We thought this would be an ugly game. But ugly may have been kind in describing FSU’s 20-14 loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
How’s this for a grotesque opening: Arizona State fumbled on the game’s first snap, then FSU threw an interception from the Sun Devils’ one-yard line, and following an ASU punt, the Seminoles blew another red-zone possession by having a field goal blocked, a play on which yet another ’Nole (Dontae Lucas) was injured by a teammate and carted off the field in an air cast, followed by another Arizona State punt and then a Florida State fumble. And there was still 5:57 left in the first quarter.
As horrific as the play was, the ’Nole defense deserves a nod for its inspired early play. The Sun Devils didn’t gain a first down until their fifth possession. Cory Durden and Emmett Rice in particular were bright spots for the FSU defense, which came to play. After four possessions, the Arizona State offense was averaging just 0.3 YPP. Following a Blackman fumble that gave ASU the ball at the Seminole 13, the D actually pushed them back 9 yards before the Devils took a 3-0 lead on a 40-yard field goal. That was the score after a first quarter that saw FSU out-rush the Sun Devils 52-2.
Two poor offensive lines appeared determined to outdo each other, as the ASU front actually gave Florida State the appearance of having a pass rush. But Arizona State used FSU’s penetration against it in the second quarter, when Jayden Daniels hit Kyle Williams for a 77-yard screen-pass gain. But the ’Nole defense strengthened in the red zone again, conceding just a 26-yard field goal to make the deficit 6-0.
But then Blackman’s third turnover of the first half gave ASU the ball at midfield following a pick. Another red-zone stop for the ’Noles: 9-0, Sun Devils, after Cristian Zendejas hit from 24 yards out. And that’s when halftime gave us a merciful break— even if it took almost two hours to get to (and then felt equally as long).
Florida State got the ball to start the second half, which would be considered a good thing for a team with an offense. But the Seminoles remained inept, converting on just 2-15 third-down conversion chances throughout the game.
But credit where it’s due: with neither James Blackman nor his OL playing well, FSU got creative later in the third quarter, using both Blackman and Jordan Travis on the field at the same time. This resulted in the Seminoles’ biggest pass play of the day at the time, a throwback from Travis to Blackman and back to Travis for 18 yards. A play later, Ontaria Wilson took it in from three yards out for the game’s first TD, and the ASU lead was 9-7 in the third.
After holding defensively (not to be confused with defensive holding), Florida State needed just one play to find pay dirt on its next drive— but two moves. Tamorrion Terry put a double-move on his defender and streaked past him on the sideline. Blackman hit him in stride, and 91 yards later, Florida State had its first lead, a 14-9 advantage with 1:04 left before the fourth.
Arizona State answered with a 12-play drive, but it again ended with a Zendejas FG and not a TD, as the Florida State edge became 14-12. That lead disappeared when Blackman threw his third interception of the day, this one a pick six that saw the Sun Devils go up 18-14. Then on the two-point conversion attempt, FSU had Daniels bottled up by half its defenders, but they pushed him across the goal line while bringing him down, and the score was 20-14.
Blackman’s fourth pick — and fifth turnover of the day — gave the ball back to ASU on the ’Nole 43, but again the FSU defense stepped up, getting the ball back on a three and out with 2:45 left. Hope appeared lost when Blackman took an 11-yard sack on second down, but Keith Gavin fought for a 50/50 ball on third and 19, and the Seminoles were in business at the ASU 40 with 1:31 to play.
But fittingly for the year, just when you were feeling kinda hopeful, Terry fumbled on the next play. Turnover number six for Florida State.
The loss sees FSU finish with a 6-7 record. The Seminoles have now posted two-straight losing records for the first time since 1975-1976. But there are more important matters ahead. New head coach Mike Norvell has assembled an impressive staff so far and needs to round it out ahead of February’s National Signing Day.