TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State’s survival instincts remained impeccable on Saturday, as the Seminoles overcame a stupendously bad start and four Jameis Winston interceptions to eke by Florida 24-19 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The ‘Noles’ 28th consecutive win arrived after they held off the Gators’ last-gasp fourth-quarter drive, extended by a fourth-down pass interference flag, and put the punctuation on the Will Muschamp tenure, which officially ended with the loss.
Here are three quick thoughts on the game:
1. Florida State didn’t wait for halftime to wake up from its slow start
Winston threw three picks on the Seminoles’ first five possessions. According to the official statistics, his passer rating at that time was -44.8, which is apparently a thing that can happen. Also at that time late in the first quarter, Florida State’s Terrance Smith had just returned a tipped pass 93 yards for a momentum-flipping pick-six. Then the Seminoles went to the ground, rushing four straight times to spark a 93-yard drive that was capped with a Winston pass to Nick O’Leary for the go-ahead score. That was followed by another Winston-to-O’Leary touchdown toss on the next possession. It was instructive for the ACC title game next week. Florida State might want to invest more in the rushing attack early, for three reasons.
One, Dalvin Cook. The freshman racked up a career-high 144 yards against the Gators and was by far the most reliable offensive option all afternoon; it was his 15-yard run on a third-and-18 late in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal that gave the Seminoles a critical five-point lead. Two, it allows Winston to settle into the game instead of forcing anything. Three, the worst thing any team can do against an option-based offense is turn the ball over. Going in with the mindset to control the clock against Georgia Tech in Charlotte next Saturday likely isn’t bad.
2. Florida made a series of costly mistakes
After Winston’s fourth interception, Florida had possession at the Seminoles’ 33-yard line, down 21-19, late in the third quarter. Two plays later Gators wide receiver Latroy Pittman picked up 25 yards of penalties on one play: 10 for a hold on an outside run play and 15 for unsportsmanlike conduct after the hold. It was an absolute killer, as it backed Florida up from legitimate scoring range into settling for a 52-yard field goal attempt. It went awry, as did a gilded chance to move ahead and put intense pressure on the Seminoles entering the final quarter.
In the fourth, Florida set itself up to score on a magnificent 41-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson … and promptly committed a false start penalty, rushed for a loss of three yards, threw an incomplete pass on a slant and ran for a gain that came up eight yards short of a first down. That all culminated in a 42-yard field goal try, which kicker Austin Hardin pushed right. Another go-ahead opportunity, another one wasted. There are probably many ways to encapsulate why the Muschamp era is coming to a close, and these sequences are two of them. Also acceptable: The 10 penalties for 105 yards overall.
3. Florida State let Florida climb back following a punt that wasn’t
Florida scored a touchdown just before halftime, after one of the most hilarious non-punts one will ever see. The Seminoles’ Cason Beatty saw an oncoming rush of many Gators, and therefore thought better of actually attempting a kick.