A valiant effort was all for naught for Florida State in Week 1. The Seminoles rallied from 18 points down in the fourth quarter against No. 9 Notre Dame to force overtime on Sunday night, but ultimately fell, 41-38. It was their fifth straight season-opening loss.
As was the case last season, FSU will try to pick up its first win of the season against FCS Jacksonville State on Saturday. The Gamecocks actually held a pair of 14-point leads in last season's matchup, but FSU rallied for a 41-24 victory. The contest served as the coming-out party for Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis.
This will be the fourth meeting between the schools on Saturday and third since 2009. Jacksonville State has held a second-half lead in each of the last two meetings. The Gamecocks are coming off a 31-0 loss to UAB in the opener.
Jacksonville State at Florida State
When: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Florida State -22.5
When Jacksonville State Has the Ball
Although Jacksonville State was held scoreless and managed just 154 yards against UAB, it is talented at quarterback. Zerrick Cooper is a 6-foot-3, 217-pound signal-caller who started his collegiate career at Clemson. Over the 2018 and '19 seasons, Cooper passed for more than 3,400 yards each season with a total of 60 touchdown passes. Cooper, however, is not a pocket passer. He led the Gamecocks in rushing last week and has 17 rushing touchdowns in his career.
In Week 1, Cooper finished just 17-for-34 passing for 88 yards, but that was largely due to little help. In the offseason, tight end and last season's leading receiver Trae Barry transferred to Boston College. Cooper passed for 232 yards and an interception in last season's loss to the Seminoles. Dave Russell III is back for Jacksonville State, and he tallied seven catches for 74 yards in last season's meeting.
Although Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan had a monster day passing and the Fighting Irish put up 41 points, the improvement for the Florida State defense was noticeable. Transfers Jermaine Johnson II and Keir Thomas had stellar games for the FSU defensive front. Quashon Fuller also had a breakout night with 1.5 tackles for a loss. FSU finished the night with four sacks against a good offensive line after recording just 10 last season in nine games.
A linebacker position that has struggled in recent years for FSU showed promise on Sunday. Amari Gainer has been a standout, but Kalen DeLoach led the way with eight tackles. In the secondary, busted coverages were the norm last season. Although FSU gave up a lot of yards through the air, breakdowns in coverage weren't prevalent. Jarvis Brownlee and Akeem Dent each stood out for FSU.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Head coach Mike Norvell is not naming a starting quarterback for Saturday's contest. Although he connected on some deep passes, Travis had his struggles against the Fighting Irish in the opener. Still, his legs will keep him in the lineup in some capacity. McKenzie Milton has been a great comeback story. A former standout at UCF, Milton suffered a gruesome leg injury in 2018 that not only threatened his career, but his limb. After Travis' helmet popped off following a play against Notre Dame, Milton came in and led two scoring drives to force overtime. Ja'Khi Douglas and Keyshawn Helton had solid receiving games in Week 1.
In the backfield, FSU has a three-headed monster at tailback. Jashaun Corbin rushed for a career-high 144 yards, which included an 89-yard touchdown, against Notre Dame. Treshaun Ward and Lawrance Toafili are both very capable rushers as well. Toafili rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in last season's win over the Gamecocks.
As bad as the offense was for Jacksonville State in Week 1, the defense was nothing to rave about. The Gamecocks allowed 517 yards in the 31-0 loss to UAB. There were, however, some bright spots. Jacksonville State was sliced and diced through the air but allowed just four yards per carry on the ground. It also forced a pair of turnovers in the loss.
Nicario Harper led the team in tackles a season ago and opened the 2021 campaign with 11. That was tied for tops on the team with Marshall Clark. In last season's loss to FSU, Jacksonville State's defense set the tone and allowed the Gamecocks to start strong. Kolbi Fuqua returned an interception from FSU's Tate Rodemaker for a touchdown to get the scoring started.
Games against inferior opponents after hyped openers on short weeks have not traditionally gone well for Florida State. With that said, expect the Seminoles to be sluggish early. Jacksonville State has traditionally been a pretty good FCS team but did not show much promise on either side of the ball against UAB. Once FSU shakes off the rust and any hangover from a hard-fought loss to Notre Dame, it will have a chance to get reps for a lot of youngsters and work out some of the issues from Week 1.
Prediction: Florida State 38, Jacksonville State 10
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.