Entering the Peach Bowl matchup with Houston, the Florida State offense seemed poised to have a big game. After all, Dalvin Cook hadn't played a game since November 28th against UF and would likely be as healthy as he has been since suffering the initial hamstring injury that occurred against Wake Forest back in early October. Additionally, Sean Maguire, who has looked quite impressive for stretches of this season, would be going up against a Houston pass defense that entered the Peach Bowl ranked 109th in the nation, allowing 256.3 passing yards per game.
However, neither Maguire nor Cook was able to provide a consistent performance on New Years' Eve and it led to a 38-24 loss at the hands of the Cougars.
The script that was set early in the game, FSU's inability to keep the offense on the field, continued throughout the game as only 3 of the Seminoles' 16 drives consisted of six or more plays and nine of those drives were three or fewer plays.
The pivotal moment of the game came late in the first quarter when Maguire was injured after he was hit hard while delivering an incomplete pass in the Houston red zone. It was quickly evident how badly he was injured as he was unable to put any weight on the injured left foot. Due to the early departure of Everett Golson, J.J. Cosentino, who had never played in non-garbage time before, was called upon to lead the offense in Maguire's absence and it was immediately clear that he was not ready for the opportunity. Cosentino led an offense that had been generating 9.2 yards per play before Maguire's departure to -1.4 yards per play in his seven snaps at quarterback before Maguire's return.
Even when Maguire made his triumphant return from the locker room to a loud ovation from the Florida State faithful, he was obviously not 100%. He had his right foot heavily wrapped and was seen after postgame wearing a boot and sporting crutches with what Jimbo Fisher shared was a sprained ankle. Maguire's lingering injury preventing him from moving outside the pocket and seemed to limit his ability to drive his throws as well. After Maguire's injury, FSU was held to 4.8 yards per play for the rest of the game.
Maguire was still able to exploit the questionable Houston pass coverage, racking up an impressive 392 yards on 22-44 passing but that will be overshadowed by his inconsistent play, both in miscommunications with receivers and underthrown deep passes, which led to four interceptions.
It was a similar story with Cook, who had arguably his worst game of the season. Cook finished with 18 carries for 33 yards (1.8 yards per carry), his worst single-game yards total and yards per carry total of the season. A portion of Cook's inability to get going can be attributed to his offensive line failing to create a crease for him on multiple occasions. However, even when he had a seam to get past the initial Houston defenders, he was unable to evade or outrun the second level of defenders, who did an impeccable job pursuing and, more importantly, wrapping Cook up before he could really get into his fastest gear.
The main bright spot of the Florida State came from the Seminole receiving corps, most notably from Travis Rudolph, who needed only seven catches to surpass 200 receiving yards, finishing with 201, just outside the top ten in Florida State history. Rudolph is just the third FSU receiver to surpass 200 yards in a single game since 2000 and the first since Kelvin Benjamin did it in 2013. Scarily, Rudolph could have had even more ridiculous stats if Maguire had not missed him on a number of intermediate routes. Nonetheless, Rudolph was the major positive takeaway from the Peach Bowl and has established himself as a major contender to be the most consistently successful receiver next season.
The Florida State offensive line that showed sizable improvement over the course of the season seemed to take a step back in the Peach Bowl loss to Houston. They did eliminate the costly and far too consistent penalties that have plagued them for months now, committing no penalties as a unit. However, they were absolutely dominated by the Houston defensive front, with the Cougars often bringing extra rushers and well-schemed blitzes that the Seminoles seemed completely unable to stop. Maguire faced pressure nearly every time he dropped back and Cook was often brought down in the backfield due to a complete lack of a hole for him to hit.
The best thing to take away from the offense's performance is how much they could improve this offseason. Florida State played no offensive seniors in the Peach Bowl and will likely return every member of the unit next season including a group of young receivers that will be a year older and more developed, an offensive line group that will start the season with around 70 career starts (they started this season with five combined starts), and three quarterbacks who all seem capable of leading the offense. That, along with an already dangerous defense, could make for an entertaining 2016 season.