The Seminoles dropped a heartbreaker on Saturday night to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, blowing a 13-3 lead and failing to score in the second half against a Tech defense that came into the game ranked 74th, nationally.
This one didn't need to go down in the loss column for the Seminoles. Frankly, it may not have wound up close if FSU could have seized on some gift-wrapped opportunities early on. Josh Sweat's phenomenal interception set up the 'Nole offense at the Tech 19 on its second possession, and after Dalvin Cook's second carry saw him scamper to the GT two, an FSU touchdown seemed inevitable. Or rather, it would have earlier in the season, when the Seminoles were turning their red-zone chances into sixes, and not threes.
But in a precursor of things to come, the interior line wasn't able to open a sufficient hole for Cook. Both of his rushes once FSU got to the two went for no gain, but one would have been six were it not for quarterback Everrett Golson's poor decision to hand off on a read option that should have remained in his hands. And then on third down, Golson connected with Travis Rudolph in the end zone, but Rudolph couldn't stay in bounds. 7-0 instead became 3-0.
After GT tied it at three, on Florida State's next possession, Golson overthrew Bobo Wilson on a deep post after the latter had gotten several steps on his defender. Make the right read from the two. Hit Wilson for the score. 14-3, 'Noles. That's huge, as the Seminoles not only would have dominated momentum, but they would have forced a methodical Tech team that likes to bleed the clock to perhaps speed up some, maybe put the ball in the air a bit more, where the 'Noles were quite dominant.
Not quite. Instead, more sloppiness. A holding call. A fumble (recovered by FSU). A sack. And we're still talking about the same possession. The line, which was supposed to push around their undersized counterparts from Atlanta (who don't boast a single defensive lineman over 300 pounds), allowed three sacks and routinely saw Golson running for his life.
They didn't block well in the running game either, as Cook, whom many figured would register north of 200 yards against a Tech rushing defense coming in ranked 86th in the country, produced just 82 yards on 17 carries, a rather pedestrian total for the talented sophomore. Fisher went four wide a lot more than I thought he might, and Tech effectively defended the receiver screen-- the only passing play the 'Noles had heretofore executed consistently.
FSU's only optimal red-zone result came in the second quarter, when a Lamarcus Brutus interception again gifted the 'Noles the ball deep in GT territory, at the two. Cook took the first play up the middle, and Florida State had its only touchdown of the game. One play. One touchdown. In ten possessions. Against this Jackets defense. Including a 2-10 mark on third down, which effectively allowed the GT offense back on the field to chew clock and shorten the game, make it come down to one possession. One play.
Florida State extended to its largest lead in the second quarter, but, again, three should have been six. Prior to settling for an Aguayo field goal, Golson had Cook wide open in the flat and made the wrong read. Cook walks in from there. Another missed opportunity. Actual score: 13-3, FSU. What could -- and really, should -- have been: 21-3, Florida State.
FSU did well getting the ball to Cook on some middle passes, but again, there were times when he had ample real estate and didn't get the ball. This is on not only Golson but the line as well-- it's tough to progress through your reads when you're trying to evade defenders.
Golson also could have been put in better position to succeed, as play calling was in issue, too. FSU ran five offensive plays in the third quarter, and Dalvin Cook did not record a single rush, as all five were passes. That's just not effective balance, not to mention near-criminal underuse of your most dynamic player in a close game. Sorry, but you're not thinking about resting Cook when you're in a dogfight.
When GT pulled to 16-13, FSU really tried to flex its muscles some in the fourth quarter, as it broke out 22 personel (two running backs and two tight ends) and ran plays out of bunch formations. It began on a huge third and two, when Fisher's best play call of the night worked to perfection, as Golson used boot action to hit Ryan Izzo on a flag route for a 21-yard gain. And it kept working, getting Florida State a first and goal from the Tech nine.
And then, for the second straight game, line play fell apart, primarily mentally. Fisher mentioned, several times in his post-game comments, how FSU lost its poise late, and for good reason. A penalty on Derrick Kelly. Another on Rod Johnson. Second and goal from the three had become third and goal from the 14. And then it finally happened. Golson again found Rudolph in the back of the end zone, though late and behind the latter, and when a GT defender was able to knock the ball loose, it was picked on a deflection. It was Florida State's first offensive turnover of the season, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.
Yet another red-zone failure. The Seminoles' red-zone touchdown percentage coming into this one? 102nd in the FBS, at 52.38% That got worse on Saturday, as FSU scored just a lone TD on four red-zone possessions. That's not going to work, folks. It didn't against Tech, and it most certainly will not against Clemson and Florida-- perhaps even vs. NC State.
But FSU would have yet another chance to take a two-score lead as time ran down, but another penalty, a botched snap, and the resultant intentional grounding call nixed that. Holding is one thing, but illegal formation? That should never happen. That's a poorly prepared offense.
After the Jackets tied it at 16, FSU had one last shot with 54 seconds left and a pair of timeouts. The 'Noles finally decided to make it the Dalvin Cook show, getting him the ball rushing and receiving. The urgency -- and FSU finally not playing at a snail's pace -- seemed to pay off. Perhaps some of the last plays speak volumes about the Seminole offensive effort. Yet another line penalty cost the 'Noles much needed field position. And then, with 10 seconds left, an out-route throw that should have been caught bounded off Rudolph.
Aguayo, off course, was blocked from 56 yards out, and GT scooped up the miss downfield and ran it in for a game-winning 78-yard touchdown. The real poetic justice of it for FSU? Aguayo confessed after the game that he hits balls a bit lower when he attempts field goals from 55+ yards. That last penalty. That final drop. They very well could have been the difference between the 'Noles carrying Aguayo off the field and the Georgia Tech student body rushing it.
And maybe that's why the manner in which FSU lost is oddly fitting in this one. Time and again, field goals could have been touchdowns, but repeatedly, the 'Noles turned to Aguayo to get them something, anything. In the end, the Seminoles' shortcomings had them relying on Aguayo's heroics one time too many.