TAMPA, Fla. – Jimbo Fisher on Saturday saw his offense rack up 478 rushing yards on the way to a 55-point outburst in a win at South Florida. He also saw missed assignments, missed tackles and missed opportunities that made Saturday’s final score – 55-35 in FSU’s favor – a little closer than it should have been.So, in a way, maybe the game offered an ideal outcome for Fisher: An emphatic win the week after a disappointing loss, with still enough missteps and miscues to clean up in practice before the North Carolina Tar Heels visit on Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix,” a visibly irritated Fisher said after the game. “Offensively, defensively, special teams … (We were) just OK.”
Outside of a brilliant stretch in the second and third quarters, FSU’s defense still struggled at times with USF’s run-heavy offense.
The Bulls put a scare into the Seminoles by scoring an 84-yard touchdown on their first play from scrimmage, and they finished with 450 yards on just 55 plays – good for an 8.2 yards-per-play average that was actually a little bit higher than Louisville’s a week ago.
And a mobile quarterback once again caused issues, as USF’s Quinton Flowers rushed for 192 yards and threw for 160 more.
FSU flipped the script by holding the Bulls scoreless on nine straight possessions midway through the game. But after the Seminoles stretched their lead to 45-14 in the third quarter, the defensive intensity lapsed again.
The Bulls scored on their last three possessions of the game and, at times, made it look easy. All three of their late scoring drives went for at least 75 yards, and none needed more than eight plays.
“It definitely was disappointing,” said sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who snagged his third interception of the season but also got beat for USF’s first touchdown.
“We have to finish the games. USF was a good team but we weren’t supposed to let them put up 35 points. … I definitely feel like we relaxed.”
Added Fisher: “Nine straight drives, (then) stopped doing their job. Did their job for a while, quit doing their job. As simple as that.”
Although the offense seemed to fare better, Fisher’s praise was measured at best.
Of Dalvin Cook’s career day, Fisher said the junior running back “did his job.”
And Jacques Patrick, who added 100 yards of his own?
“Did what he was supposed to do.”
Similar answers came for questions about the offensive line, defense and quarterback during a press conference that lasted only about four minutes.
Asked if there was anything he was particularly happy about, Fisher said, “Came out here, had a victory. Other than that, we have a lot of work to do.”
More than anything, though, Fisher stressed the need to play for a full game. The Seminoles seemed well on their way on Saturday until, as McFadden put it, relaxing near the end.
That was something of a reversal of FSU’s pattern earlier this season, which saw the Seminoles fall into deep first-half deficits against both Ole Miss and Louisville.
Not that Fisher prefers one way over the other.
“We’ve got to learn to finish games and play 60 minutes,” he said. “That’s what we’re not doing, and we’re going to learn to do it.”
That’s not to say there weren’t any positives. The Seminoles went on the road and posted a 20-point victory over a team that was 10-2 in its last 12 games and is a contender to win its conference.
FSU also cut down on penalties (four for 50 yards, the least this season) and turnovers (one fumble, which they atoned for with an interception on the very next play), and they were good in both the red zone and on third down.
“For the most part,” senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker said when asked if he was satisfied with Saturday’s out come.
“I didn’t like it at the end.”
When the Seminoles play up to their capability – as they did in the second half against Ole Miss, and at various times Saturday in Tampa – they look like one of the best teams in the country.
When they don’t, it can lead to heartburn for all involved.
“When we’re locked in, the sky is the limit for this team,” senior fullback Freddie Stevenson said. “So everybody’s just got to go out and relax and know that we know what to to do. We’re capable of doing big things.”
The Seminoles, for their part, echoed Fisher’s sentiments: Happy to leave Tampa with a win, but well aware there’s work to be done before they meet the Tar Heels – who, by the way, threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns against Pitt on Saturday – next week in Tallahassee.
Patrick called the victory “a stepping stone,” while quarterback Deondre Francois said it “gives us a start.”
And left tackle Roderick Johnson – whose unit had perhaps its best game of the season – still saw room for improvement across the board.
“We left a lot of points on the board as an offense, and we gave up a lot of points on defense,” Johnson said. “It’s things we have to clean up and we have to move forward.”
Safe to say, then, that Fisher’s words in the postgame locker room didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“We don’t even need to hear Jimbo talk to know what’s wrong with the team,” Johnson said. “The team knows what we need to do.”