For the first time since 2000, Florida State has won a BCS bowl game. The Seminoles defeated the Huskies of NIU, 31-10.
Florida State's first half was somewhat frustrating, mostly because of special teams play.
The Seminoles' defense held the Huskies' offense to a paltry 75 yards on 29 plays, for a pathetic 2.7 yards/play. NIU did have a fake punt of 35 yards -- its longest play of the half, that set up its only score. Star QB Jordan Lynch, who had commented earlier in the week that NIU would have the Florida State defense on its knees, was held to just 4-15 passing for 52 yards (3.5 per throw), and could manage only 24 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Florida State's offense moved the football extremely well, totaling 328 yards on 42 plays, good for an excellent 7.8/play. However, the Seminoles had a few key drive-killing mistakes, including a fumble by Nick O'Leary on a long gain off a beautiful play-action fake, an overthrow by EJ Manuel, and a dropped pass. Another drive ended in no points when Dustin Hopkins missed a field goal attempt of 50 yards. NIU routinely gave Florida State large cushions on the outside, and EJ Manuel took advantage, throwing 28 times for 242 yards in the half. The running game was not as good, aside from runs of 60 and 15, as FSU's blocking was inconsistent and a running back missed the hole at least once. FSU also simply lacked the attempts, calling only 13 designed runs in the first half, as compared to 28 passes. Granted, NIU was giving Florida State the throw, but more runs would have probably been wise against a small NIU front. Oh, and NIU took a big shot at Manuel's legs, which ESPN's Matt Millen deemed "clean and safe."
Special teams really hurt Florida State, as NIU had several excellent punts, and had a huge edge in starting field position. The long field played into NIU's favor, as it forced FSU to execute repeatedly in smaller chunks down the field, eventually leading to a mistake.
Florida State took the ball to open the second half and drove 9 plays and 68 yards, ending in a field goal, as Manuel misfired on two sure touchdown opportunities in the red zone. FSU extended its lead to 17-3. The field goal by Hopkins was the 88th in his career, setting a new NCAA record for career field goals made.
The ensuing drive for NIU started at its own 13 after a penalty, and Florida State stuffed the first two plays before NIU had a tremendous throw-&-catch on a wheel route down the sideline for 55 yards. Christian Jones had good coverage initially, but the 5'7, 183-pound running back was too much for Jones' that far down the field. Lynch followed with a nice scramble for 23 and then hit his favorite target Martel Moore for an 11-yard TD on a deep crossing route that came out of a huge pick play (not called) to cut the lead to 17-10.
Northern Illinois followed with a surprise onside kick and recovered it at the NIU 47. The kick was executed perfectly, but FSU likely should have been ready for it. Perhaps it is worth noting that special teams coach Eddie Gran left in December for Cincinnati. Northern Illinois converted two third downs. Star cornerback Xavier Rhodes went down to injury on the second conversion. On a third crucial third down, however, FSU had tremendous coverage and NIU's Lynch tried to do too much, and was intercepted by Terrence Brooks along the sideline.
Florida State drove from its 33 to the 48, but a curious deep ball throw on third-&-4, a very low-percentage play, was out of bounds and uncatchable. FSU punted to the NIU 11.
Florida State forced a three-&-out and started its drive at the FSU 39. A curious reverse call went for a gain of one, and an option to James Wilder Jr. netted two, but an NIU late hit gave Florida State 15 yards. A nice run by Wilder was followed by a nice run-after-catch to Kenny Shaw for 14. Manuel then wildly overthrew a bubble screen, which put the Seminoles behind the chains. A Wilder run of three was followed by a nice scramble by Manuel of 13. It was one of the rare times on the night in which Manuel was pressured. Manuel followed with a 9-yard scamper for the TD to put Florida State up 24-10.
NIU fumbled on the ensuing drive, and FSU added a 37-yard score off a belly play to Lonnie Pryor after NIU failed to properly align to halfback motion from the backfield. The run put Pryor over the 100-yard mark, the first time in his career he has eclipsed the mark.
In all, Florida State finished with more than 500 yards of offense, and held NIU to less than 300 (official stats to come).
The Seminoles finish the season at 12-2.