GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida State made a little history on Saturday afternoon, riding four forced turnovers to beat Florda for the fifth straight time, a first in series history. Here are the key players, plays and moments from the Seminoles’ latest triumph over their arch-rival.
Game ball: Levonta Taylor waited nearly two years to record his first interception in a Florida State uniform.
He went ahead and made up for last time on Saturday in Gainesville.
A sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va., Taylor grabbed the first two interceptions of his career during the Seminoles’ 38-22 win at Florida. Even better, he returned the second pick 18 yards for a touchdown that gave FSU a commanding lead in the second quarter.
It was all part of a day in which the Seminoles converted four Florida turnovers into 28 points.
“We came in here juiced up and ready to go,” Taylor said. “On the way here, I kept watching interceptions videos, so I just knew I was going to get one today.”
— Cameron Mellor (@PFF_Cam) November 25, 2017
Freshman quarterback James Blackman also deserves a mention after turning in perhaps the strongest performance of his young career.
Two weeks removed from his first taste of a hostile environment at Clemson, Blackman deftly handled both the UF defense and the Gators’ loud crowd. While his numbers – 10-21, 128 yards, 2 TDs, INT – don’t necessarily suggest it, Blackman was cool under pressure and delivered his best throws in the biggest situations.
Both of Blackman’s touchdown passes came on third down, and his best throw of the day came via a deep ball to Ermon Lane on a key second-and-19.
“James was awesome in the game,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “For a young freshman to come into this environment, I thought he handled it well.”
Play of the game: Taylor’s pick-six broke the game open, but it was Brian Burns and Jacob Pugh who set the tone with an early strip-sack and fumble recovery that led to a touchdown.
Burns got things started with a clean release off the line of scrimmage. Franks never saw him coming, and Burns knocked the ball loose just as Franks was cocking his arm to throw. From there, it was elementary for Pugh, who easily scooped the ball and scored from 16 yards out.
“I just came off the edge with speed,” Burns said. “He was about to throw the ball, and I hit it. … Once one (turnover) starts rolling, everybody’s getting one.”
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 25, 2017
Turning point: Despite their first half dominance, the Seminoles’ lead had been whittled down to just 24-16 after three quarters, and, for the first time all afternoon, the Gators – and their fans – seemed to be smelling an upset.
Things then got a little scary when FSU crossed midfield, only to lose nine yards when Blackman was sacked by David Reese on first down.
But with the ball behind the chains and a potentially game-defining sequence coming up, Blackman stepped up and calmly delivered a rainbow of a pass over the UF defense and into the waiting arms of Ermon Lane, who picked up 39 yards on the play and essentially quieted the crowd for good.
Two plays later, Cam Akers polished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run, and the Seminoles could breathe again with a 31-16 lead.
“We beat the Gators,” Lane said. “Same thing every year. I’m used to that.”
It was over when: Matthew Thomas picked off Franks on the first play of Florida’s ensuing drive. Thomas nearly poured salt in the wound with FSU’s third defensive touchdown of the day, but, upon review, officials determined that Thomas went down at the 1-yard line, before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line.
Holding a 15-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Seminoles at that point probably had everything they needed to secure their victory. But, just in case, Blackman made sure of it with a three-yard TD to Auden Tate that had Florida fans headed for the exits.
The touchdown gave FSU its 38th point of the game, which tied a school record for the most scored in Gainesville. The original record was set in 2003, when this happened: