Sunday, October 21, 2012
By David M. Hale NoleNation
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher's halftime speech wasn't exactly motivational -- at least not in a traditional sense.
He didn't praise his team, and for good reason. Five early fumbles -- two of which were lost -- and a bevy of penalties laid the groundwork for an ugly, mistake-filled first half.
Fisher didn't lambast his team either. Two weeks earlier, he'd watched helplessly as a similar scene unfolded, and FSU stumbled to a 17-16 loss at NC State. Against Miami on Saturday, however, the Seminoles rebounded. They faltered, but they found their footing. This was progress.
So Fisher's speech was something of a backhanded compliment, a reminder that for all the self-inflicted wounds, his players had persevered.
"That says something to me. That's a sign," Fisher said. "People say that's crazy, but I think that shows a competitive, good football team that's growing up and learning to fight through things."
The scars of the NC State loss are just beginning to heal, but Fisher wasn't alone in noticing the stark difference in how Florida State responded to adversity against the Hurricanes.
Saturday's game couldn't have opened much worse for FSU. A fumble by Nick O'Leary on the Seminoles' first play from scrimmage set up a Miami touchdown. A shanked punt on their next drive provided enough field position for the Hurricanes to boot a field goal.
The hostile environment at Sun Life Stadium included a fan who ran on the field during an early FSU offensive possession.
Eight minutes into the game, Florida State was already down 10-0.
But while the adversity overwhelmed a stunned FSU two weeks earlier, the early struggles Saturday offered a wake-up call.
"Some of that complacency showed itself briefly on the sidelines," kicker Dustin Hopkins said. "But our leaders saw it, addressed the issue, had the guys pick up their energy and realize we can't have another NC State. They banded together, and slowly things started going our way."
It started with a momentum-changing play on defense.
In the game against NC State, the Wolfpack chipped away with an endless onslaught of dinks and dunks, and every time Florida State thought it had made the stop it needed, Mike Glennon and Co. found an answer.
Against Miami, linebacker Telvin Smith left no room for the Hurricanes to wriggle free once he had QB Stephen Morris in his sights. After Florida State turned over the ball for the second time in three drives, Miami was driving, but Smith sacked Morris, stripping the football in the process. The fumble was recovered by Christian Jones, and the tide quickly turned in Florida State's favor.
"We weren't saying 'Somebody' had to step up. We challenged the whole D," Smith said. "It was, 'Who's going to make the play?' We keep doing our jobs, stay fundamentally sound, and it's going to happen."
Against NC State, the Seminoles' offense stalled out in the second half as the Wolfpack erased a 16-0 deficit. Saturday's game was eerily similar, with drives flaming out in Miami territory, leading to field goals instead of attacking the end zone. Meanwhile, the penalty flags piled up quickly, and the frustration soon followed.
But while the frustrations buried Florida State two weeks ago, it spurred on the Seminoles against Miami.
"We put ourselves behind the ball, but we pushed before the half and into the second half," quarterback EJ Manuel said.
After Miami took its 10-0 lead, Florida State enjoyed a 33-3 run, and while it didn't always look pretty, the Seminoles got the job done.
That, of course, was immense progress.
"We just calmed down," cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. "It's a rivalry game, and it's intense. We just had to get together and calm down and get back to how we play. Read our keys and play fast."
From the hostile road crowd (including a fan who ran on the field and disrupted one of FSU's offensive plays) to the physical punishment dished out by Miami (four FSU starters missed plays due to injury) to the litany of penalties (12 for 121 yards, including three offensive pass interference calls), there was ample opportunity for Florida State to fold.
But after two weeks of bitterness, those NC State memories strengthened into some much-needed resolve.
"We're coming into this hostile environment, and we've got to play the crowd, the refs and the coaches," Smith said. "I felt like, we've been in that situation where we're down, our back's against the wall, the crowd is against us, it's getting loud. But we kept coming together. We stayed together. And we came out with a win."