In our game preview, I said this looked like a tough one, but I just couldn’t pick against an Florida State team with Jameis Winston at quarterback. For a half, it didn’t look like Winston was at quarterback as he opened the game with three interceptions and a forced fumble. But Winston put on another virtuoso performance in the second half, throwing for three touchdowns as Florida State came back from a 21-0 deficit with a torrid 42-10 run for a hard-fought 42-31 victory.
This team is nowhere near the seemingly untouchable 2013 squad, but as we said earlier this year, this team sure can take a punch. A very good Louisville team, with a healthy Michael Dyer and DeVante Parker on the field for only the second game this season, landed a flurry of body blows and haymakers early in this game only to see the champs get back off the canvas more resolute than ever.
Unlike earlier decisions against Clemson and Notre Dame, this time the Seminoles finished the game with a knockout, as fullback Freddie Stevenson’s 35-yard touchdown reception on a third down play action pass from Winston put the game out of reach.
While last year’s team dominated opponents and broke teams’ wills early on the way to blowout wins, this year’s Seminoles have dominated for stretches, but they’ve waited until they’ve gotten hit in the mouth a few times.
"I don't know why we put ourselves in the holes," Winston mused afterwards. "Part of it was my fault because of the turnovers early."
"I'm convinced we should go ahead and just give our opponent 21 points for us to come out and play the way we want to play," receiver Rashad Greene added. "Once we get behind, we become so dominant."
That is part of what has made this team so frustrating. The capacity to dominate is still there—it’s just not showing up until absolutely necessary. Had they started the game 42-10 and then given up an extra 21 points in the second half, everyone would be talking about how dominant this team is. Instead, they needed that level of dominance to overcome yet another sluggish start.
Nevertheless, this team deserves credit for its ability to overcome yet another turnover deficit. Despite three Winston interceptions on passes Jimbo Fisher called “greedy,” the FSU offense racked up 574 total yards (7.35 ypp) and 42 points (35 in a half) against the nation’s top-rated defense coming into the game. The FSU running game has also finally started to come around, as both Karlos Williams (4.5 ypc) and Dalvin Cook (12.2!) ran well throughout. Winston also deserves additional praise for fighting through a painful foot/ankle injury in the second half that made it difficult to plant his foot or move around.
The shorthanded Seminole defense, for its part, gave up only 10 points in the second half and held the Cardinals to 1-11 on third down, including a key goal line stand on the game’s first drive. Of Louisville's 31 points, fourteen came off turnovers, and Louisville still didn't score until the second quarter. This despite not having starting linebacker Terrance Smith (neck) and backup linebacker E.J. Levenberry (concussion) and replacement Matthew Thomas having to fight through a shoulder injury during the second half. The defense has been criticized of late, but it is really playing better than its reputation at the moment.
This team is still learning how to start games, but it sure knows how to finish them at this point. One other thing that shouldn’t be forgotten is just how young this team is, which at least partly accounts for the inconsistency they have displayed all year. But that youth is talented and continues to emerge: Four of Florida State’s last five touchdowns were scored by true freshmen. The other was by a sophomore.