By: Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor), Seminoles.com Managing Editor
Florida State’s senior kicker was the points difference Saturday night. He connected on four of his five field-goal attempts against the Hurricanes and hit all three of his extra points.
Miami had just four penalties all night compared to the 12 called on Florida State
FSU had five fumbles in the game despite coming into the contest with just six all season long.
Florida State became bowl eligible for the 31st consecutive season — the longest active streak in the country
Florida State has now won six of its last eight games against rival Miami.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — A plethora of penalties and an injury to an important player weren’t enough to derail No. 12 Florida State’s dreams of a rivalry victory Saturday night against Miami.
The Seminoles were flagged 12 times for 121 yards worth of infractions and lost running back Chris Thompson because to injury early in the ballgame but bounced back from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit to beat the Hurricanes, 33-20, at Sun Life Stadium.
“That’s a Florida State-Miami game, wasn’t it?” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said about a twisting and turning series that dates back to 1951. “Always excitement. It is one of the great rivalries and the kids played extremely hard. We overcame a lot of things that we caused and some others that I’ll wait and evaluate the film to see what happened and what the situations were.”
With the win, FSU (7-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) Fisher improved to 3-0 all-time against the ‘Canes (4-4, 3-2) and quarterback EJ Manuel added to his statewide success as he has now started in victorious efforts in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tallahassee during his career. The Seminoles are now 7-1 for the first time since 2005 and are bowl eligible for a nation’s-best 31st consecutive season.
Fisher’s continued perfection against FSU’s most bitter rivals (he’s also 2-0 against Florida, meaning the ‘Noles haven’t lost to either the Gators or Hurricanes in 1,057 days) had a lot to do with his team’s balanced offensive attack and relentless defensive pressure in the face of adversity on the road.
Fisher called 41 rushes and 31 passes against Miami as the Seminoles racked up 447 yards of total offense despite the setbacks sustained from penalties. Defensively the Seminoles held Miami to 258 total yards, including just 29 yards on the ground. The Hurricanes hadn’t been held to less than 275 yards of offense all season.
Telvin Smith led all ‘Noles with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two pass breakups on a night when he was all over the field. Cornellius Carradine had seven tackles, Christian Jones had a key fumble recovery and Tyler Hunter had his first career interception.
“Everybody had high energy,” Smith said. “But we when we settled into the game and got into our defense, we played hard. And that’s just playing hard and playing with each other.”
Manuel finished the night 21-of-31 for 229 yards with Rashad Greene catching seven of those passes for 49 yards. After Thompson was helped off the field in the first quarter, Devonta Freeman ran for a game-best 70 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns in his homecoming effort. James Wilder, Jr. added 49 yards and one score of his own on eight carries.
In a series that has been marred by FSU kicker blunders, Dustin Hopkins was anything but. A week after becoming FSU’s and the ACC’s all-time leading scorer, the senior moved to within 22 points of tying the NCAA’s all-time scoring mark for kickers [Boise State’s Kyle Brotzman’s 439 points is the current record] with three extra points and four field goals against the ‘Canes.
Having a clutch placekicker wasn’t what was on FSU’s minds early, though. The ‘Noles just wanted something — anything — to go right.
After forcing a three-and-out to start the game, Nick O’Leary caught a pass on FSU’s first offensive snap but fumbled the ball away while trying to leap over the tackler. With just 22 yards to the goal line, Miami capitalized thanks to a nine-yard Mike James scoring run.
After a quick three-and-out of their own on the ensuing drive, the ‘Noles then gave Miami more good field position as Cason Beatty’s rugby-style punt sailed just 17 yards to set the ‘Canes up on the FSU 34 yard line. The Hurricanes would make it a 10-0 game shortly thereafter without so much of a blink of an eye and without any pressure on quarterback Stephen Morris, who was a game time decision with an ankle injury.
Florida State seemed to get it together on its next drive, moving the football over midfield. But Jarred Haggins’ fumble on an end-around attempt put the football back in the host’s possession. In need of a crucial third-down stop three plays later, Smith stripped Morris and Jones scooped it up to return the favor to the ‘Canes.
Hopkins then tacked on a 33-yard field goal to cut the Hurricanes’s lead to 10-3 at the end of the first quarter.
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It wasn’t a turnover or shanked punt but the hits didn’t stop for the ‘Noles after that, though. At the end of a 32-yard catch and run, Thompson remained on the turf after he was tackled and had to be helped off the field. Moments later, it was announced that he would not return to the ballgame with a left leg injury and Fisher wasn’t ready after the game to provide any additional derails until he knew more.
Without their senior leader in the backfield FSU didn’t stop running the football, though. FSU ran the ball on four of its next five plays with its final one being a 16-yard Wilder, Jr. run to the endzone for a 10-10 game.
Following a few minutes of referee-related confusion at the end of the half when Fisher had to remind the officials that an FSU timeout would prevent a 10-second run-off following a Josue Matias false start, FSU took its first lead of the night. Hopkins’ 44-yarder gave the Seminoles a 13-10 advantage that they took to the visitor’s locker room — a lead FSU would ultimately never relinquish.
“I thought it was very big for our kids to overcome what they did,” Fisher said. “I think it’s very big in our development. That’s something we haven’t done all year and to battle in that circumstance and environment and all the things that went wrong could have did the same thing we did up at NC State. But we didn’t. We battled back through it and kept staying aggressive.”
The second half then started with some ‘Canes aggression as Miami’s failed onside-kick attempt set the Seminoles up with good field position. But FSU couldn’t make Miami pay as Hopkins’ 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide. The Houston, Texas native would later get those three points back with 6:07 left in the third quarter on a 35-yard attempt.
Clinging to a 16-10 lead despite the penalties and lopsided offensive yardage advantage, the Seminoles allowed the Hurricanes to register a nine-play, 51-yard drive capped off by a field goal at the end with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. Prior to that scoring drive, the ‘Canes had only posted 54 yards of offense since the start of the second quarter.
Florida State then made it a two-score game for the first time since’s Miami’s early 10-0 lead. First Kelvin Benjamin grabbed a 39-yard reception to ignite the offense and then Freeman capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run to push the scoreboard to 23-13 with 11:53 left in the game.
After Bjoern Werner forced a turnover with his fourth-and-20 sack of Morris, Freeman dashed across the goal line for a five-yard score and 33-13 FSU lead. Miami then added a final, last-ditch-effort touchdown on the next drive.
“Even though we didn’t get off to greatest start,” Hopkins said, “we finished well and I guess that’s what counts.”
Florida State returns home for the first of two final home games in the 2012 season with a 3:30 matchup against Duke Saturday. FSU then has a bye before a Thursday-night showdown at Virginia Tech and a road game at Maryland.
Prior to the ‘Noles victorious effort in Miami, it was announced that the regular-season-ending game against Florida in Doak Campbell Stadium is already sold out.