FSU’s Upset Bid Against #13 Miami Falls 6 Seconds Short

Written by Shawn Davison
Tallahassee, FL – It seems like it was yesterday that garnet and gold confetti fell on the field at Rose Bowl Stadium, and Florida State lifted a crystal football to claim a third national championship; their first under Jimbo Fisher. It was the perfect ending to their perfect season (on the field, that is). The Noles were healthy and dominant, not just at QB due to Jameis Winston, but at every position on the field. With that early success under the then 4th-year head coach Fisher, it’s safe to say that the fans in the FSU fanbase had become spoiled. Since 29 of the players from that Championship team, many of whom also led FSU to the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2015, have been drafted, the tale has been different. Players have suffered injuries left and right. The Noles’ offensive line has been downright offensive at times over the past few seasons. At times, special teams have been a major concern. But…somehow, and someway, Fisher, his staff, and his players have made it work with trips to New Years Six Bowls in each of the last five seasons. This season, however, FSU has suffered from all of the above. From the loss of their starting quarterback vs. Alabama, to injuries to other players (such as Auden Tate, and now, Keith Gavin) that have sidelined them for, at least, major parts of games, to the maddening inconsistencies of various position groups at different times. It’s not the same team. It’s not the same season. And it was more than apparent against Miami on Saturday night.

So, what took place in the latest chapter of one of college football’s most historic and iconic rivalries? In short, a lot. Here’s today’s game story in a nutshell…

The Rundown
After picking up their first win on the road against a previously undefeated Wake Forest, the Noles played the role of home underdog against their rival Hurricanes, who were also undefeated and looking to snap a 7-game losing streak to FSU. The Noles’ defense played incredible football in the first half, and Miami took the entire half just to cross midfield. Despite the struggles of the offense, behind true freshman quarterback James Blackman, FSU established the run game and utilized it to take a 3-0 lead to the locker room. In the third quarter, turnovers by Blackman forced his defense to stay on the field far too long, and Miami stormed ahead 10-3. Blackman led his offense on its first touchdown drive of the game in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, tying it up with the Canes, led a FG drive again to take the lead, 13-10, and led another drive for what could have been a second final quarter, game-winning touchdown drive in as many weeks. But there were too much time left on the clock for the Canes. In fact, there were 6 seconds too much, as Malik Rosier found his wideout Darrell Langham for a 23 yard touchdown to win the game, 24-20. There are a million ways to digest this game from a Seminole perspective, and not one of them is super pleasant, but I can sure try. So, here we go…

The Good

No, it’s not all bad news for FSU. The bottom line is that they had a chance to beat the #13 team in the country. A team that came to Tallahassee as an undefeated and highly confident bunch. Fisher made that very clear in his postgame remarks.

“Congratulations to Miami. They did a heck of a job. Played a heck of a game. Made the plays the had to make at the end. Congratulations to Florida State. Florida State played a hell of a football game too,” said Fisher, “(FSU) Made plays when they had to, too.”
You know what? In that regard, he’s right. If you root for FSU and care at all for the intangibles, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The Seminoles played their hearts out for four quarters, and especially so in the final minutes. They had a chance to beat a team that many “experts” and media members gave them no chance to beat…and that, in and of itself, is a good sign.

Special teams, too, is much improved. Logan Tyler has been doing a much better job of flipping fields and pinning opposing offenses, and while he hasn’t been the poster of utmost consistency, he’s come a long way from what we’ve seen from him last year, and even earlier this season. Additionally, Ricky Aguayo has quietly got himself on a 10+ made field goal streak.
“We’ve put in a lot of hard work these past couple of weeks,” said Aguayo, “Logan’s been putting in a lot of hard work…the hard work’s just been paying off for both of us.” “Mentally, I wasn’t strong enough,” he added, “But I’ve found my happy medium and getting mentally stronger is part of growing up.”

Yet another good sign from the 24-20 loss is this: FSU’s offensive line did a better job of protecting Blackman and opening up the run. The Noles racked up 200+ rushing yards against a tough defensive front.

“They’re doing a really good job (the OL). They’re pounding that ball up in there; we run-blocked well; a couple of pass-block things we gotta do a bit better job at pass protection issues, but we’re getting better.”

Indeed. I shudder to think that I’ve reached a point of saying that seeing the line only surrender four sacks qualifies today as being a “good” day, especially compared to the performances of that unit and this team in the past, but it was an improvement. Blackman’s indecision (and multiple pump-fakes) were also very much to blame in that scenario. But that leads me to the last, major positive.

James Blackman really grew up tonight. Consider for a second that he’s just an 18 year old kid who made his third career start at the D1 level tonight. In one of the most storied rivalries in the history of college football. No pressure. Especially against that defensive front…and with that offensive line. He only went 9-10 for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns over the final 15. Yeah, not bad. And when you consider the fact that the last time he had the ball, he capped off what could’ve been a game-winning drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Auden Tate, the early game mistakes take on a whole new meaning. The kid is a gamer. The kid has a ton of heart. And he nearly led FSU on consecutive game-winning drives.

“He’s (Blackman) growing. He’s maturing right in front of you,” said Fisher, “We’ve gotta continue to grow with him, and in all our phases, just get better.”

Of Blackman’s 4 career touchdowns in his short FSU career, 3 have come in the final quarter. 2 have come in the closing minutes of the final quarter. His future is bright, and the FSU offense will certainly have brighter days ahead. Plenty. And that’s all fine and good, but what about now? Because frankly, moral victories are hardly ever all too satisfying.

The Bad

The O-Line still needs work. Are they getting better as we head deeper into the season? Absolutely and undeniably. But are they looking “good”? Hardly. A 4-sack day should never feel like a somewhat-pleasant surprise. The more time they can give their young QB, the better. The more they can open up the run, the better. We saw glimpses today, but when FSU fizzles out in Miami territory on several occasions in the opening quarter…we still need to see more than that. But, it’s not ALL their fault.

As good as Blackman has been in the final quarter, he needs to pick up his level in the first three. I know I make this statement as a guy whose dreams of being an athlete washed away years ago, so I make it with the utmost respect for this young man, but the contrast is startling and needs to be eliminated ASAP. There were many occasions that FSU’s tight end Ryan Izzo ran great routes to get himself open, but the true freshman hardly looked his way until the final quarter. As time goes by, Blackman will complete his reads better and make decisions quicker, but his incomplete reads and his early-game struggles to get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner are as much to blame as the line that occasionally lets him down. But, it’s not just the offense.

The Seminoles defense needs to play more consistently. For one half of football, FSU’s defense looked as good as it did against Alabama. They held the #13 Hurricanes to 57 yards of TOTAL offense in the opening half. It took the Hurricanes the entirety of the opening quarter to pick up a first down, and nearly the entirety of the half to cross midfield. In the second half, FSU surrendered 280 yards – as well as all of the Canes’ 24 points. Looking specifically at Miami’s final touchdown drive that lasted just over a minute of game time, the Noles surrendered a first down conversion on 3rd and 10 not once, but twice. If you recall, the Seminoles were attempting to get the ball back against NC State a few weeks ago in the final minute, and gave up 8 yards on 3rd and 7. Their consistency from down-to-down, and quarter-to-quarter, has been an issue more often than not.

“In the first half, things were rolling,” said FSU defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, “They would punch and we’d punch back. In the second half, it was kind of the same thing.” When asked about giving up big third down plays, FSU’s linebacker Matthew Thomas said, “It really hurt.” “In the end,” Nnadi added, “They made a big play.”

Indeed they did. And that leads us to the final category of this extended discussion on FSU… The Ugly.

The Ugly

FSU has exactly two losses to “play with” before they wind up being bowl ineligible. The Seminoles lost their Week 2 game vs. ULM to Hurricane Irma. To reach a bowl game, they must finish their 11-game regular season slate at 6-5. They already have lost 3 games: to Alabama, NC State, and Miami. If you’re going to lose 3, this is a pretty good group to lose 3 to. But you’re Florida State. Preseason #3 Florida State. A Florida State program that has played in a New Years Six bowl every year since 2012. You most certainly won’t play in one this season, and with road trips to Clemson and Florida lurking ahead, plus a home matchup against Louisville, the possibility of FSU going 5-6 is now very real. When you have this discussion in October about this proud program, it’s possible the word “ugly” is a severe understatement.

Beyond that, the injuries continue to pile up. AJ Westbrook went down on the field with an injury not once, not twice, but at least three times (there’s no telling if he went down a fourth time when I was heading down the elevator to field level). The FSU DB has been emerging over his time with the Seminoles, and with so much on the line, with such a small margin for error, and so many other players banged up, his could be a long-term injury the Seminoles can ill-afford. Additionally, Keith Gavin, who some will remember for his late-game heroics vs. Michigan at the Orange Bowl, returned a Miami kickoff late in the third quarter, got crunched, and needed assistance off the field – as he was unable to put any weight on his leg. Blackman, at this stage in his career, needs as many offensive weapons/options (whichever you want to call them) as possible. The Noles also don’t need to try to reconfigure their return team in the middle of a season.

Lastly, the final “ugly” aspect of this is that FSU will have to make changes, grow up, and won’t have a single break in the action until it’s all said and done. The Miami matchup, in addition to losing the ULM game, was postponed due to Hurricane Irma. That means that FSU will play 7 games over 7 weeks without a “bye” or a break  of any kind. They have to figure it out, and quickly, or they won’t get to go bowling in December.

The Final Takeaway

The triumphant return to championship football that was envisioned by the entirety of the FSU fan base has been completely and utterly shattered, with all of those who wear garnet and gold on Saturdays sweating out the challenges that lie ahead over the next few weeks and clinging to the glimmers of hope outlined in a few of the paragraphs above.

To put it bluntly, as a 2-time alum of the university who takes great pride in its accomplishments in athletics and academics, this sucks. We all, as fans, want to live in this amazing fantasyland where our guys don’t get hurt, they’re all the best at their own respective positions on the field, and they never lose to their bitterest of enemies. See the 2013 FSU football team, plus the consistent quality of play in the several years that immediately surrounded that team. But yes, football players get hurt. And sometimes, they don’t play all that great – for a quarter, a game, a month, or even a season. And streaks? They’re meant to be broken. This is unfamiliar territory for FSU fans, and it’s scary, and it’s frustrating, and it’s also depressing. I get it. And so does Jimbo Fisher. He acknowledged the frustration during his press conference and said that if he were in your shoes, he’d be frustrated too. But as fans of our teams, we do have one incredible responsibility – a responsibility that Fisher made clear when asked today: “Just keep cheering.”

All FSU fans can do now is oblige, and hope they get plenty to cheer about.

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