Florida State rode three second-half touchdowns to a 31-13 victory over Florida to take home-state bragging rights.
The Gators are known for their stout defense and playing low-scoring games that turn into a battle of attrition. The first half was shaping up to be their kind of game, as they faced a 10-3 hole at intermission.
Florida’s inability to create consistent offense wound up being its undoing. The game turned late in the third quarter when the Gators got great field position after Chauncey Gardner intercepted a Deondre Francois pass and returned it to the Seminoles’ 27-yard line.
Florida gained just three yards on the drive, with quarterback Austin Appleby unable to put the ball into Antonio Callaway’s hands inside the 5 on third down. The Gators settled for a field goal to make the score 10-6.
On Florida State’s next possession, Travis Rudolph got behind Florida’s secondary on 3rd-and-10 for a 46-yard touchdown pass from Francois to give the Seminoles a 17-6 lead.
ESPN CollegeFootball noted Florida State has been money in the third quarter this season:
Travis Rudolph gets a big 46-yard TD to put the Noles up 17-6 in the 3rd quarter. pic.twitter.com/sUYNbAiqnM
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 27, 2016
Rudolph’s touchdown was a play Florida State desperately needed. Francois was struggling to figure out the Gators defense with 72 passing yards until the score. He didn’t start lighting up the stat sheet, finishing 15-of-26 for 138 yards, 63 rushing yards, two total touchdowns and one interception.
Fortunately, the Seminoles did have Dalvin Cook to shoulder a lot of responsibility. The dazzling junior had 153 yards on 26 carries, with SportsCenter offering this nugget and highlight after his first-quarter touchdown:
Keep the record books open. Dalvin Cook now holds the FSU all-time records for Rush yards and Rush TDs. https://t.co/WtlGYlVLCh
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 27, 2016
Cook is ending the season—and possibly his college career—on a high note with three straight 100-yard rushing games and eight times in the last nine contests.
Freddie Stevenson would deliver Florida State’s knockout punch five plays into the fourth quarter with a 27-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 24-6.
This was not the high mark Florida wanted to take into its SEC Championship showdown with Alabama next week. The Gators looked lethargic on offense, to say the least, with 207 total yards in defeat.
Appleby has not been the answer down the stretch, finishing this game 19-of-35 for 149 yards, though Luke Del Rio was hardly setting the world on fire when he was healthy with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country did give Florida head coach Jim McElwain something of a pass for his lack of offensive firepower virtually all season:
When McElwain is starting a quarterback that he recruited and developed. https://t.co/HvD6jbfvZo
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) November 27, 2016
ESPN’s Edward Aschoff called out the Gators offense for their output the last two seasons:
Seeing Florida in the SEC title game without any sort of offense in consecutive years is so bad. Tennessee must be livid
— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) November 27, 2016
The one touchdown Florida was able to score against Florida State came on special teams when Chris Thompson stripped a punt out of Nyqwan Murray’s hands and Marcell Harris returned the ball 12 yards into the end zone.
It had been a long time since Florida scored a touchdown against Florida State, per Tim Linafelt of Seminoles.com:
That’s Florida’s first touchdown against FSU since the third quarter in 2014. But still not an offensive TD, FWIW.
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) November 27, 2016
There’s no way to spin the offensive numbers in Florida’s favor. It went 0-of-12 on third down, managed only 14 first downs and averaged 3.2 yards per play.
Things are only going to get more difficult next week against Alabama’s second-ranked defense, so Florida better hope it can find some answers in a short amount of time.
The Seminoles may have missed out on a chance to play for the ACC Championship thanks to three conference losses, but they are ending the year strong and have put themselves in position to warrant a spot in the Orange Bowl after Louisville’s loss against Kentucky earlier in the day.
Fisher addressed the topic of coaching rumors and why he remains with the Seminoles despite his name routinely coming up for the LSU job before the school was announced Ed Orgeron would take over permanently.
“I love Florida State. … I love the hell out of it,” Fisher said, per Warchant.com.
Moving on the field with the Seminoles, Fisher believes his team has turned a corner this season.
“We’re as hot as anybody,” per Linafelt. “I mean. We’re hot.”
He also wouldn’t let this moment pass without talking about how valuable Cook has been to the program, per Linafelt: “Tell you what, you’re blessed to coach certain guys in your career. And he’s one of them.”
McElwain did not take too kindly when asked about how he expects Florida to bounce back in seven days, per Ryan Young of SEC Country:
We’ll get home about 3 in the morning probably. I don’t know whether they’ll come back or not. It’s going to be a heck of a test. … Yeah, I’m concerned. These guys have been through a ton now and they played their tails off today and it hurts, but you know, as a competitor you tear off the rearview mirror and you go forward. Our team will be ready. I have no idea what kind of question that was, but to question that locker room right there and those players.
Quickly turning the page from that question, McElwain later said he expects Florida’s offense to eventually resemble what Fisher has built: “Yeah, and we’ll get there. We’ll get there.”