TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As they walked off the field, Florida State’s players took an extra second to savor the moment.
Some embraced with fans and took photos in the end zone. Others looked up at a scoreboard that showed Florida State 27, Syracuse 24.
Then, in the locker room, they celebrated.
“It was a big party. We finally accomplished something,” senior defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. “It’s a great turning point for our team, there’s no going back from here.”
“As a coach, you love to see that look on their face,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher added. “You love to see joy in their eyes when they succeed and have something good happen for them.”
In a season filled with obstacles, the Noles on Saturday found some things on which they can build: The first home win of the season, a bowl streak still alive and confidence restored.
“Everybody was happy and dancing around. We know what we are capable of,” sophomore cornerback Levonta Taylor said. “We’re finding ourselves right now, and we can be a very dangerous team going forward.”
Fisher is often adamant about the role momentum plays in any given game and season. After the way the last few weeks have gone for the Noles, the spark seemed to return to the sideline after the win over the Orange.
“We needed to get that confidence back. We knew what we had on this team coming into the season,” safety Derwin James said. “Coach Fisher has stressed don’t wait for next year’s team to fix this, great teams find a way to fix it in season.”
Seminoles withstand hectic ‘Cuse pace
They’d heard about it all week.
Syracuse entered the game against Florida State as the most up-tempo team in the country. Averaging nearly 90 plays a game, Orange head coach Dino Babers’ offense is predicated on running as many plays as it can to keep opposing defenses out of position and tire them out over a course of four quarters.
“Seeing it on film, a lot of times the (first down) chains were having a time moving with them,” Taylor said as he shook his head. “Playing in it, cramping was an issue, it was crazy. The coaches made sure we were going to be ready for it though.”
Coming in, Syracuse had already run at least 90 plays in four games this season. They used the formula to upset then-No. 2 Clemson earlier in the year. Against the Seminoles, quarterback Eric Dungey and the Orange offense ran 95 plays, the most they’ve hit in 2017. Given the circumstances, the FSU defense performed well, holding ‘Cuse to 4.9 yards per play.
The Noles recorded three sacks, six tackles for loss and a turnover to aid an overall positive outing. Additionally, the unit came away with two fourth-down stops, flipping the momentum each time.
“All week the coaches prepared us with tempo drills,” James said. “We focused on getting back on the line as quickly as we could.”
Youth movement making waves on defense
During Saturday’s contest, the Noles saw an influx of young defensive talent contribute in the game. Throughout the season, heralded freshmen like Marvin Wilson, Hamsah Nasirildeen and Stanford Samuels III have been called upon regularly.
And, of course, FSU’s offense has been led by freshmen James Blackman and Cam Akers for most of the season.
On Saturday, the defensive newcomers took a turn.
Nasirildeen earned his first career start and finished with four tackles, while Samuels added three stops. And Wilson logged a chunk of significant snaps in the middle of the defensive line.
“When you have so many young players you have to teach and go through it,” Fisher said. “Their ability to compete and have their heart and soul in it was better.”
The contributions from these talented players, in addition to the likes of Joshua Kaindoh, Cyrus Fagan and Leonard Warner, have the Seminoles feeling confident about what lies ahead.
“The future is bright,” James said. “Those guys are on the field getting experience and the junior and seniors are passing down (knowledge) to keep this rolling.”