TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ricky Aguayo made four of five field goal attempts. Logan Tyler averaged 47.2 yards per punt, including long of 54 yards, and placed two inside North Carolina State’s 20-yard line.
The Seminoles blocked a punt for the first time this season. And Florida State’s return game showed signs of life, with four kick or punt returns of at least 24 yards, and a 49-yarder from star safety Derwin James.
It was all part of a startling turnaround for Florida State’s specialists, who, after three weeks of criticism and derision for their performances against Alabama, were perhaps the Seminoles’ greatest strength in last week’s loss to the Wolfpack.
“I definitely think I found, kind of, my stride in the last game,” said Tyler, a sophomore from Nixa, Mo. “I feel like I’m a lot more calm, mentally. Going into this week of practice, this week of preparation, calms me down a little bit. I don’t have to feel like I’m pressing to get to that level.”
Not that anyone could blame Tyler or Aguayo or any other specialist for pressing a little bit after the Alabama game.
Not after a blocked field goal cost the Seminoles three points at the end of the first half, and not after a blocked punt and a fumbled kickoff return gifted the Crimson Tide 10 more points in the second half.
Add up those miscues – including the ones that didn’t directly lead to points – then take a look at the 24-7 final score, and it’s easy to see where some FSU fans’ fingers were pointed after the game.
“You try to ignore it and try to make positives out of it,” Aguayo said. “I’m in a spot where it’s either make or miss. But I just try to get better and fix my craft and perfect it.”
Aguayo wasn’t perfect against the Wolfpack on Saturday, but he was close.
After missing a 30-yarder in the second quarter – a kick that both Aguayo and coach Jimbo Fisher admitted would’ve been a big help later in the game – Aguayo went on to connect on four straight field goal attempts, two from 37 yards, one from 36 and another from 34.
And he made one kick under a rather unusual set of circumstances.
With five seconds to play in the second quarter, Aguayo lined up for a 37-yard attempt that would cut FSU’s deficit to seven points at the break.
Right before he went to kick, NC State coach Dave Doeren called a timeout in an attempt to chew Aguayo’s nerves.
That in itself is common enough, and perhaps understandable given that Aguayo had already missed a kick. But calling another timeout, as Doeren did a few moments later, doesn’t happen so often.
And a third straight timeout? Aguayo hadn’t seen that before.
NFL rules prohibit calling back-to-back timeouts to “ice” a kicker, but there is no such rule in college football.
“That’s never happened to me,” Aguayo said with a smile. “I’d always do it on videogames to the other team. Having it done to me was just pretty weird. I just took it as time to get more warmup reps.”
The extra warm-ups paid off. Aguayo drilled the kick, and then three more after that.
“For me,” Aguayo said, “I take the momentum of those four kicks going into next week.”
His six punts against Alabama travelled an average distance of 31.5 yards, a mark severely skewed by a 12-yard attempt in the second quarter.
But Tyler last week looked like a different punter. His first punt of the day went 43 yards – better than his best against Alabama – and he seemed to only get stronger from there. By the end of the day, Tyler had booted punts of 51, 41 and 54 yards, the last of which was downed at the NC State 3-yard line and led to a safety that gave the Seminoles a spark in the fourth quarter.
“Just nice and easy, hit it sweet,” Tyler said. “That’s what my dad always tells me. Hit it sweet and take it to the game.”
Fisher aided the cause during the weeks leading up to the NC State game by making special teams “live” in practice – meaning that punts could be blocked and players could be hit.
It might have been a daunting task in the moment, but Tyler said that after a few weeks of seeing the likes of Josh Sweat and Janarius Robinson in his face, he got more comfortable standing tall, going through his mechanics and delivering a quality punt.
“I think it really helped me,” Tyler said. “Just knowing that, OK, … if I can do that against them, I can do it against anybody in the country.”
Added Fisher: “We worked our tails off (on punts). … I thought he did a nice job punting the ball.”
The special-teams breakthroughs didn’t stop there.
Burns, who blocked a punt at Syracuse last season, bolstered his claim as a punt-block specialist by getting his fingers on a late NC State punt that led to a field goal.
And the kick- and punt-return units both got boosts from James and Tarvarus McFadden, each of whom flashed some of the big-play ability that had fall camp buzzing a few weeks ago.
James fielded his first career kickoff return at his 11-yard line, ducked through a pair of NC State defenders then darted down the left sideline for a 49-yard gain that gave the Seminoles the ball at the Wolfpack’s 40.
And McFadden finished with 25 yards on three attempts, including a 15-yarder that saw him weave through would-be tacklers on the way to the NC State 36.
“It was great,” James said. “My teammates did a good job blocking. Coach made a good call, it was going to the left. I knew they were going to kick it to me, so I was trying to get around the edge and just try to put the offense in position to score.”