TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It was easy to miss, given the result and the celebration that followed.
But, after further review, it turns out that Syracuse kicker Cole Murphy’s potential game-tying field goal at the end of Florida State’s game against the Orange on Saturday had a little help on its way left of the goal posts.
Derwin James, Florida State’s redshirt sophomore safety, lined up wide of the line of scrimmage, enjoyed an unblocked path to the backfield and stretched his left arm as far as it could go.
James didn’t get all of the ball – he believes it clipped his thumb and index finger – but he got enough of it. The kick missed badly, and the Seminoles had a 27-24 victory.
Upon further review, Derwin James was awarded a blocked kick at the end of the Syracuse game: pic.twitter.com/zONGXASTWL
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) November 6, 2017
James said the block was the result of a joint effort between himself, cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and linebacker Jacob Pugh. Between McFadden’s speed, Pugh’s physicality and James’ combination of the two, they caused just enough confusion to create a lane to the kicker.
“It was a great job by ‘T-Time’ (McFadden) and Jacob Pugh,” James said. “They opened it up, and I had a chance to come through. The ball kind of tipped my hand a little bit. I couldn’t all-the-way get it, but it was good that he missed it.”
James’ block wasn’t just a one-off. In fact, it wasn’t even the Seminoles’ first block of the afternoon. Linebacker Matthew Thomas got a hand on Murphy’s first attempt, and it too went wide left. It was FSU’s first game with two blocked field-goal attempts since 2003.
Beyond that, the Seminoles rank as one of the country’s best blocking units over the last few seasons.
FSU’s four blocked kicks and punts in 2017 are tied for the second-most in the nation (Hawaii and Texas A&M are tied at the top with five), and sophomore defensive end Brian Burns is one of only 17 players in college football with two blocks.
And those all come on the heels of a 2016 season in which the Seminoles blocked four kicks, highlighted, of course, by DeMarcus Walker’s “Block at the Rock” that beat Miami.
Walker at the time credited FSU defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins with coming up with creative kick-blocking strategies, and James echoed those sentiments earlier this week.
“We’ve got a lot of different looks, a lot of different block (plays) from the outside, inside,” James said. “Different schemes, different ways to do it. … Coach Odell, he does a great job of stressing how important it is and how it has such a big factor in parts of the game.”
The Seminoles will welcome any edge when they travel to No. 4 Clemson this weekend, and their kick-blocking prowess – as well as their apparent overall advantage in the kicking – could help swing the game in their favor.
Clemson’s starting kicker, Greg Heugel, suffered a season-ending injury earlier this season, and his replacement, Alex Spence, is 4 for 9 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 30 yards.
And the Tigers have had one kick, an extra-point attempt against Louisville, blocked this season.
“That’s something we work religiously on, daily,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Sometimes, when those things come, yo get them. Sometimes they don’t. You just gotta keep practicing where we think we have the best opportunity.
“And it’s something we’re always committed to doing.”