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No. 5 Florida State and rival Florida turn to backup QBs with plenty at stake in the Swamp

Rodemaker will make his second career start in place of the injured Jordan Travis.
N Alabama Florida St Football
Posted at 9:56 AM, Nov 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-22 09:56:31-05

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No one could have imagined Tate Rodemaker and Max Brown would headline the latest matchup between in-state rivals Florida State and Florida.

But the backup quarterbacks will step into the brightest of spotlights when the fifth-ranked Seminoles (11-0) face the reeling Gators (5-6) in the Swamp on Saturday night. Is either one truly ready to handle the stage, the moment, the pressure?

“You try to make it to where the mindset is always the same because you never know,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “But it’s probably different for them.”

Wildly different.

Rodemaker, a fourth-year junior, will make his second career start in place of the injured Jordan Travis. The Heisman Trophy contender suffered a season-ending injury to his left leg against North Alabama last week, leaving Rodemaker to try to fill some of the biggest cleats in program history.

Rodemaker’s only previous start came against lower-division Jacksonville State in 2020 and he’s never played in a road venue quite like Florida Field after dark.

“He’s played in pressure-packed situations where he’s known he’s been the guy,” Norvell said. “Now, is it a step up when you’re in college? Yes. But he’s had to do that before, too. This will not be his first start that he’s taken. … He’s been preparing for this.

“I’m not worried about any of the other factors other than just go play his game. I’m very confident what that’ll look like.”

The Gators say the same about Brown, who stepped in for injured starter Graham Mertz last week at Missouri. Mertz broke his left collarbone in the third quarter, and Brown helped the Gators take the lead in the waning minutes before suffering another defensive collapse.

Brown, a redshirt freshman, now will make his first start against a team that’s won 17 consecutive games and has yet to allow 30 points this season.

“He’s gained a lot of confidence,” Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall said. “I think that’s first and foremost the thing that I noticed the most. He’s super excited for any opportunity he gets, which I think is super healthy.”

The quarterbacks and their teams have plenty at stake, too.

Florida State dropped to fifth in the latest College Football Playoff standings following Travis’ injury and likely needs to win out to have a shot at making the four-team playoff.

“Thank God the opinions of others don’t dictate what our actions are going to be,” Norvell said. “This team a year ago, nobody thought we were worth a crap. They proved them wrong. Big expectations coming into the season, and people waiting for us to slip and fall. They’re continuing to get better. Quarterback goes down, ‘Oh, that must be it.’ That’s why we get to play the game.”

The Gators, who have lost four in a row, need a victory in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible. It’s also “senior night” for coach Billy Napier’s team and a chance for Florida to essentially ruin their archrival’s season.

“I think all of those are external, but they have impact,” Napier said. “There’s no question about it. I think when you lose a couple in a row, you’re looking for buttons to push.”

PEARSALL’S MILESTONE

Pearsall is 52 yards shy of becoming Florida’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs in 2002. It’s a head-scratching drought for a program that’s won two national championships since then while developing wideouts like Percy Harvin, Van Jefferson and Kadarius Toney.

Pearsall, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Arizona State in 2022, has 64 catches for 948 yards and four touchdowns to go along with two rushing scores.

SWAMP MYSTIQUE

Few inexperienced starting QBs have found success in the Swamp over the past decade. Tennessee’s Joe Milton (2023), Missouri’s Brady Cook (2022), Auburn’s Bo Nix (2019), LSU’s Joe Burrow (2018), Missouri’s Drew Lock (2016) and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw (2012) are among those who have failed to play clean games at Florida Field.

DYNAMIC DUO

Florida State’s Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, who have combined for 78 catches for 1,147 yards and 13 TDs this season, could become the latest wideouts to torch Florida. The Gators have allowed six 100-yard receivers in their last five games, including LSU’s Brian Thomas (6-150, 2 TDs), LSU’s Malik Nabers (6-132) and Missouri’s Luther Burden (9-158).

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll