In the first edition in 58 years of the FSU-Florida rivalry featuring both teams with losing records, the Seminoles came to play on both sides of the ball and won easily 38-22.
The Noles defense caused four takeaways on Gators QB Feleipe Franks, and returned two of them for TD’s as Florida State took control in the first half and never looked back.
Freshman QB James Blackman threw two TD passes in his first taste of the “Florida Feud,” and the Noles won for the fourth time in a row in Gainesville.
Early in the first quarter, Florida State’s Brian Burns would strip sack Franks and the ball was picked up and returned for a touchdown by defensive lineman Jacob Pugh.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) November 25, 2017
Florida, however, would come back with a strong defensive effort of their own in their next series. Senior cornerback Duke Dawson would intercept Blackman on the Florida State 23 yard line. That interception led to a 10 yard rushing touchdown for Mark Thompson as the score would be knotted up at 7.
Everything after that was all Florida State. After an interception by Lavonta Taylor, the Seminoles were able to find the end zone again thanks to a bullet of a pass by Blackmon, finding receiver Nyquan Murray for the 14-7 lead.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) November 25, 2017
After a Florida State field goal, Taylor would disrupt the Gators offense again in the second quarter with another interception. This time he would run it back 18 yards for a touchdown extending the Seminoles lead to 24-7.
The Gators would respond to the turnover with a 74 yard drive of their own. Franks engineered a 12-play drive taking three minutes off the clock that resulted in the first of two Brandon Powell touchdown receptions just before halftime. Powell finished with 9 receptions for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Following halftime it was all Florida State. There wasn’t much action offensively from either team in the third quarter until Matthew Thomas intercepted Franks and returned it to the Gators 1-yard line. Blackman’s second TD pass sealed the deal.
New FSU coach Norvell says he won’t coach Cotton Bowl
When Mike Norvell left his Memphis Tigers just after they had won the American Conference Championship Saturday game to take the FSU job, there was some debate about whether he would return to coach his old team in their upcoming Cotton Bowl?
However, the new Noles boss announced late Tuesday morning that he’s coached his final game for the Tigers and won’t be able to be with them in Dallas when they take on Penn State:
— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) December 10, 2019
Norvell sent an open letter to the Memphis students and fan base saying it was a difficult decision, but that his focus has to remain on immediately rebuilding Florida State:
“It is with tremendous sadness announcing that I have coached my last game leading that great team. With the transition to a new opportunity and a restricted calendar, which is unique to this year, I will not be able to coach the Cotton Bowl.
As I have told the team throughout my time, you give everything you have each and every day to the best of your ability focused on your CLIMB, and I could not stand in front of them without being able to prepare to the level they deserve. The team is in great hands with the administration, the coaching staff and the leaders on the team will continue to do what they have been trained to do and RESPOND.
I will always support and cheer for the Tigers and will forever be a Memphian. Maria, Mila and I are excited for our future in Tallahassee and at Florida State University, but MEMPHIS, we love you.”
Norvell was torn about staying with the Tigers, as he just Led them to their most successful season in program history. Their 12-1 record coupled with the Championship game win over Cincinnati Saturday has put them in a New Year’s Six Bowl game for the first time in program history.
Memphis has named Norvell assistant, Ryan Silverfield, as the interim head coach and he may end up being given the full-time job.
As a comparison, former UCF coach Scott Frost left Orlando for his alma mater, Nebraska, but came back with his staff for practices and coached them to their Peach Bowl upset of Auburn in January of 2018.
As for Norvell, he is already moved quickly and tabbed his former assistant Kenny Dillingham, as his new offensive coordinator. Dillingham left Memphis just this season and had been the offensive coordinator at Auburn.
It has also been reported that Norvell will keep Odell Haggins as assistant head coach for defense.
That move was expected, as Higgins has twice served as the interim head coach in the last three years, is heavily involved in the Noles recruiting and has been with the program as a player or as a coach for 30 seasons.
Mike Norvell subplot for FSU-Arizona State Sun Bowl
New FSU head coach Mike Norvell will not coach the Seminoles at the 2019 “Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl “(what a great bowl name, right?). However, he is part of the story of this game, a tale which contains several plot twists.
One fundamental aspect of the Norvell story in El Paso might throw Seminole Nation a curveball: Norvell is part of the backdrop to this game for reasons which are better known by Arizona State fans than Florida State partisans.
Remember this: Mike Norvell used to be Arizona State’s offensive coordinator. Norvell guided the ASU offense under former head coach Todd Graham. Norvell jumped to Memphis four years ago from ASU.
This year’s American Athletic Conference championship and Group of Five championship – leading to a Cotton Bowl berth for Memphis against Penn State – were won by a quarterback who transferred from Arizona State: Brady White.
Mike Norvell, it could be argued, is the man who should have succeeded Todd Graham in Tempe, not Herman Edwards. Interestingly enough, when Herm was hired to replace Graham after the 2017 season, the whole coaching staff was not cleaned out. Two Graham holdovers stayed on the 2018 staff in Tempe, Arizona: John Simons and Rob Likens.
Simons lasted one year. Then he went to Memphis to follow Norvell. Likens, ASU’s offensive coordinator this past season, was just fired by Edwards, who wants to remake his offensive staff.
I know of an offensive mastermind ASU could have used: Mike Norvell. He could have given structure and dependability to ASU’s offense, but the Sun Devils and athletic director Ray Anderson had other ideas. Now, ASU is searching for the right offensive coordinator, a sign that the last two seasons haven’t made the grade in the desert.
Florida State fans can relate to the notion that the past two seasons of football have been the equivalent of chasing one’s tail. The Seminoles, like the Sun Devils, have gone nowhere. One could make the argument that in Arizona State’s case, the reality has been worse the past two years than it has been for FSU.
At least Florida State knows that even if it did moderately well in 2017 and 2018, Clemson was still sitting there as the roadblock to the playoff or top-tier national relevance. Arizona State didn’t have that kind of a colossus in its own division, the Pac-12 South, which makes a pair of 7-5 regular seasons seem like an even greater missed opportunity to rise in the ranks.
Mike Norvell is certainly the man Florida State fans hope will guide their program to renewed prominence. Yet, ask anyone in Tempe: Arizona State fans wish that when Todd Graham was fired, his former offensive coordinator could have replaced him.
Mike Norvell is trying to become the fulfillment of Florida State’s hopes and dreams. He is also the man with the exact skill set Arizona State football currently needs… but doesn’t have.
Norvell is not just at the center of the Florida State story. This Sun Bowl in El Paso will remind Arizona State fans of the guy who got away.