As I’ve been saying for the past couple of weeks, only the Seminoles can beat the Seminoles, and the special teams unit heading into Saturday night has looked like the weak link thus far. Last night, that theory unfortunately became a reality, effectively ending whatever national championship aspirations the ‘Noles had.
It gives me no pleasure to have been right. I’m still in a state of shock over this one, but breaking it down here might help us all recover a little bit, so lets take a look at last night’s ‘heartbreaker’ in Raleigh.
The ‘Noles got out to a quick start, amassing 221 total yards of offense and 16 points in the first half, while holding the Wolfpack scoreless on 68 yards of total offense. The defense was spectacular, the offense executed with precision, and the special teams did their job. The only true blemish in the first half was the offense’s inability to convert a 36-yard Chris Thompson carry, which set up a first and goal at the NC State six yard line, into a touchdown. FSU had to settle for three points from the foot of Dustin Hopkins. However, with the defense firing on all cylinders and a 16-0 lead heading into the half, those four points seemed like they would be largely irrelevant, a matter of margin of victory, not win or loss.
The second half proved to be a different story. With every drive presenting a potential chance to put the game out of reach, the ‘Noles came up short.
The offense compiled a very pedestrian 122 total yards of offense for the entire second half, stalling when it was most important. The ‘Noles missed two opportunities to ice the game late in the fourth quarter.
The first came with 6:09 left in the game and FSU nursing a 16-10 lead. Receiving the ball at their own 23 yard line, FSU was simply looking to gain some yardage, a few first downs, and bleed the clock. Instead, they ran two rushing plays for a total of minus 1-yard and burned their final timeout challenging an EJ Manuel incompletion to Kelvin Benjamin. While I have no issue with Jimbo’s decision to challenge the call (it looked like a catch to me), I do have an issue with the Seminoles inability to pick up any yardage in a critical situation. It’s tough to win when your offensive line is bullied and pushed around by a mediocre NC State pass rush.
The second opportunity to close the game out came after the defense forced a turnover on downs at the Florida State 31 yard line with 2:47 left on the clock. At this point, I must admit, I exchanged some victory high fives. I was that certain the ‘Noles could pick up ONE first down in order to burn enough clock to put the Wolfpack-upset out of the question. However, the ‘Noles instead ran the ball three times for one measly yard, forcing the punt unit onto the field. That’s where the troubles really began.
Having said all that can be said about the Seminoles offensive struggles in the second half, the game was still firmly in their hands as Cason Beatty stepped onto the field with 2:34 left in the game. The defense was playing very well and NC State would have been mounting their comeback drive from approximately their own 20-yard line, with no timeouts remaining. However, as has been the case over the course of the season, the Seminoles’ special teams failed to execute. Beatty’s punt was blocked, traveling only 10 yards to the Florida State 43, leaving Mike Glennon and the Wolfpack offense 2:27 to take the ball 43 yards.
Now, some might point out that the defense allowed three fourth down conversions, including the game winning score, on that final drive. Others might talk about Xavier Rhodes’ costly pass interference call. But, the fact remains, without the blocked punt, NC State is clawing from their own 20 yard line, not marching from the Seminoles 43. The sixth major special teams blunder in three games proved to be too much for the Seminoles to overcome.
Now, with a national championship appearance out of the picture, the ‘Noles must regroup and look ahead at what they do have to play for. The ACC championship and the automatic BCS bowl is still very much attainable for the ‘Noles, and I know the everyone in Tomahawk Nation has their eyes on the final matchup of the regular season, when Florida comes to town.
It’s time to put that loss behind us and look ahead to future glory. As always, go ‘Noles!