Coming off of their first ACC loss in over three years, there were many questions about how this Florida State team would bounce back against Syracuse. Those questions grew louder when word spread that Everett Golson was not practicing and became amplified further when Jimbo Fisher told the media on Thursday that Dalvin Cook would miss the Syracuse game with a left ankle injury suffered in the loss to the Georgia Tech.
The questions became outright concerns when it was announced less than two hours before kickoff that Everett Golson would also miss the Syracuse game with a concussion. For the second time in as many seasons, Florida State backup quarterback Sean Maguire was thrust into the starting spot with little time to prepare. The first time, last year's Clemson game, was a mixed performance for Maguire, who threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown but also had multiple misses and two interceptions.
Early on in the game against the Orange, it seemed that Maguire and Jacques Patrick, the true freshman running back who was called upon to replace Cook, were not ready for the big stage. Patrick took a carry on the first play from scrimmage and only tallied a single yard. This was immediately followed by a screen to Kermit Whitfield that was blown up, a false start penalty on Whitfield, and a sack of Maguire, resulting in a punt by Cason Beatty from his own endzone after 3 offensive plays that resulted in -12 yards of offense.
The second possession was only marginally better as the Seminoles earned a single first down before punting once again. The ensuing Syracuse drive resulted in a touchdown, the first time this season that Florida State has not scored first, and the Maguire-led offense found themselves in a hole that would not be simple to climb out of.
However, when things were looking down for FSU, Maguire rose to the occasion, hitting Travis Rudolph on the first play of the next drive for a 75-yard touchdown pass, the longest pass by a Florida State quarterback this season.
From there, Maguire, with some help from his supporting cast, took full control of the game and did everything in his power to re-open the quarterback battle that was taking place during fall camp. He completed his first nine passes and had 151 passing yards, along with 2 touchdowns, by the end of the first quarter. At halftime, he had compiled 302 passing yards, the first FSU QB to pass for over 300 in a half since Chris Weinke did it against Clemson in 2000. By the middle of the fourth quarter, Maguire was on the sideline with FSU holding a 45-14 lead and J.J. Cosentino in the game behind center.
Entering the season, after Golson was named the starting quarterback, it seemed that his athleticism and ability to keep plays alive with his legs was what won him the job. However, Maguire opened up the vertical passing game significantly more than Golson has this season and took advantage of the Syracuse secondary that entered the game 91st in the FBS and dead last in the ACC in passing defense. Florida State had only 3 passing plays of 40+ yards entering the Syracuse game before accumulating 2 passing plays of 40+ yards in the first quarter of Saturday's game.
When asked what impressed him most about Maguire's performance, Fisher was straight to the point, saying "The thing that I was happiest about was his game management, the poise, making sure everybody was on the same page. Taking care of the football and staying aggressive at the same time. Staying aggressive but smart in how he played the position."
Just one week after struggling against Georgia Tech, a game that saw him narrowly miss on a pair of touchdowns that would have gone a long way towards changing the outcome of the game, Travis Rudolph had a career day against the Orange. By the end of the first quarter, Rudolph had touchdowns of 75 and 45 yards and ended up with 191 receiving yards (his first time surpassing the 100-yard mark) and three touchdowns (his first multiple-touchdown game). His 191 receiving yards puts him at No. 15 on the Florida State all-time single-game list.
On top of Maguire being thrown into the starting lineup, it was known that there would be a new starting running back for Florida State, with Cook out and Mario Pender still recovering from his collapsed lung. The unknown in the situation was whether they would continue to call upon Jonathan Vickers in Cook's absence or if they would allow true freshman Jacques Patrick to have a larger role. From the onset, it was clear that this was Patrick's game to prove himself. He carried the ball seven times in the opening quarter and had 15 carries by halftime. Although it took a few drives for him to get going, Patrick showed that he is a more than viable option in the Cook-less backfield, racking up 229 all-purpose yards on 24 carries and 6 catches to go along with his trio of touchdowns. Patrick played to the strengths of his 6'2" 235-pound frame, not shying away from any contact and forcing defenders to out-physical him in the open field. Although Cook will assuredly return to his starting role when his ankle heals, Patrick established himself as a very dangerous change-of-pace back in the win over the Orange.
In addition to starting a new quarterback and running back, there were a pair of starting offensive linemen, Derrick Kelly and Ryan Hoefeld, who were out against Syracuse. Brock Ruble, who opened the season as the starting right tackle, and Alec Eberle were summoned to replace the missing linemen, making this the seventh different offensive line combination that the Seminoles have trotted out there. Like the rest of the team, the offensive line struggled early in the game, allowing a sack on the first series. From that point on, however, the line excelled in protection, allowing no more sacks, in addition to no quarterback hurries and creating the holes for Patrick to have his massive game. There were some lingering penalty issues from the offensive line as there were multiple false starts, along with a hold or two. However, the offense was clicking well enough that they were often able to overcome those setbacks, the main difference from last week's loss to the Yellow Jackets.
With many fans worried about this depleted offense that had been struggling even when fully healthy, this was definitely a statement game. The Seminoles finished the game with 575 yards of offense, more than double their offensive output against Georgia Tech, and they did it while missing their quarterback, two running backs, and a pair of offensive linemen. With Clemson on the horizon, the offense may have started clicking at the perfect moment.