TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Early Saturday afternoon Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher called the offensive line at the team hotel to tell them that their salty position coach, Rick Trickett, would not be on the sideline for the game due to a health issue that sent him to the hospital earlier in the day.
“When we first got the word we were all together and Coach Fisher came in and told us,” said senior guard Tre Jackson. “There was a moment when we all grieved for him, but once Coach Fisher told us he was going to be all right, we knew he wouldn’t want us grieving over him because we have a big game tonight. We just came out and played our game.”
With offensive assistant David Spurlock – once a teammate to the senior linemen – stepping in for Trickett, the second-ranked Seminoles went about their business and delivered a 31-27 victory over No. 5 Notre Dame.
After a shaky first half in the face of Notre Dame’s blitz-heavy scheme, the line settled down and turned in perhaps their finest 30 minutes of the season. Florida State scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions, did not allow a sack and piled up 212 of its 323 total yards and 13 of its 18 first downs.
It was the kind of performance that undoubtedly made Trickett rest easier.
“Those guys played their tails off,” Fisher said afterward. “I’ve never been around a guy who takes more pride in his work and works any harder, any better line coach than he is. He loves those kids. When I talked to him today on the phone, he broke down. He did. He cried.
“That guy don’t cry over nothing. He felt he was letting me down and letting his team down and those kids down. I mean, in tears. That’s him. He’s tough and rough, but he cares. Those kids love him and they play hard for him.”
And it showed over the final 30 minutes.
Senior guard Josue Matias said he and his line mates were quite comfortable taking their cues from Spurlock, who was getting help from the coaches’ box from offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and tight ends coach Tim Brewster, as well as Fisher on the sideline.
It was almost fitting that Jackson, Matias and Bobby Hart, all of whom started as freshmen against the Fighting Irish in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, were tasked with delivering in what may well prove to be the biggest regular season game of their careers.
“I don’t think it was strange,” Matias said, when asked about adjusting to Spurlock on the sideline. “It just makes it easier for us having Spurlock, a person we played with and mentored us when we first came in…Just having him on the sideline as a coach now it’s almost the same thing. He was always helping us out when we came in as freshmen and showed us how the system works. Now that he knows more, it makes it easier on us. He relays it to us, we go out there and we do it.”
That was evident after intermission, when the Seminoles opted to line up more frequently in max protection to give quarterback Jameis Winston a cleaner pocket. Winston did his part, completing 15-of-16 second half attempts – he was just 8-of-15 with an interception in the first half – for 181 yards and a touchdown. And when the Seminoles got down in the red zone, the line bowed up and cleared the path for two Karlos Williams touchdown runs. It was Williams’ 1-yard run with 7:39 remaining that gave the Seminoles their first lead of the night at 31-27.
The Seminoles’ second half success came in large part due to improved play on first down, which had been problematic in the first half against the Irish.
“David Spurlock came out and did a wonderful job,” Jackson said. “We didn’t miss a beat. Without Coach Trickett is a big thing, but when you have someone as good as David Spurlock, knowing everything because he’s played under Coach Trickett for a while…He kept us on the right page.”
It wasn’t easy.
“It was tough [running the football], but when you get down there in that goal-line situation, you have to put that ball in the end zone,” Williams said. “…They did a great job. They stepped up, dug deep and got me in there tonight.”
FSU converted all five of its red zone visits, which resulted in four touchdowns and a field goal. The Seminoles have now converted 32 consecutive red zone trips, dating to the second quarter of the season-opener against Oklahoma State.
In the locker room after the game, Fisher presented the game ball to Chance Trickett – Trickett’s son who works in the FSU recruiting office – to share with his father.
“He’s very special,” Fisher said of his long-time friend and line coach. “I’m glad they were able to celebrate. We gave him the game ball. That game was for him.”
When asked how he thought his hard-to-please position coach would be with the line’s performance in his absence, Matias did not hesitate with an answer:
“He’ll be proud. We just settled down and went back to our technique. The first half we were a little anxious. All we had to do was go back to what Coach Trickett trained us to do and we executed. Having Spurlock there, he was just like Coach Trickett. We never missed a beat with the blitzes. We were on top of it.”
And in the end, that was all that really mattered.