TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It took 30 minutes for the Florida State Seminoles to show how far they have come.
It took 30 more to show how far they still have to go.
Playing in their first game under new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, the Seminoles were absolutely electric in the first half, rolling to 31 points and striking for quick touchdowns of 75, 58 and 38 yards.
Then Boise State pulled the plug.
Thanks to two touchdowns from running back Robert Mahone and five field goals from kicker Eric Sachse, the Broncos scored 23 unanswered points to erase an 18-point FSU lead and escape with a stunning, 36-31 victory in front of 50,917 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The game was originally to be played in Jacksonville, Fla., but on Thursday was moved to Tallahassee due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian.
Watch: A tale of two halves as Broncos rally to beat Florida State
“Tough loss,” Florida State head coach Willie Taggart said. “Let one get away.”
A game, yes.
Taggart, however, was quick to insist that this game, disappointing as it was, will not define the Seminoles’ entire season.
“I believe we’ll have a good football team this year,” he said.
They’ll get their next chance to show it on Saturday, when they host ULM at 5 p.m. (ACC Network)
Between now and then, the Seminoles will go about the business of moving on from this one, a task made all the more difficult by just how good things were going at the start.
Early on, Florida State could have hardly looked any different – or better – than the team that went 5-7 a year ago.
The Seminoles forced a turnover on Boise State’s first possession, Cam Akers broke loose for a 38-yard touchdown just moments later and FSU scored touchdowns on its first three drives of the game.
Even better? All three of those touchdowns more than lived up to Taggart’s “score fast, score often” mantra – they required drives of 43 seconds, 7 seconds and 2 minutes, 35 seconds, respectively.
Blackman, a redshirt sophomore, completed 14 of his first 17 passes and finished 23 of 33 for 327 yards and three scores. And Akers showed signs that he’s back in form, rushing for 116 yards on just 15 carries to reach the century-mark for the sixth time of his career.
“Our guys executed,” Taggart said. “James did a good job throwing the ball down the field. O-line did a good job of blocking. We didn’t have a lot of pre-snap penalties, not a lot of penalties in the first half at all.”
And yet, despite FSU’s offensive success and leads of 24-6 and, later, 31-13, there were a few things in the box score that couldn’t help but wedge themselves in the back of an FSU fan’s mind.
Like how Boise State averaged more than five yards per carry on the ground in the first half, and often took advantage of missed FSU tackles to pick up more.
Or how the Broncos visited the red zone twice in the first quarter but came away with just two short field goals.
Or how, as a result of FSU’s quick-strike offense, the Seminoles’ defense spent an awfully long time on the field – more than 20 minutes in the first half as temperatures climbed near 100 degrees.
Had FSU’s offense kept up its scoring pace, those things might not have mattered.
But when Briles’ group sputtered out of the break – they punted or turned the ball over on each of nine second-half drives – all of those would-be footnotes took on a much larger significance.
“I feel like we started to panic a bit,” Taggart said. “Things didn’t go well the first drive, the second drive, (then) our guys started pressing a little bit rather than just relaxing and trusting the schemes and things that we’re doing.”
With the offense struggling to find its footing, the Broncos then went back to work on an FSU defense softened by body blows over the previous two periods.
Led by Mahone (24 carries, 142 yards), Boise State’s ground game roughed up the Seminoles for 251 yards on 51 carries.
And once the Broncos got rolling, they were brutal in their efficiency. They had 10 runs of 10-plus yards but only one that went for more than 20 yards.
“It comes down to execution on defense,” Taggart said. “If you’re supposed to be in the gap, you need to be in the gap. If you’ve got to make the tackle, you’ve got to make the tackle.
“You can’t have a lot of missed tackles. We had a lot of missed tackles today.”
That, in turn, opened things up for quarterback Hank Bachmeier, a true freshman making his first career start. Bachmeier went into halftime having completed just 13 of 28 passes for 192 yards and an interception.
He finished 30 of 51 for 407 yards and added an 11-yard scoring pass to Khalil Shakir that cut FSU’s lead to 31-26 late in the third quarter.
That play came on a third-and-7, and was one of 10 Boise State third-down conversions. The Broncos were 10 of 19, the Seminoles 1 of 12.
“I thought, offensively, that’s one thing that hurt us, was third down,” Taggart said. “We didn’t convert. You have to if you’re going to win ballgames. …
“We didn’t do it. They did.”
Desperate for an answer, the Seminoles’ offense went three-and-out on its next drive – one of four such results in the second half.
The Broncos got within two on their ensuing possession and then took the lead a few moments later when Mahone plunged in from a yard out.
That touchdown stung for the obvious reason, but also because the Seminoles had nearly forced a turnover just two plays before.
With a Boise State receiver headed toward the end zone, Hamsah Nasirildeen jarred the ball loose and into a pocket of FSU defenders. But seniors Levonta Taylor and Dontavious Jackson both went for the ball, neither came up with it and the Broncos ended up recovering at the Seminoles’ 4-yard line.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Taylor said. “Everybody was just trying to get the ball back.”
Faced with their first deficit of the day, the Seminoles got the ball back twice with chances to reclaim the lead.
The first resulted in three plays and a punt.
The second, after another Boise State field goal, showed a little more promise, but ultimately ended in the same fashion.
Starting at their own 25-yard line with 2:25 to play, Blackman led the Seminoles to midfield after connecting with Tre’ McKitty for eight yards on fourth-and-four.
But instead of moving forward with the Broncos on their heels, FSU instead went backward. A holding penalty nullified the conversion, and an illegal formation flag on fourth-and-14 resulted in a turnover on downs.
It was a most painful ending for the offense, which struggled with those types of penalties a year ago but had played a much cleaner game up to that point.
FSU was flagged just five times on Saturday, but two of those flags were on those final two plays.
“We had a play-call that we wanted,” Taggart said. “Unfortunately, we lined up wrong.”
The Broncos then lined up in victory formation and, three knees later, were headed off the field with a win that, an hour or so before, seemed so likely to be headed the other way.
Despite committing three turnovers and surrendering six sacks, the Broncos also finished with 621 total yards – the most allowed by an FSU defense since the 2015 Rose Bowl.
“I do feel like we got comfortable with the big lead,” added receiver Keyshawn Helton, who caught a 58-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. “… Us getting comfortable is something we cannot do in the future.”
The Seminoles want to move toward that future as quickly as possible.
In their post-game media availabilities, both Taggart and a handful of players said that, despite a similar result, this year’s team is far better built to handle some early adversity.
And that the group that never seemed to recover after a difficult loss in last season’s opener has matured and learned from past mistakes.
“We’re focusing on this year,” sophomore linebacker Jaiden Lars-Woodbey said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
That work will begin on Sunday.
“We are going to hit the ground running (Sunday) morning,” Blackman said. “Because we are not trying to feel this feeling again.”