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Late fumble, field goal send Florida State to another loss

Louisville's Lamar Jackson gets past Florida State's Matthew Thomas to score in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC102
Louisville's Lamar Jackson gets past Florida State's Matthew Thomas to score in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC102
Published Oct. 21, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher didn't have an explanation for the turning point in Saturday's 31-28 last-second loss to Louisville.

The Seminoles (2-4, 2-3 ACC) had driven 48 yards in the final five minutes with the score tied at 28. Quarterback James Blackman's 21-yard rush had FSU in field goal range, with a chance to avenge last year's humiliation to the Cardinals (5-3, 2-3).

Then Blackman made the costliest of his three major true-freshman mistakes. He fumbled a zone-read option with running back Cam Akers — a basic play the Seminoles install on Day 1.

"Thought he was giving it," Fisher said. "The other was taking it."

The only one who was taking it was Louisville defensive tackle Henry Famurewa, who pounced on the ball to set up the winning drive.

And that sums up FSU's first 2-4 start since the 2009 season that got Bobby Bowden pushed out of town: The Seminoles keep giving it away, opponents keep taking it and no one seems to know why.

"I don't even know what it is," defensive end Josh Sweat said. "Obviously we're not making the plays we need to make when it's time to make them."

No, they're not. They didn't a month ago at Doak Campbell Stadium, when North Carolina State pulled out a 27-21 win. They didn't two weeks ago here, when a seldom-used receiver caught Miami's winning touchdown pass over future NFL cornerback Tarvarus McFadden.

And they didn't Saturday.

It wasn't just Blackman's fumble, or his two interceptions before that, or the 45-yard field goal Ricky Aguayo missed that would have given FSU the lead early in the second half.

The Seminoles' ultra-talented defense could have forced overtime by stopping Louisville in the final two minutes. Instead, Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson led a 59-yard drive that ended with Blanton Creque's 34-yard field goal with five seconds to go and left FSU searching for answers.

"Who would have thought we'd have four losses right now?" star safety Derwin James asked.

It felt unthinkable in August for a consensus top-five team, and it's inexcusable for a program with four consecutive top-six recruiting classes.

But the cracks that started to show last year have widened. After North Carolina snapped FSU's nation's-best 22-game home winning streak last year, the Seminoles have lost four of seven at Doak. That includes their first 0-3 home start since 1974 — two years before Bowden took over.

The dreams of a sixth consecutive 10-win season and New Year's Six Bowl appearances are over. Unless the Seminoles upset Clemson on the road in three weeks, they're in jeopardy of finishing unranked for the first time under Fisher.

And that's not the worst of it: FSU might need to reschedule the hurricane-canceled Louisiana-Monroe game to qualify for a record 36th consecutive bowl game.

"I just want to continue the legacy," Sweat said, "and it's not going well right now."

Clearly.

In some ways, this was worse than last season's 63-20 loss at Louisville. Those Cardinals started 9-1 and nearly knocked off the eventual national champions. These Cardinals? They lost at home last week to Boston College and were without their best defensive player Saturday.

One of the few positives is that FSU hasn't quit, even as the season spirals and fans stop showing up (the announced attendance of 72,764 was the lowest since Chattanooga in November 2015). The players haven't checked out. Fisher seems surprisingly upbeat for the worst stretch of his career, yet he's still feisty; the Florida Times-Union's Garry Smits heard him curse at a heckler who yelled for the program to "get new coaches."

But if the problem isn't effort, and it's not talent, then what's left? Defensive end Brian Burns mentioned the possibility of a team meeting to try to sort things out, because those always go well.

"I don't really know what it is that's not making us finish it," Burns said.

Neither does Fisher.

"We've been one inch away, one play away …" Fisher said. "You have to continue to dig for them, and that's what we're going to do."

But it already feels too late to save what looks like a lost season.

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

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