Seminoles Finish High in a “Down” Year (Part 2)

As opposed to the 2014 season when Florida State faced Oklahoma State in AT&T Stadium, the 2015 Seminoles opened their football season with a non-marquee matchup in Texas State. Even though the odds of the then number ten ranked FSU losing were slim, Doak Campbell Stadium was full of nervous anticipation as both fans and players alike had no idea what this young team would become.

Early on, it looked like Head Coach Jimbo Fisher had produced a flamboyant offense. Everett Golson threw for 302 yards and four touchdown passes in his debut, while Dalvin Cook ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-16 romping over Texas State. Several young players garnered playing time and despite some penalties, the Seminoles looked like they would maintain the prowess of the Jameis Winston led offenses.

Unfortunately, the season opener was a mirage, as over the next few weeks, the offense would produce several ugly performances. Against USF the following week, it took a herculean effort from Dalvin Cook to propel FSU to a victory. Poor execution, bad blocking, and several penalties bogged down the offense. If it wasn’t for Cook rushing for 266 yards and three touchdowns, the Seminoles might have lost.

The following week at Boston College, Golson led an excellent opening drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to wide receiver Travis Rudolph. After that, the Boston College defense didn’t allow the Seminoles to score again, and they even held Dalvin Cook to only 56 yards rushing. Thanks to the efforts of FSU’s defense and a Jalen Ramsey scoop and score off a fumble, the Seminoles prevailed winning 14-0.

Following a bye week, FSU traveled to play Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were outmatched on paper, and the game looked as much in real life as Dalvin Cook opened the game with a 90-yard touchdown run. But in the first half Cook pulled his hamstring and that turned the tide of the game. Without their big playmaker in Cook, the offense struggled with finishing drives and with avoiding penalties along the offensive line. A somewhat uninspiring effort from FSU’s defense also held keep an inferior Wake Forest team in the game. With little time remaining on the clock, Wake Forest had a chance to win the game, but a Tyler Hunter interception in the endzone sealed the deal for the Seminoles, winning 24-16.

With the offense struggling mightily in the preceding games, many pundits and fans were worried about the Seminoles, especially heading into the next game with the rival Miami Hurricanes. The main question throughout the week leading up to the Miami game was whether or not Dalvin Cook would play. On Friday of that week, Cook received the good ahead from the training staff, but the unanswered question was how effective could the star tailback perform. After taking an option pitch from Everett Golson over 80-yards down the sideline for a touchdown, it was obvious that nothing could stop Dalvin Cook. On national television, and in front of a packed house, Cook put Hurricane defenders on skates, producing over 269 total yards and three touchdowns. Other than redzone woes, FSU performed a lot better on offense as Coach Fisher got quarterback Everett Golson on the move and gave him easy completions on several crossing routes. The Hurricanes hung around thanks to their redzone defense and some excellent throws by Brad Kaaya, but a defensive stand by the Seminoles in the fourth quarter resulted in a 29-24 win, FSU’s sixth straight win against their rival.

The next week against Louisville appeared to be a trap game, and early on the Lousiville Cardinals had the Seminoles spooked. But the offense got in the flow and receivers such as Kermit Whitfield, Travis Rudolph, and Bobo Wilson were the beneficiaries of several nice throws from Golson, who totaled over 300 yards through the air. With a resounding 41-21 victory over Louisville at home, it looked as if this young team was finally hitting its stride.

All of the positive vibes and feelings acquired over the past two games were quickly doused after the next game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. It was homecoming week for the Yellow Jackets and the atmosphere was electric. All of the struggles that the Seminoles had experienced on offense over the course of the season reared their ugly heads during this game. The offensive line could not create running lanes for Cook, they had several false starts in critical moments, and the pass protection was not the best either. Golson failed to hit some open throws, including an open deep ball to Bobo Wilson. The receivers also dropped a few passes and failed to fight off the physical defensive backs of Georgia Tech. Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly drew up and executed a brilliant game plan against the Yellow Jackets. The Seminole defense created two turnovers, a Josh Sweat interception off a tipped pass, and a Lamarcus Brutus interception that was returned inside the redzone. The defense did their job as they held Georgia Tech to 16 points, but FSU’s offense could not capitalize on the redzone opportunities the defense gifted them. After converting on fourth down to a wide-open fullback down the field, Georgia Tech tied the game at 16 points with little time remaining. On the next series, Coach Fisher then called a running back screen to Dalvin Cook that positioned FSU within field goal range. With a Lou Groza award winning kicker in Roberto Aguayo coming out to kick the game winning field goal, it looked as if the Noles would escape with a win. But as always with college football, you must expect the unexpected. Georgia Tech blocked the field goal attempt and returned the ball to the endzone for a touchdown with no time left on the clock. This shocking upset against a reeling Georgia Tech team sent many FSU fans into an uproar and left a bitter taste in the football player’s mouths.

Coming off of their first loss of the season, the Seminoles returned home to face the Syracuse Orange on Halloween. The team had tried to stay positive throughout practice during the week, but on game day, the team needed a jolt. That added spark came from an unexpected source in quarterback Sean Maguire. Everett Golson was dealing with concussion like symptoms from the Georgia Tech game, so Maguire was inserted in his place. Almost right from the get off, Maguire made a positive impact on the offense. His knowledge of the correct protections and his ability to read the defense aided the offense immensely. Maguire’s ability to stretch the field were also a great asset as it helped back off the defense from focusing in on Dalvin Cook. Travis Rudolph had a career day against Syracuse, catching five passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns. The rejuvenated FSU offense put on a show, scoring over 40 points again at home in a 45-21 win.

Entering the Clemson week, there appeared to be a quarterback controversy. Everett Golson had guided the Seminoles throughout most of the season, but Sean Maguire had performed well against Syracuse. In the end, Coach Fisher chose Maguire to start against Clemson at Death Valley. Led by Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson and a stout defense, the Clemson Tigers were the favorites entering this game. However, FSU jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a huge Dalvin Cook touchdown run and a field goal by Aguayo. The Seminoles could have been up even more if not for a redzone interception. Once again the Seminole defense put on a show as they consistently got off the field and held Clemson’s high-octane offense in check. Despite the defense’s best efforts, they could not hold back quarterback Deshaun Watson for long. After scoring ten points in the first quarter, the Seminoles only scored three more points the rest of the game. Clemson, through the use of Watson’s legs and good play-calling, mustered 23 points, resulting in a 23-13 victory for the Tigers. FSU had several opportunities to produce points as they reached the 50-yard line multiple times, but the Seminoles kept shooting themselves in the foot with penalties or moments of poor execution. Unlike the Georgia Tech game however, the team and fans alike were proud of the effort made in a loss, as Clemson was an elite foe. Holding such a high scoring offense to only 23 points as an astounding feat. The whole team knew that if a few more plays were made, then FSU could have come out with a win at Death Valley.

The next two games were against North Carolina State and Chattanooga. Going into the NC State game, it appeared as if this could be a potential loss, as the team had just suffered a gut wrenching defeat to Clemson. Everett Golson started the game, but he committed three turnovers in the first half and that resulted in him being yanked for Maguire. As was the case throughout the entire season, FSU’s defense kept the Seminoles in the game. Freshman phenom Derwin James made numerous plays from his safety position and displayed why he was a five-star recruit, particularly after he body slammed NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett on a run play. The defensive line, led by Niles Lawrence-Stample and Demarcus Walker controlled the line of scrimmage as well. The defense held NC State to only 17 points and Maguire guided FSU to score 34 points.

The following week against Chattanooga was Senior Day and this year’s senior class had the most wins in school history. Dalvin Cook also broke former Seminole running back Warrick Dunn’s single season rushing record as Cook ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns. This game was similar to the Texas State game in that Chattanooga was outmatched the final score showed that as FSU won comfortably 52-13.

With a trip to the ACC Championship Game out of the question, all that was left for FSU was a road test against their bitter rival, the Florida Gators. Coming into the game, it was apparent that both defenses would dominate. Points would be at a premium, and the team that turned the ball over would probably lose. Against a hostile crowd in the swamp, the Seminoles came into the game with some confidence. Both offenses struggled at the start of the game, but FSU did muster up a field goal from Roberto Aguayo. The most critical point of the game however, came on a fourth and 1 on the goal line. Quarterback Sean Maguire rolled out to his right on a play action play, but seemingly everyone was covered. With Gator defenders running straight at him Maguire headed toward the sideline, and some thought he might be able to reach the endzone. But at the last second, Maguire cocked back his arm and fired a rocket across his body, and between several defenders into the arms of the formerly unheralded tight end Jeremy Kerr for a touchdown. This was Kerr’s first career catch, and it was huge as this gave FSU a 10-0 lead. The Florida Gators could not drive down the field on FSU’s defense, and the Seminoles recorded five sacks. Defensive end Demarcus Walker, safety Derwin James, and linebacker Terrance Smith wreaked havoc on the Gators. A missed field goal and a field goal block by Walker also hurt the Gators on offense. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Gators were down 13-0, though that became 13-2 after the Florida defense forced a safety. That safety gave the Swamp a newfound energy and the crowd became raucous. But as he had down all season, Dalvin Cook managed to put the team on his back, and carry them to victory. Before the fourth quarter, Florida had held Cook in check, but when FSU needed Cook the most, he prevailed. Cook ran for 150-yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and helped FSU beat the Gators 27-2 in the swamp. This resounding win closed out the regular season for FSU and resulted in a 10-2 record.

After losing so much talent from the previous two years, it was apparent that this team would take a step back. Losses at Georgia Tech and Clemson were heartbreaking, but overall this team managed to fight through adversity and achieved a successful season. FSU still managed to beat their in-state rivals in Miami and Florida, and they also featured a vastly improved defense that held all opponents to under 25 points. With only one senior on offense and several young stars on defense, this young team performed quite well. Coach Fisher and the entire coaching staff did a good job and the entire team earned what they got on selection day in a trip to the Chic-Fila Peach Bowl in Atlanta versus Houston.

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