TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the locker room at halftime, Florida State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett rallied his defense, reminding them that, despite trailing Samford, there was plenty of game left to be played.
“He was calm, saying, ‘Just do your job, just do your job,’” cornerback Kyle Meyers said. “He was letting us know not to worry and the game wasn’t over.”
Saturday night’s game didn’t come easily for the Seminoles, who trailed 23-21 at the break in a contest delayed nearly 90 minutes by dangerous weather.
But by the early hours of Sunday morning, the team was all smiles after a 36-26 comeback win.
Giving up 341 yards and 23 points by the end of the first half, the FSU defense rebounded to finish strong, allowing just three points and 184 yards in the second stanza.
Adjustments are the name of the game in college football and the Seminoles made the right plays to secure the win late in Doak Campbell Stadium against their FCS counterpart. Barnett was instrumental in shoring things up to stymie what had been a red-hot Bulldogs’ offense.
“He’s a big-time coordinator, it’s the reason we wanted him,” head coach Willie Taggart said on Barnett. “They got away (from) some things early, and the way our guys responded was huge.”
Perhaps the biggest reason why the Noles were able to impact the game on defense was due to creating three turnovers in the second half. Meyers himself was responsible for two of the five total takeaways the unit forced, with both of his interceptions coming at crucial moments in the second half as Samford was driving deep into FSU territory.
“I wanted to get the ball back for my offense, didn’t matter if I had to run across the whole field. I’m just going to go get it,” Meyers said.
“It’s what we preach every week, (I’m) glad we were able to get a lot this game. We’ve been practicing getting the ball back for our offense.”
No turnover was more crucial than the one that sealed the game from Levonta Taylor with 2:23 left in the fourth quarter. Right after FSU took its first lead of the night and first of the 2018 season altogether, the Bulldogs threatened to regain the advantage as they reached the FSU 41-yard line.
That’s when the junior cornerback jumped an out route, snared a Devlin Hodges throw and promptly raced 63 yards to the house, effectively slamming the door shut on Samford.
“I was happy for Levonta, that was him being him, he’s special,” Meyer said of his fellow starting cornerback. “He’s a veteran like me, and he’s just getting everybody going.”
For a defense that had struggled in the first half, the second half was a building block.
Taylor’s snag provided the most genuine post-play elation from a unit that earlier debuted its own turnover prize – a bright red backpack.
“It was something the defense voted on, and tonight they secured that bag,” quarterback Deondre Francois said. “Levonta did a great job of closing the game, and that’s the true definition of securing the bag.”
“We’re getting our bag, it makes us want to make a play,” Meyers added. “Everybody is in that bag this year.”
The five forced turnovers against Samford marked the most takeaways in a game by a Seminole defense since the 2013 National Championship unit recorded seven against Wake Forest. Under a first-year coordinator, in a game they absolutely could not afford to lose, the Noles found a way to change the game against an upset-minded foe.
Taggart admitted following the tilt there was plenty of work to do and that his squad was far from satisfactory heading into its first road game of 2018.
However, he took a deep breath after his first career win as the man in charge of the program and reminded everyone how sweet victory is.
“It’s hard to win a football game, it’s not easy at all,” Taggart said. “I don’t care what kind of ‘W’ you get, you should be excited and move on to get better the next week.”