Confidence is such a big factor in college football games. Last week you could pinpoint the exact spot where Florida State lost confidence they could beat Louisville. This week you could pinpoint the exact spot where both USF’s offense and defense lost confidence that they could beat the Seminoles.
The defense’s confidence lasted exactly one play. After Quinton Flowers’ electrifying 84-yard touchdown to Rodney Adams on the first play from scrimmage, FSU answered with a 75-yard score from Dalvin Cook on their first offensive play. It should have come with a trigger warning. It was the same kind of play Cook made repeatedly in last year’s game, complete with domination at the point of attack, bad pursuit angles, and terrible tackling. It was a scene that repeated itself all afternoon.
FSU piled up 647 total yards, including 478 on the ground. Both are USF opponent records, and FSU neither runs a high-tempo offense or a triple option that would make those records easier to break. Cook bested his career-high rushing total by one, running for 267 yards on 28 carries and two first-quarter touchdowns. The Seminoles also held the ball for 40:19.
It took awhile for USF’s offense to lose confidence, but as FSU kept piling up yards and points, they slowly lost their patience. Their running game and screen game were blunted by FSU’s quickness on the perimeter, and the Bulls don’t have a pro-style intermediate passing game, causing Quinton Flowers to lean on low-percentage deep passing. Not surprisingly, Flowers only completed 5 of 14 passes.
And as the points piled up, the Bulls started trying to get it all back quickly instead of trying to sustain a drive. Trailing 38-14, USF’s chances of winning ended early in the third quarter after Auggie Sanchez recovered a fumble at the FSU 48-yard line. On the first play, Flowers threw a terrible deep pass for Marquez Valdes-Scantling into double coverage that was easily intercepted at the 5-yard line by Nate Andrews. Then FSU drove 95 yards for yet another score to make it 45-14.
Flowers did run for 159 yards, and D’Ernest Johnson added 82 yards rushing and three touchdowns. However, much of the Bulls’ second-half offensive production happened in garbage time. USF also lost two running backs in the second half. Darius Tice broke his ankle on a reception from Flowers in the third quarter, shortly after Marlon Mack departed because he was poked in the eye.
This was a rough loss, but USF can’t let it linger. In many ways next Saturday’s game at Cincinnati is more important than this one. The Bulls need to bounce back and start conference play with the same kind of determined, right-the-ship effort FSU put forth today.