Game ball: There are so many good choices here. Dalvin Cook once again reminded his hometown team just what they missed out on when he signed with Florida State. And Deondre Francois firmly put his stamp on the rivalry by playing through pain in a way that had teammates raving about his toughness. But the choice has to be DeMarcus Walker, the senior defensive end who has taken it upon himself to be the team’s leader since the moment the clock hit zero at the end of last season. It was Walker who sparked FSU’s comeback over Ole Miss earlier this season.
And it was Walker who put his foot down following the Seminoles’ loss at Louisville. So, naturally, it was Walker who broke through Miami’s line and blocked the extra-point that might have sent Saturday’s game to overtime.
Walker’s hometown of Jacksonville was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, and he said after the game that he was heartbroken to see pictures and videos of the flooding and destruction caused by the storm. Walker’s performance Saturday, he said, was dedicated to the people back home.
“I did it for them,” he said.
Play of the game: Cook can’t often go anywhere on a football field without attracting the attention of the opposing defense. Yet, for a brief moment on Saturday night, he slipped past the Hurricanes unnoticed and then made them pay for their mistake.
With FSU trailing 13-3 early in the third quarter, Francois took the snap, faked a handoff, and rolled to his right, bringing virtually the entire UM defense with him. No one bothered to notice Cook slide out of the backfield and down the left sideline, as wide open as any receiver could ever be. Francois stopped and threw back, across his body, and it didn’t even matter that Cook had to slow down a bit to catch the pass. He hauled it in and easily outran the remaining Miami defenders for a 59-yard score that cut FSU’s deficit to just a field goal.
Turning point: After failing to score on their first possession of the third quarter, the Seminoles found themselves in a dangerous position when UM quarterback Brad Kaaya led the Hurricanes to FSU’s 18-yard line with a chance to extend their lead. A touchdown would have made it 20-3 and given FSU a steep hill to climb. But the Hurricanes came up empty thanks to sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who stepped in front of an errant pass and picked off Kaaya in the end zone. It was McFadden’s fourth interception of the season, and it led directly to Cook’s long touchdown a few plays later.
It was over when: Cook and Francois ran for back-to-back first downs on the final drive. Even after Walker’s block, the Hurricanes still had three timeouts and 1:38 on the clock. But the Seminoles surprised Miami by calling a designed run for Francois on second-and-9, and he ran easily around the left side and then slid down, in-bounds, after an 11-yard gain. Cook followed with a 10-yard scamper on first down to ensure that the Seminoles could run out the clock on their seventh straight win over their archrivals.