CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Two realities emerged from the Florida State locker room following a 31-24 defeat at No. 25 Virginia on Saturday night.
The first was that the Seminoles must bounce back quickly from their second gut-punch loss in the span of three games. There’s no time to despair with a stronger-than-expected Louisville team coming to Tallahassee next week.
And two – and this one is most important in head coach Willie Taggart’s mind – is that, if they can move on and maximize the good things that they did on Saturday night in Charlottesville, there’s a lot left for the Seminoles to still achieve.
Yes, FSU is 1-2 for a third straight season. But, even after a disappointing start, the Seminoles can still reach the postseason. They can still compete for the unofficial “state championship” with rivals Miami and Florida. And they can still have a say in the ACC Atlantic Division race.
“We have nine more ball games,” Taggart said. “This one hurts. But everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us. We’ve got to be so much better if we want to accomplish these things, but it’s still right there.”
Like in their opener against Boise State, the Seminoles on Saturday seemed to have turned a corner.
They led favored Virginia for much of the evening. They played their best defense of the season over the first three quarters. And they forced two UVA turnovers while not committing any themselves.
That FSU looked so much like a winning team for much of the evening only made its loss that much more difficult to swallow.
But the final result, which came after a wild, frantic finish, doesn’t mean that all the positives that came before didn’t happen.
FSU just needs to do more of those positives, and for longer.
“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress,” said receiver Keyshawn Helton, who had a team-high five catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. “I think we showed a lot of people today that we’re a football team capable of winning a lot of games.”
It doesn’t hurt that, outside of No. 1 Clemson, much of the ACC still seems totally up in the air.
FSU’s next opponent, Louisville, is 2-1 and, under the guidance of new coach Scott Satterfield has already matched its win total from last year. But the Cardinals lost their only game against a major opponent – Notre Dame – by double-digits.
After that, the Seminoles will face an NC State team that was throttled Saturday at rebuilding West Virginia.
Future opponents Miami and Syracuse are both 1-2, and Boston College on Friday suffered the indignity of giving Kansas its first road win over a “power five” team since 2008.
Which means that, outside of that trip to Clemson in a few weeks, FSU’s toughest remaining ACC test could be at Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons are 3-0 after topping North Carolina this week, and, if things break the right way, they have a chance to be 6-0 by the time the Seminoles visit on October 19.
“We know we’ve got to play much better if we’re going to win those ball games,” Taggart said. “But they’re there in front of us. So, to fall apart (after a 1-2 start), there’s no need for that.”
The Seminoles remain confident that they won’t. And they’ve identified a fairly obvious way to help their cause.
“We’ve just got to get rid of those penalties,” Helton said.
Indeed, after flashing some progress in that regard against Boise State (five for 44 yards), the Seminoles slid back into their pattern of penalties during the last two weeks.
They’ve committed 21 combined infractions in their last two games and surrendered 191 yards in the process.
FSU ranks 119th nationally in total penalties and 122nd in penalty yardage.
“We can’t have those,” Helton said. “That’s what Coach Taggart overemphasizes in practice. You cannot have those penalties. Those selfish penalties, the personal fouls and things like that, we can’t have them if we want to win games.”
Based on what they saw in the locker room Saturday night, both Helton and his teammates believe that they’ll correct their mistakes and tighten up those small details.
And that, once they do, the wins will follow.
“I’m very confident,” Helton said. “A lot of guys are uplifted. I think we improved a lot this game. We’ve just got to have a short-term memory, go watch some film and move on to Louisville.”
Added defensive tackle Cory Durden: “At the end of the day, we’re going to be a good football team. We’re making strides. We’re going to win games”.