For the Florida State Seminoles, the showdown against Colorado on Saturday was all about getting back. Back to a more basic offense, featuring tailback Antone Smith, who had a career day. Back to a nearly full-strength defense delivering big plays. Back to the special teams providing a month's worth of SportsCenter-like highlights. And back, most important, to winning, 39-21. "It was very big," said Bobby Bowden, who coached in his 500th game. (A loss) would have just buried us deeper." The Seminoles (3-1) were searching for answers after last week's 12-3 loss to Wake Forest, the first Division I-A team they had faced after opening with I-AA lightweights
Western Carolina and Chattanooga.
Third-year sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder and his backup, D'Vontrey Richardson, struggled against Wake, and the offense committed seven turnovers.
Would the offense respond against Colorado (3-1), with rival Miami looming next weekend?
Would the defense get a needed boost with linebacker Dekoda Watson, cornerback Patrick Robinson, defensive end Neefy Moffett and defensive tackle Justin Mincey returning from suspensions for their involvement in the academic misconduct scandal?
Yes. And yes.
After a slow start, Ponder was solid (5-of-7 for 60 yards in the second half and 10-of-22 for 119 yards overall with one interception of a ball that was tipped, caught and lost in midair).
"If he had come out today and had a bad game, made really some bad decisions, he could lose his job by doing that," Bowden said. "But he came back and played winning football."
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's game plan had a lot to do with that. He figured the Seminoles, known more for throwing downfield for the quick strike than patiently running the ball under Bowden, could move the ball on the ground. And had to.
"I didn't cut back," Fisher said of the playbook. "But I wasn't going to force it. I wasn't going to put (the quarterbacks) in position to fail."
So, he turned to Smith. So did Ponder, handing it off to his senior back 25 times, a career high. Smith had 154 yards and three rushing touchdowns (from 2, 60 and 2 yards), a career mark.
"I haven't had that many touches in a game in a long time," Smith said. "It helps me get in a rhythm, but it just helps the team get in a rhythm."
The defense, which didn't stay at near full strength long with linebacker Toddrick Verdell and cornerbacks Tony Carter and Robinson all leaving with injuries, did the same for the offense. Moffett, who had a sack (one of the team's four) on the first play, recovered a fumble that led to a touchdown, safety Jamie Robinson had an interception, and the team had two fourth-down stops.
"It was just a tremendous feeling. I'm just so happy that we're finally coming together as a defense," said Watson, who had a career-high 10 tackles.
And Watson provided one of those big special teams moments by blocking a punt out of the end zone for a safety in the waning moments of the first half to give FSU a 16-7 lead. Thanks to Bert Reed's 41-yard return on the ensuing free kick, Graham Gano hit a 36-yard field goal for a 19-7 halftime lead. Gano tacked on a career-best 52-yarder and then a 44-yarder, and Michael Ray Garvin dazzled the partisan FSU crowd at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium with a 94-yard kickoff return.
"Old fashioned," Fisher said of the way FSU went about the job. "But football never changes. It still comes down to blocking and tackling and toughness and competitiveness."