ATLANTA — Jimbo Fisher grew up playing quarterback, taught the position early in his coaching career and admired high-powered offenses like those Steve Spurrier employed at Florida years ago. But it was Florida State's defense that carried the Seminoles in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Friday night and led Fisher to his first postseason victory as a head coach.
FSU forced five South Carolina turnovers and knocked star freshman running back Marcus Lattimore out of the game early during the Seminoles' 26-17 victory.
FSU (10-4) has a 10-win season for the first time since 2003.
It came in unlikely, defensive fashion – and it came, too, with both teams playing without two of their best players. Lattimore left the game in the first quarter after a violent collision. He caught a short pass but fumbled after sophomore Greg Reid knocked him backward. Kendall Smith scooped the loose ball and returned it 46 yards to set up a field goal.
In the second quarter, FSU quarterback Christian Ponder left the game after suffering a concussion. It was a cruel blow to Ponder, who started only after quickly recovering from arm surgery in early December. He lasted just more than a quarter against a fierce pass rush and sat out the rest of his final collegiate game.
Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia threw three first-half interceptions.
Midway through the fourth quarter, EJ Manuel led the Seminoles on a 13-play, 63-yard touchdown drive that consumed more than six minutes.
"Our defense played phenomenal,'' Fisher said. "I'm tickled for the kids.''