It wasn’t always pretty but, at the end of the day, it got the job done.
Florida State escaped Hard Rock Stadium with a narrow 20-19 victory over the Miami Hurricanes, extending the Seminoles’ win streak over UM to seven straight games
But what are the offensive observations from FSU’s come-from-behind victory? Overwhelmingly positive? Negative? Well, it depends which half you are looking at.
After the Seminole defense forced a three-and-out on its first series of the game, the Florida State offense took the field looking to take advantage. The Miami defense, though, had other ideas.
Moving the ball proved to be tedious for the Seminoles in the opening thirty minutes. Yes, they went into halftime with more yards than Miami (192-189) but an inability to methodically drive, as well as struggles to keep Deondre Francois upright spelled trouble for Florida State.
One major key that Jimbo Fisher impressed this week to win against Miami was a physicality on the offensive line. In the first two quarters, saying that FSU’s OL was outmatched in the physicality department would be a massive understatement. Miami finished the game with seven pass break-ups in all, four of which were batted balls by defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage.
This consistent pressure on Francois hindered what he was capable of in the pass game and also knocked him out of the game for a spell.
On the final play of the first quarter, Francois was driven into the ground onto his throwing shoulder. He lost his helmet on the play, requiring him to leave the field for a play. However, he actually remained off for the next two series as well.
While he was receiving treatment on his shoulder inside Florida State’s medical tent, redshirt senior Sean Maguire entered the game at quarterback.
In that brief stretch of game, Maguire showed why even if he had been healthy for the entirety of fall camp, Francois would have emerged as the starting QB for FSU’s season opener. His first pass attempt was behind Bobo Wilson, causing him to slide down to make the catch and preventing what could definitely have been a significant yards-after-catch play.
Maguire’s second pass attempt, though, is the more damning example for him. Immediately after a breakout, 54-yard run by Dalvin Cook, Maguire made the critical mistake of throwing a red-zone interception directly to Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson, halting all progress.
As a result of this, Florida State was nearly shutout in a first half for the first time since the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. However, Francois returned to action and a 64-yard drive was capped with a Ricky Aguayo field goal late in the first half to cut the UM lead at the half to 13-3.
It wasn’t a particularly pretty half offensively but the Florida State defense did enough to keep FSU in the game and the Seminole offense bounced back with a stellar showing in the second half.
Francois, who finished the first half with 82 passing yards and completed just nine of his 18 attempts, was on fire in the third quarter, racking up 144 yards on 10-11 passing with two touchdowns through the air in the third quarter alone.
In that third quarter, Florida State managed a ridiculous 9.2 yards per play and moved the ball almost at will against a Miami defense that gave the ‘Noles fits in the first half. In fact, after UM’s lengthy third-quarter drive came up empty with an endzone interception, FSU outgained UM 211-39 over the final 26:18 of the game.
It is definitely worth stating that FSU’s improved offensive efficiency in the second half extends well beyond what Francois was able to do. There was marked improvement from the physicality of the Seminoles’ offensive line and it showed on the field, especially in short-yardage situations. Florida State converted on five of eight third downs (62.5%) in the second half (9-17 over the whole game).
Additionally, Florida State possessed the ball for more than 20 minutes in the second half. This, in turn, had a clear correlation to the wearing down of the Miami defense which was able to affect so many aspects of the game in the opening half.
The one yet unmentioned aspect of the Florida State offense that could be considered the most crucial to the win is Dalvin Cook. Cook, who played his high school football at nearby Miami Central, relished the chance to play against his hometown Hurricanes. Cook finished with 150 rushing yards and 59 receiving yards to go along with his receiving touchdown, putting him over 200 all-purpose yards for the third straight game and going over 1,000 yards from scrimmage on the year.
As much as the offense did to overcome the deficit it put itself into, the Seminoles needed one more first down with 90 seconds left on the clock after Miami cut the FSU lead down to 1. After a stretch of questionable playcalling by Fisher and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders in the second half, particularly on the possession directly before, Florida State iced the game thanks to a nifty designed quarterback run play by Francois, a concept that was regularly and productively utilized in the victory.
Overall, this game was obviously more about the growth of the Florida State defense as opposed to the offense. That being said, this offense showed once again that is has no issue with rallying back from behind, scoring 20 unanswered points for the third time this season. Although that can be a dangerous way to live, it also shows how productive this offense can be if it can figure everything out.