After a week of optimism about the overall direction of the football program following a hard-fought overtime loss to Notre Dame in the season opener, Florida State now finds itself inexplicably facing a gloomy outlook for the future.
And all it took was six seconds to erase what many believed was the turning point for a program looking to return to national relevance.
That’s how long it took for Jacksonville State receiver Damond Philyaw-Johnson to bob-and-weave his way past several defenders 59 yards into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown with no time on the clock to give the Gamecocks a stunning 20-17 win over FSU Saturday night.
As JSU players and coaches swarmed the field at Doak Campbell Stadium in celebration, many of the 60,000 in attendance were left speechless as to what they had just witnessed.
“We did not have our team ready to play today,” a disappointed Mike Norvell said after the loss. His eighth loss in 11 games as the coach at FSU. “Coming off last week, we came out and definitely didn’t play in any way to the standard of what we’re capable of. The penalties, the self-inflicted mistakes — it’s 100% on me. We did not have the guys ready to go.”
It was FSU’s first loss against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision in 27 games dating back to 1978. The Seminoles open 0-2 for the second consecutive season and for the third time in the last five years.
“It’s embarrassing, the way we performed on a field today,” said FSU quarterback McKenzie Milton.
Afterward, Norvell tried to explain how FSU’s defense could allow Philyaw-Johnson to score with relative ease.
“It was two-deep, man-under and we wanted to make sure we tried to get pressure on the quarterback,” said Norvell. “[We didn’t want] to give up something real quickly underneath or in the intermediate passing game with a timeout, so we did not go to immediate prevent [defense].”
“We just didn’t execute how we’re supposed to and it’s kind of embarrassing,” said defensive end Jermaine Johnson, who led the team with 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. “All we can do is watch the tape, figure out what we did wrong, fix it put our best foot forward.”
A week after providing an offensive spark late against the Fighting Irish, Milton struggled to get FSU’s offense on track. Too many self-inflicted mistakes led to the offense stalling out throughout much of the game. The Seminoles punted on half of their offensive possessions and only crossed midfield five times against the Gamecocks.
“There were too many times as we would get something going, we would have something negative that would set us back,” added Norvell.
Penalties doomed any momentum FSU could muster as the team was flagged 11 times for 114 yards. It was the fifth time under Norvell that the Seminoles have been called for double-digit penalties and it was the most penalty yards in a game since Nov. 3, 2018.
“The biggest thing was penalties,” said Milton, who finished 18-of-31 for 133 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “We would get a first down and next thing you know it’s 2nd-and-25. When you keep putting yourself in those situations is a recipe for disaster.”
For the second consecutive week, FSU was stout up front on defense, holding the Gamecocks to 108 yards rushing including a 2.8 yards per attempt average. The Seminoles have the second-best rushing defense in the ACC.
But it’s the passing defense that has regressed with the team ranked dead-last in the ACC.
Florida State has allowed a dozen explosive passing plays (20-plus yards) so far this season including three of 40-or-more yards including the game-winning 59-yard strike Saturday night.
The mood following this loss was a very different one than after the loss to Notre Dame last week. Players and coaches seemed encouraged by the team’s effort against the Fighting Irish, rallying from 18 points down to send the game into overtime.
“I think when you’re satisfied after a loss, this is the kind of stuff that happens,” Milton said. “I’m not saying we’re OK with losing last week, but you get pat on your back for effort but we still lost. We lost today. We are who we are, we’re 0-2 and we have Wake Forest to start conference play.”
“I apologize to our fan base, to our university, and to all Seminoles for the performance that we had,” Norvell added. “[We have to] take ownership of it. You go and you work and you correct the things that have to be corrected, to play to the level that we’re capable of playing.”
FSU travels to Wake Forest (2-0) Saturday looking to avoid starting 0-3 for the first time since 1976.
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