It was no secret that the Thursday night fixture at Louisville was a trap game for Florida State. Coming off a bye week and a highly emotional win over Notre Dame two weeks ago, FSU could not afford to let their guard down against the 25th ranked (CFP) Cardinals team.
As they’ve done much of the season, they again had to perform a highly dramatic escape act to walk away with the victory. The final score was 42-31, as the Seminoles outscored Louisville 35-10 in the second half to pull off their biggest come-from-behind win of the season. Dalvin Cook and Jameis Winston lead an inspired second half effort to secure FSU’s 24th straight win.
The ‘Noles relied on a bit of good luck on their way to winning the game. FSU’s first touchdown was a fumble recovery by Nick O’Leary after Karlos Williams dropped the ball at the goal line.
On the first drive of the second half, Winston threw his third interception of the game, but he didn’t give up on the play and was able to poke the ball free from Gerod Hillman, who was fighting for extra yards.
The 17-yard touchdown pass to Ermon Lane, which gave FSU its first lead of the game, probably should have been Winston’s fourth interception, but two Louisville defenders collided, allowing the ball to land directly into Lane’s hands.
Regardless of how it was able to do it, FSU emerged victorious after a nerve-wracking battle against a strong Louisville team. But breath-holding is nothing new for Seminoles fans.
WHAT THIS WIN MEANS
- Dalvin Cook is the dependable running back Florida State was hoping he would be. The true freshman stepped up in yet another time of need for the ‘Noles, rushing for 110 yards and 2 scores while adding 40 receiving yards. Cook’s first touchdown, a 40 yard run, brought FSU within three points of Louisville in the third quarter. His second, a 38-yarder, turned out to be the go ahead score on which the ‘Noles would secure their win.
Cook turned in a whopping average of 12.2 yards per carry, demonstrating his ability to be a dominant offensive force. His good vision and explosive running style, along with his participation in the passing game, could possibly earn him a heavier share of the workload in coming games, especially considering the off-the-field issues Karlos Williams is going through currently.
Along with Cook, true freshmen receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph are also beginning to fit nicely into FSU’s offense. Both caught long touchdown passes against Louisville, and are becoming consistently reliable targets for Winston.
- Florida State is officially a second half team. Thursday night marked the fourth game this season that the ‘Noles won after trailing at halftime (Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame).
The disparity between first and second half production is significant. On the season, only 6 of the team’s 18 total rushing touchdowns have come before halftime, and the second half has produced 527 rushing yards, as opposed to 354 in the first. Winston has thrown 6 of his nine interceptions in the first half, and 8 of his 13 touchdown throws have come while the ‘Noles are trailing.
Still, no matter how bad things are going early on, FSU seems to always have a shot at winning. Against Louisville, it poured on five second half touchdowns and racked up 374 yards of total offense in the second half.
- FSU will retain its #2 rank in both the AP and CFP polls. Had the team lost, it likely would’ve fallen quite a bit in the rankings and not had a chance at the playoffs. Louisville was the toughest remaining opponent on FSU’s schedule after Notre Dame, and the ‘Noles managed to pass that test, even if they struggled to do so.
The Seminoles’ postseason fate is in their own hands and as long as they win out, they’ll have a shot at a second consecutive national title.
- Injuries are beginning to take a toll on FSU. DL Nile Lawrence-Stample and C Austin Baron have both been declared out for the season already. Coming into the game against Louisville, several other key players were ruled out, including star LB Terrance Smith(who leads the team in tackles), due to a pectoral injury, LBs Jacob Pugh and EJ Levenberry, both due to a concussion, and RB Mario Pender, out with an ankle injury.
FSU suffered several more injuries during Thursday night’s game. OT Cameron Erving barely had use of his right shoulder, as it was wrapped for much of the game. Recently returned LB Matthew Thomas had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Perhaps most significantly, Jameis Winston was hobbled for the majority of the second half after twisting his ankle. Though he was able to complete the game, quite successfully, it should be added, he was clearly in pain and less than 100%.
FSU needs to focus on getting healthy if it is to retain its #2 rank in coming weeks.
- The defense continues to struggle. 2013 saw a dominant Florida State defense that lead the nation in interceptions, passing, and scoring. This year’s defense is ranked 34 overall, surrendering 146 rushing yards per game and 227 passing yards per game (not including the game against Louisville). Last year’s squad recorded a total of 35 turnovers, while this year’s only has 13 two thirds through the season.
Against Louisville on Thursday, FSU gave up a total of 488 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. RB Michael Dyer (134 yards) and WR DeVante Parker (214 yards) gashed the Seminole defense, carrying the Cardinals’ to their early lead.
However, the second half theme also applies to the defense, as it has made the necessary plays down the stretch to help the team win its close games. FSU held Louisville to 55 yards on designed rushing plays in the second half – nearly half of what it allowed in the first; the Cardinals only managed 10 second-half points, after putting up 21 during a 10-minute stretch in the second quarter.
What to take away moving forward: FSU’s identity has changed. It is not the dominant team from last season. It’s a resilient team that has to fight to win each game it plays, and it has showed it is rather comfortable playing from behind. Jameis Winston claimed they play better when they’re down. It’s hard to argue with him, especially since it seems like they have been trailing at some point in every game this season.
This team has faced plenty of adversity this season and will be well-prepared for the season’s home-stretch, and the playoffs. Hopefully, it can have some fun with rivals Miami and Florida in the coming weeks, so Seminoles fans can breathe easy for a change.
by MATT SIMONS / sports editor