Nov. 24, 2012
By: Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor), Seminoles.com Managing Editor
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In the game of football, turnovers have a way of catching up to you. And that’s exactly what they did — all five of them — to No. 5 Florida State in its 37-26 loss at home to No. 6 Florida Saturday night.
Other than a 8:41-minute period when the Seminoles (10-2) swung momentum and, in turn, the scoreboard in the third quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium, the Gators (11-1) feasted on the handful of takeaways — and the game clock — as they bounced back from a 20-13 deficit and ran away with the win in this year’s edition of the “Share a Little Sunshine Showdown.”
The loss not only eliminated the ‘Noles from any sort of remote chance they had at a berth in the BCS title game, it also kept UF’s title hopes alive and all but assured the Gators an at-large bid in a BCS bowl game at worst. The setback was also Jimbo Fisher’s first career loss to an in-state opponent since he took over the program nearly three years ago.
Florida State will now turn its attention to Georgia Tech as an ACC Championship and Orange Bowl-berth is on the line in Charlotte, N.C. next Saturday at 8 p.m.
“We’ve got to recover and get back to business tomorrow,” Fisher said afterwards.
It didn’t look like his team would have to do much recovering a few minutes after both teams came out of the halftime break. But after FSU cut UF’s lead to 13-10 on Nick O’Leary”s scoring grab and then Bjoern Werner’s fumble recovery quickly set up a one-yard EJ Manuel touchdown run, the Seminoles all of a sudden had a 17-13 advantage in a span of less than two minutes.
Then, Dustin Hopkins’ 53-yard field goal made it a 20-13 score much to the delight of the 15th-largest crowd in Doak Campbell Stadium history.
But that’s when things changed in Florida’s favor just as quickly as they had swung in favor of FSU. Exactly 8:41 after Werner recovered that fumble and rumbled nine yards, Jordan Reed took a 3rd-and-14 screen pass 21 yards to extend Florida’s end-of-third-quarter drive. After a Caleb Sturgis’ field goal, Manuel was brutally sacked and fumbled — the fifth FSU giveaway of the night — and one play later Mike Gillislee ran 37 yards for a 23-20 lead with 11:01 left in the game that the Gators would never relinquish.
“We had the momentum in the third quarter and that hit changed it,” Fisher said. “… we got [momentum] back, we just didn’t finish.”
Manuel missed one series after that hit and finished the game with 182 yards, one touchdown, a season-high three interceptions against the nation’s No. 4-ranked defense and that lone game-changing fumble. He added 54 yards and two scores on the ground as FSU registerd 300 yards of offense compared to Florida’s 394.
UF quarterback Jeff Driskel finished with 147 yards and one touchdown and Gillislee ran for 140 yards and two scores. Florida had 244 yards on the ground and controlled the game clock 36:20 to 23:40, which helped the Gators wear down FSU’s No. 1-ranked defense.
Defensively, it was the Werner show through much of the game. The junior defensive end, playing in potentially his final game at Doak Campbell Stadium because of his high draft stock, had a career-best 3 1/2 sacks by game’s end. Cornellius Carradine, another potential early NFL draft pick at defensive end as a senior, added a team-high 11 tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for loss and a half-sack.
Matt Elam’s seven stops led the Gators.
“We never felt like we couldn’t move the ball,” Fisher said. “… but they were able to control the line of scrimmage.”
Florida opened the game with four first downs on a drive that took 5:47 off the clock and ended with a 39-yard field goal. It looked like FSU would at least get those three points back as a 27-yard toss to Rashad Greene put the ‘Noles into field goal range. But Manuel’s throw off his back foot on third-and-long was intercepted by Elam soon thereafter.
Werner’s sack on the next drive set up the Gators’ own third-and-long attempt but Driskel answered with a 31-yard scramble into FSU territory. After Nick Moody’s pressure forced an errant third-and-short toss a few plays later, UF went for a fake field goal but failed on the attempt.
A quick three-and-out by the ‘Noles later and the first quarter ended after Florida had run 25 plays and FSU had run just eight despite the 3-0 score.
After trading three-and-outs to start the second quarter, Florida picked up its fourth and fifth third-down conversions of the day before what looked to be like its sixth was ruled an incomplete catch on the sideline. Originally ruled a completion, the booth reversal led to a 45-yard Sturgis field goal and 6-0 UF lead with 6:53 left in the first half.
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But that score wouldn’t last long. Following Karlos Williams’ fumble on the kick return, Gillislee used a misdirection run to dash nine yards into the endzone and push the visitors’ lead to 13-0 with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter.
“The big thing was those turnovers,” Fisher said. “That’s a big factor in ball.”
It wouldn’t get much better a few moments later as Manuel’s first pass after the Gators’ score was intercepted by Jelani Jenkins. Another Werner sack would force another third-and-long for UF and after forcing a punt FSU took over on its own 12 yard-line. It looked like the Seminoles would be content to run out the clock with 2:10 left at that point but Manuel’s long scramble set up a 50-yard field goal that Hopkins drilled as time expired for a 13-3 Florida lead at halftime.
FSU had the ball for just 8:02 in the opening half, compared to Florida’s 21:58 time of possession.
The possession discrepancy would stay that way on the opening drive of the third quarter as Manuel’s pass attempt to Greene was intercepted on the sideline by Marcus Roberson. But as it did in the first half, the ‘Noles defense prevented any damage from the miscue.
Three plays after Kenny Shaw returned the punt 26 yards to the Gators’ 25 yard-line, Devonta Freeman’s 20-yard scamper put FSU in a first-and-goal situation and O’Leary went up and grabbed Manuel’s six-yard toss to cut into the deficit.
It was a sign of good things to come for the ‘Noles. On Florida’s first play on the next drive, Werner recovered the fumble and two plays and two UF penalties later, Manuel ran the bootleg untouched into the endzone for the one-yard lead-grabbing touchdown.
In a span of 1:58, FSU not only erased a 10-point deficit but took a 17-13 lead — and the ‘Noles weren’t done. Werner’s highlight-reel sack helped force a Gators’ punt on the next drive and FSU tacked on Hopkins’ 53-yard field goal with a little more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The ‘Noles had held Florida to just 21 yards and no third-down conversions in the second half up to that point but allowed the critical third-down screen pass to Reed that equaled that total. Trey Burton then rushed for 24 yards into the redzone on the next third down before Florida was held to a 39-yard Sturgis field goal to start the final quarter.
The crazy turn of events that helped FSU take the lead then reversed in Florida’s favor on the next drive. First, Antonio Morrison’s crushing sack and forced fumble of Manuel was recovered by Dominique Easley and then Gillislee ran for the 37-yard score.
After a quick three-and-out by the Clint Trickett-led offense as Manuel was being checked out by the trainers on the sideline, a 50-yard punt return by Roberson to the FSU 32 yard-line gave the Gators a short field to work with. UF then needed just five plays to push their lead to 10 points when Driskel found Quinton Dunbar for the 14-yard score with seven minutes left.
Florida State had a strong drive working after that dagger-style touchdown but Manuel was sacked for a 16-yard loss and then was off the mark on his fourth-and-long throw to Kelvin Benjamin as Florida took over on downs. Four plays later, Matt Jones ran for a 32-yard score with 2:33 left on the clock.
Manuel then finished the game with what turned out to be his final play ever at Doak Campbell Stadium: a 22-yard scramble into the endzone as time expired.
“Of course they are down and they are sad but again a lot of those seniors are saying, ‘hey guys we’ve still got a lot to play for,'” Fisher said. “You’ve got a lot of those leaders grabbing those guys and saying we’ve got a conference championship game next week.
“And we do. We’ve got to put this one behind us.”