To put it mildly, nobody really knew what to expect from Florida State’s offense against Northern Illinois. The ’Noles had one of the more anemic offensive performances in program history last week against Syracuse, and the NIU defense had performed very well up to this point in the season. In fact, the Huskies came into their game against FSU with the 13th ranked defense in the country per S&P+.
If you would have told many fans and analysts that this Florida State team would put up 37 points against a defense of that caliber, many would have scoffed. But, that’s exactly what happened.
FSU started off the game hot with touchdowns on the team’s first 2 drives. The first drive was for 13 plays, 75 yards, and took 5 minutes off the clock. It ended with a Deondre Francois throw to Keith Gavin. The pass bounced off Gavin’s back shoulder and into the open arms of running back Jacques Patrick for the score.
It was Florida State’s first lead against an FBS team all season.
The second drive saw a mix of runs from Patrick and wide receiver screens. There seemed to be a noticeable improvement in the quality of the edge blocking from the receivers all game. To cap it off, Cam Akers walked into the end zone, untouched, for his first rushing TD of the year.
At that point, the game looked like it could be a blowout, but the offense reverted back to its old ways.
Drive number three ended in a fumble by Patrick, after he had picked up a conversion on 4th down. The next drive resulted in a punt, and the team’s fifth drive ended with another lost fumble. Tight end Tre McKitty was the culprit this time, as he seemed to have an off game, in general.
Florida State’s next two drives ended in impressive field goals from kicker Ricky Aguayo, but the ’Noles definitely left some points out on the field. In particular, the last drive before half time was short circuited by a high snap from center Alec Eberle. Eberle’s snaps had varying degrees of quality all day, but this one before the half resulted in the most negative consequence.
Still, the Seminoles went into the break with a 20-7 lead. For the most part, it was a cleanly played half of football, with the only black marks being the two turnovers. There were none of the inexcusable penalties that have plagued head coach Willie Taggart’s team in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, that would not carry over into the 2nd half.
Florida State went punt, field goal, punt in its first three drives of the 3rd quarter. With FSU holding a 23-13 lead, NIU defensive end Sutton Smith, who the Seminoles had largely held in check up to this point, came off the edge a caused a sack fumble by Francois. Luckily, the Huskies could not convert the miscue into points.
On Florida State’s first possession after the fumble, Willie Taggart decided to go for the jugular. Francois lofted a beautiful pass for WR Tamorrion Terry. The ball was well-placed, and Terry took it to the house for a 78-yard touchdown.
The ’Noles were on the verge of putting the game away, when Francois threw an interception right to a Husky linebacker on a pass over the middle. The turnover was particularly egregious, given the situation and just how much the throw was off-target.
The pick was Francois’ 5th of the season and directly led to a Northern Illinois touchdown.
After the kickoff, with the score 30-19 and NIU mounting a mini-comeback, the ’Noles responded with....a delay of game penalty. Unacceptable, and totally opposite of the team’s play in the first half. In reality, Florida State’s play had grown more sloppy as the game wore on.
In particular, tackle Jauan Williams was called for multiple false start penalties when he came into the game because of an injury to starter Abdul Bello.
However, the Seminoles had a chance to redeem themselves on their 15th and final drive of the game. The defense had just forced a turnover on downs, and Taggart leaned on RB Amir Rasul to run the game out. He did his job marvelously, as the ’Noles ran out the clock, and Rasul scored his first career touchdown.
The game ended with a final score of 37-19, and FSU picked up their 2nd win of the season.
It was an offensive performance that was uneven at points, but should be considered a net-positive, when accounting for the quality of the NIU defense.
Florida State ran 89 plays for a total of 473 yards, both of which are season-highs. The 5.3 yards per play that FSU gained was their highest number of the season against an FBS team.
Freshman Tre’ Shaun Harrison was a bright spot, as he contributed both in the passing game as a receiver and in the running game on jet sweeps. Francois repeatedly took the shorter throws that the defense gave him, while also connecting on the occasional explosive play.
FSU had much more success on 1st down due to limiting the number of negative plays. As such, the team had a vastly improved 53% conversion rate on 3rd downs.
Taggart will have some things to correct for the rest of the season, such as the turnovers and 2nd half penalties, but he will have some success to build upon, as well.
37 points against a Top-15 defense in the country should not be overlooked, no matter which conference that defense plays in.