10. Even worse, the Tigers failed all three fourth-down gambles, starting with their failure to score on their opening possession on four plays from the FSU 1.

“We got ourselves in critical second and long and third and long situations where they (the defense) are able to pin their ears back and rush the passer,” Daniels said.

FSU scored on its first and last possessions of the first half. Both ended with Travis throwing TD passes to Coleman with 7:53 left in the first quarter and with 1:01 remaining in the second period.

Travis walked in on a TD keeper with 2:42 left in the third quarter which sent FSU into the final period with a 24-17 lead.

The Tigers were on the move as the fourth quarter started, having advanced 25 yards to the LSU 48 as the game’s final 15 minutes began.

That’s when Daniels targeted Nabers for the 12th time in his first 30 attempts. But Nabers slipped making a cut and FSU defensive back Renardo Green made a kneeling interception at LSU 43.

“Mailk just slipped,” Daniels said. “It is what is. He made a play cut, he turned his head and it’s something we live and die with.”

Eight plays later, Travis found Coleman for a third TD pass and the Tigers were essentially done.

LSU now moves to play Grambling in its home opener Saturday in Tiger Stadium. After a day off Monday, the Tigers will have a short time to pick up the pieces and improve from an embarrassing performance.

“We thought we were somebody else we weren’t,” Daniels said. “As a team, we’ve got to step back and look in the mirror and see how we’re going to respond to this.”

Contact Ron at ronhigginsmedia@gmail.com