No. 4 FSU pulls away to 30-17 victory at USF
TAMPA -- Playing to the biggest home crowd in the program's history, USF hung around against No. 4 Florida State longer than most fans on either side might have expected Saturday night.
The Bulls got as close as 13-10 in the third quarter after a blocked punt, but the Seminoles pulled away in the second half, getting out with a 30-17 victory before an announced record crowd of 69,383 at Raymond James Stadium.
"It was the kind of game I thought it was going to be. I thought South Florida would play their tails off and they did," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They played very physical. Our kids played hard, competed well, made enough mistakes not to put that thing away. Had some critical issues in the game, but it was a hard-fought game."
USF (2-3, 0-1 in Big East) would get no closer than 13-10 because FSU's defense clamped down, allowing 18 yards in the second quarter and 11 in the third, which ended with a fumble returned for a touchdown for a 30-10 lead. Three years after USF's 17-7 win in Tallahassee, the Seminoles (5-0, 2-0 in ACC) got their revenge on the Bulls' home field, though the sellout crowd had plenty of garnet-and-gold in the stands.
"I give Florida State a lot of credit. They did the things they had to do to get a win," coach Skip Holtz said. "I was really proud of our football team, proud of the way they competed, proud of the way they played together, hung in there, the way they played a 60-minute game."
FSU's defense hit another gear in the second quarter, holding USF to a total of 7 yards over six possessions, with no first downs, allowing the Seminoles to extend their lead from 7-3 to 30-10, with the Bulls' only points coming after Tashon Whitehurst's blocked punt.
USF's defense did well to hold FSU -- averaging 56 points per game coming in -- to a 13-3 halftime lead. But the Seminoles pulled away by taking advantage on third down. Quarterback EJ Manuel threw a 1-yard touchdown to Kevin Haplea on third after two goal-line stops, and facing a third-and-11 on the next drive, he hit receiver Kenny Shaw for a 47-yard gain to set up a short field goal. Manuel finished 19-for-26 for 242 yards, while Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor combined for 139 yards to lead the running game.
"He made a lot of big throws on third down, hit some big third-and-longs, hit some critical passes, got us down there," Fisher said.
The game didn't seem out of reach for USF until the final play of the third period, when backup quarterback Matt Floyd -- in the game for a single play after B.J. Daniels was shaken up -- was sacked, fumbled and FSU's Christian Jones returned the loose ball 12 yards for a touchdown and 20-point lead.
"Obviously the big momentum swing was the hold on third down," Holtz said. "It brought the play back, B.J. got hurt on that play, had to come out of the football game. Matt went in, tough assignment to go against that defense, your first play is a third-and-15 play. We didn't chip the end, and the end came scot-free off the blind side and created seven points. That's a 10-point swing in the football game."
USF still didn't go down easy, as Daniels hit 5-foot-5 receiver Derrick Hopkins for a 37-yard gain to set up a 3-yard Daniels touchdown run, cutting the FSU lead to 30-17. USF's defense sacked Manuel twice on the ensuing possession, giving USF the ball near midfield down 13, but the Bulls couldn't get closer than the FSU 43.
Given that FSU came in averaging 574 yards per game, the Bulls did well to be trailing 13-3 at halftime, and it could have been closer for the Bulls. USF came out trying to establish a ball-control offense, as it had last week at Ball State, and the Bulls had a small amount of success, taking their opening drive to the FSU 15 before stalling there and leading 3-0 on a 32-yard Maikon Bonani field goal.
FSU got a 60-yard kickoff return from Karlos Williams and quickly led 7-3 on Rashad Greene's 9-yard touchdown run, but USF's defense came up with stops, playing better after disappointing showing in losses to Rutgers and Ball State. USF's next two drives crossed the FSU 40, but Holtz opted to punt and pin the Seminoles deep both times.
USF nearly had a red-zone takeaway after stopping FSU on second-and-goal at the 1, as official initially ruled that USF recovered an FSU fumble. But replays showed Manuel's knee was down before an option pitch that was fumbled and recovered by USF.
Despite being outgained 146-18 in the second quarter, the Bulls looked to go into halftime down just a touchdown, but Daniels tried to throw deep into double coverage and was intercepted with 1:00 remaining. Three passes later, FSU got a 43-yard field goal from Hopkins to extend the lead to 13-3.
USF has dropped three games in a row -- and 10 of its last 13 overall -- and finishes the month of September with a losing record for the first time since its opening season in 1997. The Bulls go back to conference play Saturday with a trip to Philadelphia for Temple's first Big East game since rejoining the league. FSU travels to face N.C. State, which is coming off a 44-37 shootout loss at Miami, on Saturday.