CHAPEL HILL — Some of the best quarterbacks in college football history have played at Florida State, including three Heisman Trophy winners.
Current starter Jordan Travis isn’t even close to making that list.
Unless he’s playing North Carolina.
For the second straight year, the Seminoles sophomore carved up the Tar Heels with both his legs and his arm.
Last season in Tallahassee, he ran and passed for more than 100 yards while accounting for three touchdowns in an upset of then-No. 5 UNC. He was even more productive Saturday.
Travis passed for 145 yards and ran for 121 while having a hand in all five of his team’s scores to hand heavily favored UNC a 35-25 loss at Kenan Stadium.
“He’s definitely one of the slimiest, quickest quarterbacks we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said senior linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel, who spent most of his afternoon trying to chase down the Seminoles quarterback on both planned and unplanned runs.
“When he’s in the open field, when he’s in the box, he makes really good cuts. He knows how to get the ball out quick. I thought he did a good job, but it comes back to us getting into our checks, getting into our calls on certain formations.”
While Gemmel and his teammates have yet to figure out how to stop Travis after two tries, their Hall of Fame coach has had an even longer stretch of frustration against FSU.
Saturday’s loss, which dropped the Tar Heels to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the ACC, was Mack Brown’s 11th in as many career games against the Seminoles.
This one was among the most painful.
Not only did UNC help a quarterback that came into the game ranked 13th among the ACC’s 14 starting quarterbacks in passing efficiency look like a Heisman candidate for the second straight year, but it also hurt itself by committing 12 penalties for 110 yards, failed to convert scoring a pair of opportunities and allowed the opposition to convert 70% of its third down chances.
All while wasting 203 yards and two touchdowns passing, along with 108 yards on the ground from its own quarterback, Sam Howell.
“Florida State played a near-perfect game,” Brown said. “They were 7 of 10 on third down conversions, they hit 11 of 13 passes. We couldn’t get to (Travis), and when we did, he scrambled and did a great job. They’ve been a team that has turned the ball over, and we didn’t force a turnover all night. So give them credit.
“Offensively, we ran up and down the field, but penalties and the one turnover (a Howell interception in the end zone late in the first half) killed us and kept us from scoring.”
It didn’t start out that way.
The Tar Heels scored the first two times they touched the ball to take a 10-0 lead after one quarter, picking up a 51-yard Grayson Atkins field goal when a penalty helped stall its first drive and a 33-yard touchdown pass from Howell to Josh Downs.
The momentum began to shift shortly thereafter, however, when FSU’s Travis Jay returned the ensuing kickoff 41-yards to near midfield. Then, after a holding penalty set the Seminoles back, UNC let them off the hook allowing running back Jashaun Corbin break several tackles on his way to a 16-yard run that extended the possession.
FSU (2-4, 1-1 ACC) scored eight plays later when Travis hit Malik McClain from five yards out. And the Tar Heels never recovered.
The Seminoles scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 21-10 lead into halftime. Then, after UNC began the second half with an impressive scoring drive on its opening possession — a six-play, 70-yard march that ended with Howell hitting tight end Kamari Morales for a 21-yard score after a fake reverse to Downs — FSU answered right back.
Travis snuck in from the 1 for one touchdown before hitting a wide open Ontaria Wilson to open up a three-score lead by the end of the third quarter.
Whatever hopes UNC had of a miracle comeback similar to the one that fell just short last season at FSU ended with just over 12 minutes remaining when Howell threw incomplete into the end zone on fourth down.
“I thought on offense we were able to move the ball all night. We just couldn’t put it in the end zone,” said Howell, whose team got a late window dressing touchdown on a short run by Ty Chandler. “We had the interception early on a drive we should have scored on, we had some penalties, we had a drop that was going to be an explosive play. We just have to play sharper football.”