For the first time in a month, the Seminoles (3-3, 1-2 in ACC) had a game evolve as expected.
They won. Easily. They played with emotion and with a purpose. They eliminated dumb penalties. They created turnovers. And they blew out a lesser opponent the way they hoped with a 41-16 win at Duke that included a 27-3 halftime lead.
"There's nothing like it. And, boy, don't ever take it for granted," said a relieved FSU coach Jimbo Fisher after the game.
After a week of teeth-gnashing and player-coach bashing among Florida State fans, the Seminoles showed some promise, no matter the opponent's strength. They ran the ball well, quarterback E.J. Manuel looked like his former self and the defense swallowed short passes and tackled well.
"We just haven't had a break," said Fisher, referring to injuries and emotion-deflating losses. "We lost a hard-fought game against Oklahoma, battled Clemson till the end and still had some guys out at Wake Forest. No excuses, but I liked the way our team practiced before the game. I thought it was one of the best weeks we had. Hopefully, this will continue and they'll remember how this feels and build one week at a time. Hopefully, it will build confidence. And when confidence comes, that's when it starts to roll."
The players had another players-only meeting following the Wake Forest loss. It was the third of the season, but Manuel knew the only cure was a win.
"Everybody's smiling," he said. "Nobody's upset. Things like that. It does make a difference. And Coach Fisher might actually let us talk on the bus back to the airport."
It's hard to believe that more than a month transpired since FSU last won a game (Sept. 10). The Seminoles do not have a demanding schedule the rest of the way. They will host Maryland on Saturday in their first home game since Sept. 17. The Terrapins are coming off a deflating loss to Clemson after they led most of the game. After Maryland, FSU hosts N.C. State. This team could get a streak together.
"I'm proud of our kids, the way we battled," Fisher said. "They came out and played aggressive early, played smart early. But we've got a long way to go. We're 1-0 this week. We want to be 1-0 again next week."
NOTES AND QUOTES
After focusing on eliminating penalties and gaining another apology from the ACC after video of the Wake Forest game showed an official inching a ball spot closer to a first down for the Deacons -- an incredible situation -- the Duke game was FSU's cleanest game. The Seminoles were penalized just five times for 59 yards. They entered the game ranked dead last among Division I-A teams for most penalties in a game. ...
At least one third of the listed attendance (24,687) were garnet-clad Florida State fans, who created a neutral-field setting. But a half hour before kickoff, the home-side stands at Wallace Wade Stadium were virtually empty. The Seminoles have always seemed to play at Duke during the start of basketball practice, and the most energy was inside Cameron Indoor Stadium on Friday night for the Blue-White scrimmage that signified the start of practice. ...
For the sixth straight game, the Florida State defense recorded at least six tackles for loss. The streak was assured in the first half when FSU recorded six in the first 30 minutes. Florida State went on to record double-digit tackles for loss for just the second time this season. In addition, with LB Nigel Bradham's sack on the second play of the second half, the Seminoles tied their season high for sacks in a game with four. ...
The Seminoles finally got an interception, their first since the Oklahoma game, when DT Everett Dawkins had a pick in the first quarter. It was only the fourth of the season for FSU. And what's more telling, none of the four interceptions have resulted in return yards. On the flip side, opponents have picked off 10 FSU passes and averaged 20.2 yards on returns.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Greg Dent -- Though he lost a fumble after his second catch, the sophomore had a pair of catches for 48 yards as the Seminoles continue to operate without senior Bert Reed, who has not played since his ankle injury in the second game. Dent played sparingly last season as a freshman but impressed in the spring game with a team-high seven catches. His development is critical to this receiving corps, which has likely lost one of its most experienced players, Willie Haulstead, for the rest of the year.
LOOKING GOOD: After burying the FSU running game in this space the past few weeks, it's time to praise it. With a patchwork offensive line, shuffled and juggled and using some newcomers, the Seminoles produced a season-high 242 yards rushing, averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored three rushing touchdowns. What a difference having Manuel's running threat makes. He opens up the offense and enables a running game to occur. Four FSU running backs had at least three carries, led by Devonta Freeman's big day. The Seminoles' offensive line generated some rush lanes and was impressive in the red zone. This team desperately needs the trend to continue.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Florida State's special teams showed some flaws for the first time. K Dustin Hopkins had two kickoffs go out of bounds, resulting in great field position for Duke. The Blue Devils also recovered a pair of onside kicks. The second one resulted in a Duke touchdown that closed the Blue Devils to within 18 points, but the two-point conversion failed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "His ability to make big plays and throw. He can do what a drop-back [quarterback] can and what an option guy does. He's the combination of both guys. He just unfortunately got hurt in the wrong time in the wrong place. He makes all the guys better." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on the effect QB E.J. Manuel has on the team.
For Fisher, nothing like getting a win
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