Sept. 30, 2012
By: Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor), Seminoles.com Managing Editor
The talented defensive end was a monster for the Seminoles Saturday night, registering a team-best nine tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and forced fumble that was returned for a score by Christian Jones.
USF blocked an FSU punt in the third quarter and became first team to do since 2009.
Rashad Greene became the first FSU player since Peter Warrick to score a touchdown three different ways in one season when he ran for a nine-yard score against USF.
Rodney Smith had three catches against the Bulls, extending his streak to 30 games with at least one grab.
Lonnie Pryor’s 64 yards rushing is a career high for the senior fullback.
TAMPA, Fla. — It wasn’t pretty Saturday night but that didn’t matter because it wasn’t nearly as ugly as the last time Florida State played South Florida.
Three seasons after suffering a humbling loss to the Bulls, the No. 4 Seminoles retaliated by overcoming some sloppy play on a slippery Raymond James Stadium field in a 30-17 victory. A USF (2-3) school-record crowd of 68, 383 watched as the Bulls racked up 144 yards of offense in the first quarter before the FSU (5-0) defense charged back and gave up just 124 yards in the final three quarters.
Despite a missed field goal, a blocked punt that led to a Bulls score, some costly penalties and some redzone deficiencies, FSU still gutted out a win in its first road game of the season — an accomplishment that might not have been in recent seasons.
"You go into somebody else’s house who has good players [and] are coached well and you come out with a ‘W’ that’s a huge step coming off the big win we had last week," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "In the past I think we might have folded a little bit. Our kids kept believing and playing hard and you’ve got to find ways to keep winning those games when you’re not playing your ‘A’ game."
After getting tested early, FSU’s defense was certainly on its game most of the night.
Mark Stoops’ squad was punched in the mouth early — much like it was last week against Clemson — before finding its footing and delivering its own knockout blows. Of the combined 124 yards surrendered in the second, third and fourth quarters, 73 of them came on a gutsy scoring drive by USF quarterback and Tallahassee native B.J. Daniels early in the fourth quarter — the final points of the game.
But trimming the deficit to two scores proved futile against an FSU defense that forced six punts and allowed just six first downs in the final three quarters.
Cornellius Carradine led the defensive effort, posting a team-best nine tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble that was returned by Christian Jones for a third-quarter touchdown. Xavier Rhodes also had an interception.
"Some of the plays we hadn’t seen," said junior defensive tackle Demonte McAllkster, a Tampa native. "Once we saw them … we calmed down and regained our poise and were able to make plays."
A week after playing the game of his life against the Tigers and entering the Heisman Trophy conversation, EJ Manuel didn’t post eye-popping numbers against the Bulls but he was still ultra-efficient and mistake-free.
The senior signal-caller finished the night 19-of-26 for 242 yards and one touchdown and no turnovers. Manuel spread the wealth, too, finding nine different receivers and helped FSU possess the ball for more than 10 minutes in both the second and third quarters after having it for just 4:32 in the opening period.
"He played a really solid football game," Fisher said.
Nick O’Leary set a new career best with four catches for 40 yards and fellow tight end Kevin Haplea added his first touchdown in an FSU uniform. Wide receiver Rashad Greene ran for a touchdown and had 71 yards through the air.
Chris Thompson added 74 yards rushing and Lonnie Pryor contributed a career-high 64 yards of his own for a Seminoles team that finished the night with 425 yards of total offense.
After USF opened the game with a 32-yard field goal, Karlos Williams gave Manuel a short field to work with by taking the ensuing kickoff 60 yards into Bulls territory. A third-down toss to Greg Dent and 10-yard Thompson scamper later, Greene ran 10 yards to pay dirt and an early 7-3 FSU lead.
The end-around to Greene put the sophomore in elite company as he became the first FSU player since the great Peter Warrick to score on a return, a rush and a reception in the same season.
A week after uncharacteristically missing two field goals in the win over Clemson, Dustin Hopkins then added to that advantage with a 26-yard field goal with 5:45 left in the first half. He would, however, miss a 47-yard attempt a few minutes later but on the heels of a Rhodes interception followed it up with a 43-yard successful conversion to give the ‘Noles a 13-3 advantage at halftime.
The two-score lead would quickly dissipate early in the third quarter, though. First USF sniffed out an option run and then blocked Cason Beatty’s punt. Two plays later on the short field Daniels was walking into the endzone for a one-yard touchdown to make it a 13-10 ballgame.
It wouldn’t get much better on the next drive either, as a would-be Thompson 70-yard touchdown run was negated by a Kelvin Benjamin holding penalty.
With the Bulls fans in a frenzy and in danger of letting USF completely capture the momentum, FSU’s defense dug in its heels and forced a three-and-out. And the strong defense then sparked some strong offense. A 32-yard catch-and-run by Greene pushed the Seminoles across midfield and a 12-yard Thompson run set up Haplea’s one-yard scoring grab on 3rd-and-goal.
"That was huge," Manuel said about the one-yard toss off play action.
Florida State then went up 23-10 following another defensive three-and-out and a 24-yard Hopkins field goal with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. Thirty-four second later, Carradine’s strip-sack of backup quarterback Matt Floyd was scooped and scored by Jones for FSU’s first defensive score of the year and a 30-10 lead heading into the final frame.
Floyd was in the game because Daniels took a hard shot on the previous play. After woozily leaving the field, Daniels was back on the field to start the fourth quarter and wound up leading a quick 73-yard drive capped by his own option keeper to trim FSU’s lead to 30-17.
Following stalled drives by both teams, it looked like USF had halted another ‘Noles series but a personal foul penalty with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter extended what would have been a fourth-down stop on a designed Manuel run. FSU would eventually be stopped on its next third down but not before chewing up 3:15 of the game-clock.
The ‘Noles then forced Daniels to throw the ball away on fourth down and Thompson took a kneel on what would have been a long run to finish the game and keep FSU in the ranks of the unbeatens.
Florida State returns to ACC play next weekend with an 8 p.m game at NC State Saturday night.