One of the least anticipated Florida-Florida State games in this rivalry's once-great series lived up to its dire forecast.
The Seminoles (8-4) beat the Gators 21-7 with less than 100 yards total offense and fewer turnovers, but they will not exactly head into a bowl game full of positive vibes.
Their offense went shockingly bad against Florida, though their defense produced one of the best games in school history. The Seminoles forced four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown and setting up short touchdown runs by the offense for the other two scores. Without that, the game may have gone into overtime at 0-0.
"I thought our defense played unbelievable," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I thought it was one of the best defensive performances I've been around in 22 years, considering how we struggled on the offensive side of the ball."
The result has left a mood of mixed emotions among FSU faithful, who will now await the team's bowl destination. That will be decided by the outcome of the ACC title game.
If Virginia Tech wins as expected Saturday against struggling Clemson, the Seminoles will play in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta for a second consecutive year. They will face either Auburn or South Carolina, depending on how the SEC bowl slots fall. If it's Auburn, the two teams have not played in 21 years and that may attract more interest. If it's South Carolina, it would be a rematch of last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl.
If Clemson upsets Virginia Tech, however, then FSU will play in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 29 against Notre Dame in all likelihood. Virginia Tech will play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl as the ACC runner-up.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is not obligated to take the loser of the ACC Championship Game, and that's why FSU has a good shot at getting into a more marquee bowl game. Clemson would be reeling with three consecutive defeats, plus the Tigers just played South Carolina and will face Auburn next year in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
But either way, the Seminoles have to figure out a way to generate an offense in the next month. The running game has struggled all season. But their passing attack was particularly woeful against Florida.
"That's probably the least amount of yards that I've ever thrown for since I've been playing football," said quarterback E.J. Manuel, after passing for just 65 yards.
The Seminoles produced just 95 yards total offense, the first time since 2006 they had less than 150 yards total offense.
NOTES AND QUOTES
With his defense so dominant, so controlling in the game, Fisher admitted he shut down his playbook as the offensive coordinator and called the least risky plays to try to win.
"I didn't call that game as an offensive coordinator," Fisher said. "As a coordinator you can get frustrated, but you have to call it the way the flow of the game is going as a head coach. We were controlling it and they were having a hard time scoring, and as long as we didn't turn it over or do something stupid we would be all right." ...
How badly has this rivalry fallen? It was the first time since 1986 that neither team was ranked, although FSU got back into the Top 25, somewhat surprisingly, after winning Saturday. Normally, this game is sold out in August. This year, tickets were still on sale before Thanksgiving Day. Florida students failed to pick up their allotment, causing hundreds of extra seats to go on sale during the week. The crowd was listed at 90,798, but there were visible empty blotches throughout the stadium, something that hasn't been seen in three decades of this rivalry. ...
FSU CB Mike Harris didn't reach the end zone with his interception return, but he did make history. His 89-yard return to the Florida 4-yard-line set up a touchdown for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. It was the longest return that did not result in a touchdown in FSU history. It was the seventh-longest return of any kind in school history. ...
P Shawn Powell was the designated "sod cutter" and had to work for a pelt of turf from Florida Field. The Seminoles designate all games against UF in Gainesville as "Sod Games," meaning that an FSU win results in a player gathering a slice of turf from the team's field and having a burial at the "Sod Cemetery" adjacent to FSU's practice fields.
Powell tried to get a piece at midfield but was stopped by security officers. He then ran into an end zone and sliced up a piece with scissors.
"I thought they were about to get me for a minute," Powell said with a laugh. "But I had some backup." ...
Though they were whistled for nine penalties for 85 yards, FSU players and coaches left the game in a much better mood about the officiating. In this case, it was SEC officials working the game. There were not the lengthy delays for replays or some of the same head-scratching calls that Fisher has bemoaned all season with ACC officials.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TB Devonta Freeman -- The Seminoles did discover their No. 1 tailback for the future this season. Freeman and fellow true freshman James Wilder Jr., who did not progress as quickly as coaches hoped, will head into the bowl practice and spring with an optimistic outlook about their roles. Before back spasms forced him out in the second half, Freeman showed his toughness in barreling in for two short-yardage scores against the Gators and did manage 44 yards on 15 carries. Only once was he tackled for a loss, and it was just 1 yard. His 531 yards rushing this season were the fifth-most by a freshman running back in FSU history.
If the offensive line improves and can create some running lanes, Freeman could have a breakout year in 2012.
LOOKING GOOD: If not for a fourth-quarter fumble by FSU TB Jermaine Thomas at his own 21, followed by a pass interference call, the Seminoles defense would have recorded the school's first shutout win against Florida in the series' history. It would have been the Gators' first shutout loss to any team in 23 years.
As bad as the Seminoles offense looked in this game, FSU's defense made Florida look worse. The defense produced an interception return for a touchdown and set up another touchdown with an interception. With the exception of two outings, Wake Forest and Clemson, the Seminoles defense has played good enough to win the other games. Just like last year, this defense got better as the season went on and really put the team in position to have a much better record.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Seminoles couldn't run, couldn't protect and couldn't complete some easier pass routes against Florida. The offensive woes this season are surprising, given the talent upgrade in the backfield, receiving corps and having Manuel. But Manuel has not looked the same since before his injury in the Oklahoma game. The injuries and attrition on the offensive line have only compounded the problem. With Manuel struggling and no ability to generate a power running game, this offense needs to be completely retooled for next season. The Seminoles have never looked worse on offense than they looked against Florida.
QUOTE TO NOTE "We've won the state championship two years in a row, and that feels good. I understand we have a lot of issues, but we got the win and that is a great accomplishment." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on beating Miami and Florida in the same season for the second straight year.
Victory over UF not overly satisfying
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