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FSU answers the call: Seminoles buckle down, avoid Miami heartbreak to keep championship dreams alive

FSU made it harder than it needed to be but survived with a final drive-stop

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

For those at home, a proposal was shown on the Doak Cambell Stadium jumbotron during halftime. Linda said yes, and the Marta family lived out their fairytale, a life full of potential awaited.

On the field, it looked like Florida State’s dreams were beginning to fade, a life full of what if in store for this team.

Florida State did not do it the easy way on Saturday. Their second quarter was probably their worst 15 minutes of football of the year. The Seminoles gained a singular yard of offense, the defense tried to fight each other on the sideline, and they squandered a ten-point lead. When everything seemed to have settled down and the team finally back on track, a SNAFU for the ages brought Miami back from the dead and returned to life to the stagnant Hurricane sideline.

This game, so familiar to delivering heartbreak, felt like it could happen again.

Not this year.

Like they have all year, the Seminoles played best with their backs against the wall. At one point, the defense allowed one first down on five Miami drives combined, and Adam Fuller once more pushed the right buttons at halftime. The offense, while not perfect on the day by any means, played well situationally, scoring points on 2 out of their first three drives in the first half and on back-to-back drives to start the second.

The string that tied it all together: Superstars.

“Really, just my team needed me to make a play, and I feel like I can do that once the ball get in my hands. I made a clean catch on it and just did what I do best.”

Like he has all year, Keon Coleman turned the game on its head with one play. The offense punted on the two drives before his punt return and desperately needed a spark.

No. 4 delivered.

Two plays later, he made the game-winning catch in the end zone, and against a roster littered with four and 5-star talent, the FSU playmakers made the difference.

“Rivalry game, we knew it could come down to literally one play. That’s what showed up tonight. Our guys, they just have continued to battle. There are plenty of mistakes made and things we have to get corrected, but in the moment of truth, they just continued to respond.”

Mike Norvell contextualized the game best. We can sit here and argue about why the Seminoles had 17 missed tackles, or why they went 3/12 on third down, or why, for the entire year, they refuse to play above their competition.

Today, I am uninterested.

Things were going haywire for the Seminoles, and the result could have looked different. Mike Norvell felt his team needed a spark so bad that he called for an onside kick to start the second half. Instead of this game going in the opposite direction (which it would have any other year in Mike Norvell’s tenure or any other game against Miami in general), they rose up. They made the plays. The Seminoles kept their cool against a Miami team half interested in playing the game, half interested in starting a brawl after every play.

Most importantly, they kept their march towards perfection still on the tracks.

So it's true, yesterday was not the Seminole's best game, and the culmination of their absolute best being played for 60 minutes did not come to fruition like it sounded it would during practice. But, circling back to the beginning, I’m sure things did not always look pretty for Linda and Mike Marta. Like all relationships, they most likely rode a rollercoaster, took a leap of faith, and trusted when they shouldn’t. In truth, that is what it feels like to follow the FSU team this year and be a fan sitting in Doak Cambell Stadium yesterday. Yesterday took us through all the emotions of what it means to be a fan of this team and this program. Like relationships, it will never always be pretty or perfect.

But, when we all needed Florida State to show up, the Seminoles were at our front door and answered the call.

First Thought: Where Stars Come to Shine

On a day when over 100 recruits visited Tallahassee, Mike Norvell put his favorite saying on display.

Florida State is where stars come to shine.

Florida State could not have won yesterday without Johnny Wilson, Keon Coleman, and Trey Benson. Each one of those players made the explosive plays that we expect when the word star gets thrown around. Johnny led the team with five catches for 82 yards, his body an apparent mismatch for the smaller Hurricane corners. Trey Benson pounded the ball into the endzone twice, averaging five yards a rush when no other Seminole ball carrier went above 1.5. Finally, Keon. What else needs to be written that still needs to? Teams that continue to line up one one-on-one against him baffle me. On his touchdown grab, a second Miami defender was not within ten yards of the Michigan State transfer.

Everyone in the stadium knew where the ball was going next.

His catch put the Seminoles up by two touchdowns, and even though Florida State made the final ten minutes more nervy than needed, the game ended at that moment.

Jordan Travis, post-game, spoke about how much fun it is to have so many options at his disposal.

‘Well, when you have a guy like this, it makes your job easy playing quarterback. You put the ball up anywhere he’s going to go make a play. Just got to give him the chance.”

Miami’s defense is talented. Full stop. Even if their two safeties do not go in the first round like everyone wants to make fun of, there are elite defenders at all three levels. Florida State needed to go above the X’s and O’s to emerge victorious. They did.

Second Thought: Beating Up the Bully

The Florida State defensive line got pushed around in the first half. Miami took their lunch money on their lone touchdown drive, running the ball for 75 out of the 82 yards needed for a touchdown. On the sideline, the players were hot under the collar. Patrick Payton could be seen getting fired up, and the emotion on Shyheim Brown’s face was apparent. The Seminoles were getting pushed around by their bitter rival, and something needed to change.

It did.

In the first half, the Hurricanes averaged 5.1 yards per carry. By the time the game ended, the total dropped over a yard to 3.9. Florida State looked themselves in the mirror and decided they needed to fight back.

“I feel like it probably did get to a point where they was having too much space or being too comfortable in the pocket,” Akeem Dent said, “So a lot of pressure going to bust the pipe, and I guess they bust they pipe, so...”

The Seminoles sprung a leak in the Miami machine.

I counted eight straight plays where Florida State brought pressure against UM in the second half. No longer would they wait for the fight to be brought to them; they were bringing it. Akeem Dent was the ring leader, constantly coming down from his safety position and plugging an extra gap in the run game. Miami scored three points in the second half, and the Seminoles only allowed one explosive run play ( statistically a run over 10 yards) in the second half compared to three allowed in the first.

Third Thought: Putting the Special in Special Teams

I’ve only covered one team in my journalism career, but I would be shocked if another program talked about special teams as much as this team does.

There is a reason why.

Florida State needed its best from everybody on Saturday. No passengers could be taken. Everyone needed to be pulling on the rope. Luckily, even those not usually in the spotlight made their mark.

Alex Mastromanno helped break the rock for the Seminoles on Saturday, an honor given to those postgame who made the difference in the game. He certainly did. The Australian punted missiles off his right foot, having four of his seven punts travel for over 50 yards. He pinned the Hurricanes in the 20 five times yesterday, forcing a freshman quarterback to be backed up against a raucous student section for most of the game. Ryan Fitzgerald might be the most improved player on this roster. He went 2/2 on the day, and even though his longest boot was only 33 yards, points were at a premium, and we have seen worse from college kickers. After the game, Mike Norvell spoke at length about his specialists.

“You know, you never know which unit it’s going to be, punt return, kick return, coverage units had to show up big. There were some challenging situations. Alex was flipping the field, but coverage units have to get down there and be able to get them down. I thought just the belief in that is something that also speaks to the culture.”

It is almost always for the wrong reasons when special teams get written about. Today, we get to buck the trend and sing praises of the most consistent phase of this team all year.