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Florida State rolls past Florida at Swamp

GAINESVILLE — After Florida State's national and ACC championship hopes ended Nov. 7 in a loss to Clemson, coach Jimbo Fisher reminded his team that the Seminoles' previous dynasty wasn't built on national championships.

It was built on consistent success, even after heartbreaking losses and collapses. It was built on double-digit victories during transition years.

It was built on seasons like the one No. 14 FSU capped Saturday night with a 27-2 win over No. 10 Florida. FSU beat UF for the third time in a row on the road — a first in school history — and secured a fourth consecutive 10-win season during a year of reconstruction.

"This team just keeps that legacy alive," Fisher said.

That legacy is still breathing after the Seminoles' dominant defense dashed the College Football Playoff hopes of the Gators (10-2) in front of a record crowd of 90,916 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. A Florida team that spent 11 games showing how far it had come under first-year coach Jim McElwain spent four quarters showing how much farther it still has to go.

"Our defense gave us an opportunity," McElwain said, "and we didn't take advantage of it."

UF quarterback Treon Harris missed on seven consecutive throws at one point and accounted for 129 total yards and four sacks. Even when the Gators found some offense, FSU (10-2) kept them from converting red-zone opportunities into points.

In the first half, Harris dropped a fourth-down snap from the FSU 20, stumbled, then fell in the backfield to end the threat. Harris led the Gators inside the 10 in the fourth quarter but threw the ball away to avoid defensive end DeMarcus Walker. The intentional grounding penalty forced UF to settle for Austin Hardin's 31-yard field goal attempt, which the Seminoles blocked.

The Gators' only points came with 8:58 left, thanks to defense. Lineman CeCe Jefferson's forced fumble caused a safety that prevented UF from being shut out at home for the first time in 27 years.

"They made some plays, and we didn't," McElwain said. "It's plain and simple."

More specifically, Dalvin Cook and quarterback Sean Maguire made plays after slow starts. Cook, FSU's star running back, had only 33 yards through three quarters before ripping off two touchdowns and 150 yards in the final 15 minutes for his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.

"Their defense wore down, and he didn't," Maguire said. "He played his best when we needed him the most."

So did Maguire, after he missed on 10 of his first 18 passes. Five minutes into the second quarter, he hit receiver Kermit Whitfield, who spun down the left sideline and into the UF red zone for 45 yards. On fourth and goal from the 1, Maguire rolled right. Instead of trying to run it in, he launched the ball across his body into double coverage but hit tight end Jeremy Kerr in the end zone.

Though FSU didn't seem to have much to play for, the Semi­noles weren't motivated by the chance to knock the Gators out of the playoff picture heading into next week's SEC title game against No. 2 Alabama. They weren't distracted, either, by buzz that Fisher could be headed for LSU — something he said he never felt the need to address because there was nothing to discuss.

Instead, FSU was focused only on winning the title as the state's top team and carrying on the legacy of sustained success, even if it doesn't end in championships.

"This season could have easily turned the wrong way after Clemson," Maguire said. "It's nice to go out the way we did."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Florida State rolls past Florida at Swamp 11/28/15 [Last modified: Sunday, November 29, 2015 12:44am]
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