WATCH: Hornibrook throws three TDs as Noles roll past Pack
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It took a little longer than usual for Florida State to find the accelerator, but that might just be how the Seminoles prefer it.
After finally building a big advantage over North Carolina State – late in the third quarter, instead of the usual early onslaught – FSU kept on rolling for a 31-13 victory in front of 60,351 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.
No surrendered leads or dramatic rallies this time around.
Starting in place of the injured James Blackman, quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns for the Seminoles, who will go into next week’s open date with a 3-2 record (2-1 ACC) and having beaten NC State (3-2, 0-1) for the first time in three tries.
They’ve also won consecutive ACC games for the first time in nearly three years.
“Man,” Taggart said with a smile. “Great win for our football team.”
Taggart was pleased but not necessarily surprised.
He said that he had “a good feeling about this game” in the week leading up to it, a feeling built in part by last week’s win over Louisville as well as a week of practices that he described as “by far” the team’s best of the year.
Turns out Taggart was on to something.
Because after starting a little slowly for a change – FSU trailed 6-3 late in the second quarter – the Seminoles found their footing and blew right by the Wolfpack for their most impressive victory of the season. By far.
And they’ll get a chance for an even bigger one in two weeks, when they visit No. 1 Clemson following an open date.
“We made another step in the right direction,” Taggart said. “…I think our team is consistently getting better. Each and every week, our guys are finding ways to get better, and that’s what we talk about: trying to get 1 percent better each and every game.
“I thought we did that tonight.”
Highlights: FSU 31, NC State 13
Before the game, there were a few indications that Blackman, who sustained a lower-body injury last week, would be able to play. He was in full uniform, took warm-up reps with the first-team offense and served as FSU’s offensive captain for the coin toss.
But when the FSU offense hit the field for the first time, it was Hornibrook leading the way.
The fifth-year senior, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin who made his FSU debut last week, set a new career high for passing yardage and notched his first career 300-yard game.
“He’s a veteran,” Taggart said. “He understands what it takes.”
And how to keep his receivers happy.
While Tamorrion Terry (five catches, 77 yards, two TDs) leading the way is nothing new, he was far from the only FSU receiver to have an impact.
Hornibrook completed 29 passes on 40 attempts and spread those completions to 10 different receivers.
Each caught at least two passes, and none caught more than five.
“That’s part of our offense,” Taggart said. “I think our guys are understanding that we’re not just going to have one guy with 15 receptions. There is going to be plenty of guys, and our guys are embracing that now, understanding the game is about the team. There is not as much selfish play anymore.”
Still, it was Hornibrook’s connection with Terry that turned the tide near the end of the first half.
With NC State leading and causing problems with its pass rush, the pair stemmed the tide by taking advantage of single coverage and linking up for a quick pass over the middle of the field.
The speedy Terry did the rest, outrunning NC State’s defense for a 43-yard touchdown that made it 10-6. FSU never trailed again.
“Once we get drives going, once we get that first first down and we start moving, that’s when things open up for us,” Hornibrook said. “That’s when we have a lot of success.”
Hornibrook then threw a beautiful, 40-yard touchdown pass to Ontaria Wilson on FSU’s next possession, and later found Terry again in the middle of the end zone to make it 24-6 midway through the third quarter.
NC State, led in part by former FSU quarterback Bailey Hockman, struck for its only touchdown early in the fourth quarter but could get no closer.
Hockman completed 21 of 40 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown.
“Weird feeling after this game,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “I’m really proud of the way our defensive kids battled. We struggled offensively in a lot of ways. … Florida State did a nice job.”
FSU running back Cam Akers, meanwhile, was surprisingly held in check for much of the evening. But he made his biggest impact in perhaps the second half’s most crucial moment, a fourth-and-1 around midfield a few moments after NC State made it 24-13.
The end result – a 41-yard touchdown run that effectively sealed the game – is what stands out, but the play’s context and execution made it that much more impressive.
Rather than show any indecision or confusion, the Seminoles went straight into their up-tempto offense, rushed to the line of scrimmage and took advantage of an NC State defensive front that was on its heels.
There were no pre-snap penalties or missed assignments. Only FSU’s offense, running as intended.
“I was really excited for our football team to finish the ball game that way,” Taggart said. “We told Cam, ‘We’re going to try to get you the ball more, and this is where we want you to pound them and make them tap out.’
“I thought he did a good job of running there at the end.”
Akers finished with 83 yards on 17 attempts, which was nearly enough to match NC State’s entire rushing total.
The Wolfpack, which came into the game averaging more than 200 yards on the ground, finished with only 88 yards on 28 attempts.
That marks the third consecutive game in which FSU’s defense has held an opponent well under its season rushing average.
“One thing we talked about was being good at something,” Taggart said. “First couple ball games, we couldn’t say we were good at anything. I think, in the last three ball games, we can say we’re pretty good at stopping the run now.
“We found something to be good at, and we need to continue to build off of it.”
Safety Cyrus Fagan led the Seminoles with 10 tackles (eight solo stops) and a fumble recovery, while redshirt freshman Amari Gainer finished with nine tackles, two sacks and a late forced fumble that denied an NC State touchdown.
The Seminoles held a healthy advantage in total offense until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, and they won time of possession for the first time this season.
“Defense has definitely been turning around over the past few weeks,” Gainer said.
“When you have people that you trust around you, it’s easier to do your job. I improve every day in practice. I focus on running to the ball and executing and I feel like we’re all starting to do that, which is starting to carry over into the game.”
The news, however, wasn’t entirely good for the defense. Redshirt junior defensive end Janarius Robinson was flagged for targeting early in the fourth quarter and was ejected. Per NCAA rules, he will be suspended for the first half of FSU’s next game.
It was one of 13 FSU penalties, but Taggart, for a change, wasn’t seeing red at all the yellow this time.
“I don’t think all of those were selfish penalties,” he said. “I thought our guys were playing really hard and sometime those things just happen.”