TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had said Saturday night's showdown against Wake Forest would be a measuring stick of how much his young Seminoles had grown.
And how much more they had to grow to be back up among the big boys in the league and nationally. Well, folks, they showed they've got a ways to go, especially on offense.
"We're not where I hoped we were; it's very evident," Bowden said.
The No. 18 Demon Deacons didn't do much offensively, but their veteran defense forced seven turnovers and Sam Swank kicked four field goals to beat No. 24 FSU 12-3 in the ACC opener for both at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0) is now a step ahead of its Atlantic Division rivals — a team it has now beaten three straight times — on the road to Tampa Bay for the ACC title game Dec. 6.
Meanwhile, Bowden — who now trails Penn State's Joe Paterno for the all-time Division I-A lead in coaching wins (376-375) for the first time since he gained the lead on Oct. 25, 2003, with a home win against, of all teams, Wake Forest — will have to look for answers.
Especially at quarterback, where talented but inexperienced third-year sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson struggled mightily against a I-A defense that featured seven fifth-year seniors and one graduate student.
Ponder was 6-of-18 for 52 yards and three interceptions, his first on FSU's first play to set a ominous tone, while Richardson was 6-of-18 for 66 yards and two interceptions. The two hadn't thrown a turnover in their first two games and had combined for eight touchdowns.
Tailback Antone Smith and star receiver Preston Parker, back after serving a two-game suspension for an offseason arrest, also lost fumbles for FSU (2-1, 0-1).
"The biggest thing was dumb mistakes," Ponder said. "We didn't play like Florida State should play, and that really showed."
"I feel bad," said Richardson, who did provide a spark with his legs when he took over to start the second half, rushing eight times for a team-high 46 yards. "I feel like I could have done things different. … (Plays) were there. I just messed up."
If that sounds familiar against Wake Forest, it should.
The opportunistic Demon Deacons had four interceptions in their resounding 30-0 win in 2006 in Tallahassee, a loss that prompted embattled offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden to resign, and then came up with two picks and two fumbles in last year's 24-21 win.
On this night, they came up with interceptions on FSU's final three possessions.
But offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who said he would look at the quarterback position in practice, said the quarterbacks didn't have the market cornered on "boo-boos."
"We were one play away from winning the game as poorly as we played, and we played very poorly," Fisher said. "Turnovers. Missed assignments. Penalties. We got behind the eight ball and you can't do that against a good football team."
FSU had 12 penalties for 139 yards.
"We self-destructed," Bowden said. "We wouldn't give ourselves a chance to win it. We wouldn't even give ourselves a chance."
Consider this sequence: Early in the second quarter, linebacker Kendall Smith sacked quarterback Riley Skinner and forced a fumble that cornerback Tony Carter scooped up and returned to the Wake 32. But defensive end Everette Brown was called for a post-possession personal foul that meant the Seminoles started from their own 33.
On the first play, Ponder ran for 8 yards, but receiver Corey Surrency was called for an illegal block, a 15-yard penalty, that gave FSU a first down and 25 at its own 18.
Bowden said those kinds of plays were "above and beyond the call of ignorance instead of duty."
The good news was that the FSU defense, which welcomed back tackle Budd Thacker from his suspension for the academic scandal, was fairly sharp. It came up with several key plays to keep the Demon Deacons and Skinner in check. It didn't hurt the Seminoles' cause that Swank uncharacteristically missed three field goals.
That just kept FSU in the game, one it had eagerly awaited to avenge two straight losses to the Demon Deacons and prove it did belong back among the best.
Heck. Ponder had boldly and confidently said it would be tough to see FSU losing this game.
"A lot of guys wanted it so bad, it ended up hurting us a little bit," he said. "After this game, I think we're pretty far (away), but everything we did was very correctable. As long as we correct those things, we'll be able to bounce back and be a great team."