Dec. 31, 2010
By: Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com
ATLANTA, Ga. – Put two head coaches known to be offensive wizards against each other and naturally the ballgame turns out to be one likely remembered for the play of the defenses.
Well, except for a little bit of EJ Manuel magic at the end.
Manuel came on in relief for injured starting quarterback Christian Ponder and helped guide the No. 23 Florida State football to a 26-17 win over No. 20 South Carolina in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
His seven-yard touchdown pass to Taiwan Easterling with just over five minutes to play capped off a fantastic 13-play, 63-yard drive in what would prove to be the game-clinching moment.
Included in that drive, three third-down conversions on a night when moving the chains wasn’t especially easy.
So, yeah, it was the offense that pushed the ‘Noles to their 10th win over the year in the end. But it was the defenses of both squads that left their mark Friday night. The Seminoles forced offensive guru/head coach Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina (9-5) team into five turnovers; including four in the first half.
|Jimbo Fisher Interview
Fisher’s first season after replacing Bobby Bowden fittingly ended with his FSU team taking down a longtime on-field Bowden nemesis in Spurrier.
Fisher saw Reid knock out Gamecocks freshman star Marcus Lattimore early in the first quarter and then strip the ball from NFL-bound receiver Alshon Jefferey later on. He saw his team get the necessary stops to make him the first Seminoles coach to capture 10 wins in year No. 1.
He also saw his protégé, Manuel, avoid the rush and improvise before finding Easterling for that touchdown — despite being held to just 85 total yards passing. Manuel was 11-of-15 on the night.
With South Carolina finding success in stopping the pass, sophomore tailback Chris Thompson carried the load and finished the night with 147 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown. Manuel was able to add 46 yards on seven carries while the offense benefited from the defensive takeaways and some good punt returns by Reid.
“I was so happy we were able to win this game,” Manuel said. “We were moving the ball how we wanted to. We wanted to get touchdowns but we got field goals instead. Whenever you do that, you have to hope your defense goes out there and gets a lot of stops and turnovers for us, and they did.”
Added Fisher: “Both defenses played really well tonight. We played with a lot of toughness.”
Not to be forgotten, kicker Dustin Hopkins was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals. Like Manuel, Thompson, Reid and a host of other playmaking Seminoles, Hopkins is still an underclassmen so the future of Fisher’s FSU is certainly bright.
“This game was for the fans,” Reid said. “We played ball tonight and it was just fun. If we always play like that we will always win. we are going to go into the off season and work hard. We still had four losses this season so we are going to keep trying to get better.”
The Seminoles kicked things off with a bang early as Reid exploded through and concussed the NFL-sized Lattimore on the first drive of the game.
The big hit jarred the ball loose as South Carolina was threatening in the redzone and senior linebackerKendall Smith scooped it up and sprinted 46 yards to the South Carolina 29-yard line.
Nine plays later, the ‘Noles struck first with a 29-yard Hopkins field goal.
Like their first drive, the Gamecocks’ second possession ended in a turnover. And like that initial drive, it was an FSU cornerback that was the thief behind the takeaway when junior Mike Harris snared a Stephen Garcia pass away from Ace Sanders on the Seminoles’ one yard-line.
While FSU wasn’t able to get off the goal line and had to punt on fourth down, the turnover trend continued.
On South Carolina’s first play of its third drive, Smith intercepted a Garcia pass and that was turned into a 48-yard Hopkins 3-pointer.
“Our defense created turnovers and that turned the game around for us,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “We did our job to help the team win. We came to play and didn’t back down.”
Up 6-0 late in the first quarter, a 27-yard Reid punt return – and not another Gamecocks giveaway – then helped put the Seminoles in South Carolina territory.
But with a 4th-and-1 just off the goal line in the way of Florida State’s first touchdown, Ponder short-armed a pass to a wide open Lonnie Pryor out of the backfield.
Ponder, who missed several games this season with various injuries to his throwing arm, was clearly not 100 percent after taking several hits in the first 15 minutes Friday night. And the incomplete pass attempt to Pryor would prove to be his last as he was replaced by Manuel on the very next drive.
Following a Rhodes interception and three-and-out by the Manuel-led offense, the Seminoles finally found the paint just minutes before halftime.
The defense had stopped the Gamecocks on fourth down before Manuel dashed 32 yards to help set up a 27-yard Thompson touchdown run to push the ‘Noles’ lead to 13-0.
South Carolina then added a field goal as the first-half clock expired and the Seminoles went into the break on top, 13-3.
Both teams emerged from the locker rooms after intermission and FSU then quickly got those three points back. Hopkins’ 35-yard boot capped what was a third-quarter-opening 61-yard drive.
South Carolina finally generated some offense towards the tail end of the third quarter thanks to a tricky play call. The Gamecocks advanced deep into Seminole territory and Sanders fielded a backwards pass before tossing it to a wide open Garcia for a receiver-to-quarterback scoring play.
Clinging to just a 16-10 lead, Florida State utilized another stellar Reid return to set up a successful 45-yard field goal for the busy Hopkins.
The two-score lead wouldn’t last long, though, as the Gamecocks marched down the field and added a touchdown to make it a 19-17 in favor of FSU.
On the next drive, the FSU offense marched down the field before Manuel’s touchdown pass to Easterling.
FSU’s defense then did its job and forced a South Carolina turnover on downs.
“They were a better coached team tonight,” Spurrier said at the end. “Simple as that.”