Date: January 6th, 2014
Location: BCS National Championship Game, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Opponent: No. 2 Auburn Tigers
The above words are not the first that come to mind when looking back on Florida State’s season in 2013. That squad went undefeated and cemented their place in the conversation as one of the best college football teams of all time.
However, for most of the first half of the BCS National Championship Game, the ’Noles looked like a team that was unprepared for the moment.
Confidence was high for head coach Jimbo Fisher’s group heading into the title game against No. 2 Auburn. They had run roughshod over their competition, highlighted by blowouts over ranked opponents Clemson, Miami, Maryland, and Duke. The Seminoles had a Heisman-winning quarterback in Jameis Winston, and a whole host of future NFL talent. In fact, coming into the title game, the ’Noles had not trailed anyone since their September 28th matchup against Boston College.
That was about to change.
FSU actually drew first blood with a Roberto Aguayo field goal to make the score 3-0. But, from there, it was all Tigers.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall tossed a ball into the flat for his running back Tre Mason. Mason sauntered his way into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. Florida State found itself in a hole for the first time in over 3 months. The hole was slight, as the ’Noles were only down by 4 points.
Unfortunately, Auburn was about to take out its proverbial backhoe and deepen that hole significantly.
Winston and the offense were forced to punt on their next possession, and the Tigers got the ball on their own 15-yard line. A few plays later, Auburn had a 14-3 lead, courtesy of a 50-yard TD pass to receiver Melvin Ray. It was Ray’s first career touchdown.
Florida State needed a response.
It didn’t get one.
A few possessions later, Winston fumbled in his own territory which led to another TD by Mason. The Seminoles faced a 21-3 deficit, and the very real possibility that their dream season would end in crushing disappointment.
Coach Fisher recognized what was happening. He understood that he needed to “steal” the game back and “signal” to his team that the night was far from over (hi Dameyune.) He relayed as much to ESPN’s Heather Cox going into halftime:
“We lost the momentum of the game,” Fisher told Cox at halftime. “We had to gain it back. We had to do something to make a change.”
He did something all right.
While current fan sentiment toward Jimbo Fisher is mixed at best, most would concede that he had some great calls during his time at the helm of the Florida State program. A gifted offensive mind with an encyclopedic knowledge of the game of football, Fisher had the ability to orchestrate some truly dynamic plays.
Facing a 4th and 4, down by 18 points in the biggest game of his life, Fisher conducted one of his greatest symphonies.
The ball was snapped directly to upback Dan Hicks. Hicks ran to his right, only to flip the ball to FSU backup running back Karlos Williams. Williams took the ball and dashed to the edge for 7 yards and a critical first down.
It was gutsy, unexpected, brilliance.
This National Championship was filled with a whole host of unbelievable plays, but the importance of this fake punt can’t be understated. Florida State was not just on the verge of a loss, they were on the verge of an embarrassment. Auburn had a firm grasp on the game, and only a monumental event would have loosened that grip.
Don’t believe me? Take it from Alabama coach Nick Saban, who offered his thoughts on the call after the contest had ended:
“I think that was the call of the game,” Saban told Fisher after the game, in his role as an ESPN analyst. “You’ve got to be bold some times. You guys needed something.”
High praise from a legend of the sport.
FSU later scored on that very same drive to cut the lead to 21-10 going into halftime. The ’Noles would come out as a different team in the 2nd half and go on to win the game. It was a magical night for the Seminole program and fanbase. However, without this bit of trickery from Fisher, it might have all gone completely different.
With all of the emotion poured into the game of college football, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain a reasonable level of objectivity. A proper analysis of Fisher’s tenure at FSU will show many things that were both good and bad about his time in Tallahassee.
As is human nature, the bad (especially something recently bad) tends to color our perspective on the entire period. With time, it will fade, and logical debates will become easier regarding the legacy of Jimbo Fisher. One thing that is not debatable is the impact of this particular play call.
It was unquestionably a high point in one of the most memorable times in Florida State football history.