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FSU’s defense makes key stop late to hold off N.C. State

Florida State’s defense, maligned most of the year, came up with a key stop late and allowed the Seminoles to win a close game on the road.

The FSU defense forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-12 from their own 26 with 1:09 to go. The N.C. State Wolfpack had a first and 10 at the FSU 24, but four passes resulted in three incompletions and a catch for minus two yards. It left FSU as a 24-20 winner.

Quarterback Deondre Francois had one of his best nights for the Seminoles, hitting 22 of 39 passes for 330 yards. Of those passes, nine went to Nyqwan Murray for 153 yards.

“It feels good, I’ll tell you that,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I feel good right now, I’m not going to lie.

“We’re a couple plays from having a really tough season and a couple plays from having a phenomenal season. We have a young talented team that’s learning how to persevere.”

For N.C. State, Ryan Finley threw for 304 yards. Receiver Nyheim Hines had 11 catches for 124 yards. Running back Matthew Dayes ran for 104 yards on 23 carries.

For FSU, running back Dalvin Cook had 18 carries for 65 yards. Other FSU backs ran for a combined minus two yards.

The Seminoles, now 6-3, play Boston College at home Friday night.

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The Predictions: Gators will win another game behind their defense

The Florida Gators face another afternoon of being unimpressive Saturday.

Every week, it is the same. The defense will play well against Arkansas, the offense will struggle, the Gators will win. And the critics will yawn.

It has largely been so this year as Florida has built a 6-1 record and a No. 10 ranking in the AP Poll. The defense is second in the nation, but every week, all everyone wants to do is notice that Luke Del Rio isn’t throwing for enough yards.

Still, Florida has a shot at the SEC East. And that defense should shine against an Arkansas team that had only 25 yards against Auburn. No, the Gators aren’t world-beaters, but they may just be the best team in their division.

Prediction: Florida 24, Arkansas 13

FSU at North Carolina State

The Seminoles have had uncommon struggles when visiting the Wolfpack, losing three of their last five games. One of those came when FSU was ranked third in the nation.

Naturally, FSU is concerned, especially facing a possible letdown after a game against Clemson got away. The thing is, the season has turned rocky for N.C. State, too, since losing by a field goal against Clemson.

FSU might start slowly, but they simply have too many weapons.

Prediction: FSU 30, N.C. State 24

Pitt at Miami

The bottom has fallen out for Miami since a blocked extra point cost them against FSU. All of the momentum the program had regained under Mark Richt has failed.

Against Pitt, Miami should be able to get its mojo back. Look for Brad Kaaya to have a big game.

Prediction: Miami 27, Pitt 17

Tulane at UCF

The Knights, 4-4, are still learning to win. Perhaps that’s why leads against Temple and Houston evaporated and turned into defeats.

But UCF has made remarkable progress under new coach Scott Frost, going from a winless team to one with a shot at a bowl game. Freshman McKenzie Milton has excited fans with possibilities.

Prediction: UCF 35, Tulane 14

FAU at Rice

Both teams are 1-7, which kind of leaves fans searching for a reason to watch. There aren’t many.

Prediction: FAU 9, Rice 6

FIU at Western Kentucky

The Hilltoppers should roll. FIU has a chance to hang around for a half, but it’ll be tough to last longer.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 35, FIU 20

The Pros

New York Jets at Miami

Two disappointing teams get together to compare shortcomings. The Dolphins have found success in running back Jay Ajayi lately, but New York’s defense is better than you might think.

Prediction: Miami 17, New York 16

Jacksonville at Kansas City

The Jags are looking for a fresh canvas after dumping offensive coordinator Greg Olson. That isn’t likely to happen at Kansas City, even if the Chiefs are playing backup quarterback Nick Foles. Blake Bortles will keep it close, but the Jags need an impact play.

Prediction: Kansas City 27, Jacksonville 21

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Football flashback: When FSU overcame Russell Wilson’s greatness

The season was disappointing. A lot like this one.

The opposing quarterback was terrific. A lot like the Seminoles have played this season.

And the outcome was perfect. Whether FSU can repeat it this week against North Carolina State remains to be seen.

It was in 2009, and FSU pulled out a 45-42 victory over the Wolfpack, always a tough opponent, in one of the wildest games in memory.

For one thing, the Seminoles had to survive the play of Russell Wilson, now a star with the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson threw for 369 yards and five touchdows that afternoon.

However, Christan Ponder threw for 277 and guided FSU to a game-winning, 66-yard drive. Bert Reed scored the winning touchdown on a three-yard run with 1:36 to play.

The teams combined for more than 1,100 yards of offense. Wilson gave the Wolfpack a 42-28 lead with 3:39 to play with a five-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Williams.

It was the final season for Bobby Bowden at FSU.

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ESPN writers predict bowl spots for FSU, Florida, USF, UCF

The guesswork has begun as to where your favorite college team will go bowling.

Hint: If you pull for a team from Florida, it won’t be in the playoffs.

ESPN had its two college writers — Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy — outline each of the bowl games. Both writers have the playoff teams the same: Alabama vs. Washington in the Peach Bowl and Clemson vs. Michigan in the Fiesta. Schlabach has Alabama playing Michigan in the title game, while McMurphy has the Tide playing Clemson. The Tide, under Nick Saban, would be going for another national title.

Both writers have UCF, under Scott Frost, playing Georgia Southern in the AutoNation Cure Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 17 in Orlando.

Both have USF, behind Quinton Flowers, playing against Boston College in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26.

McMurphy has Miami (Mark Richt‘s new team) playing Georgia (Richt’s old team) in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26.

Schlabach has Miami playing against Florida and Luke Del Rio in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville on Dec. 31. McMcMurphy thinks Florida will face Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

FSU, says McMurphy, will play in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28. Schlabach has FSU playing against Auburn in the Citrus Bowl, also in Orlando. Dalvin Cook leads the Seminoles.

Match-ups are sure to change as the regular season goes into its stretch drive.

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Will FSU’s Dalvin Cook be among most talented not to win Heisman?

He has more than 1,000 yards … again.

He is averaging more than six yards a carry … again.

He has more than 10 touchdowns … again.

So why does Dalvin Cook seem to be an afterthought in the Heisman conversation?

Oh, Cook, the talented running back of the FSU Seminoles, gets mentioned … eventually. But long after Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. And perhaps that’s as it should be. Jackson and Watson are very good players for very good teams, which is the way the voting seems to go anymore.

But in ESPN’s Heisman Watch this week, Cook ranked only sixth. He had half the votes of Donnell Pumphrey, the San Deigo State running back who leads the nation in rushing. He had one more vote than defensive end Jonathan Allen of Alabama. Cook had zero first-place votes, zero second-place votes.

All of which may make Cook the most impressive Heisman afterthought since Peyton Manning.

Currently, Cook is fifth in the nation in rushing. But that includes the stats of a running back from Wyoming, one from Middle Tennessee, and Pumphrey from San Diego State. Of the so-called power schools, the only back with more yards than Cook is Texas’ De’Onta Foreman, who has 17 more yards.

So what is it? Is it playing on a team with a bad defense? Is it familiarity? Was it the slow start?

Think about this. Cook already has 2,710 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns the last two years. With four games left, he should end up with around 3,200 yards and 35 touchdowns his last two seasons.

Yes, some backs have done better. But not that much. Archie Griffin of Ohio State won two Heismans in 1974 and 1975. In those two seasons, he rushed for 3,145 yards and 16 scores. In 1967 and 1968, O.J. Simpson finished second and first. He had 3,423 yards and 36 scores. Herschel Walker was second in 1981 and first in 1983. He rushed for 3,643 yards and 34 scores.

And those are the all-time greatest. The best performance probably was Texas’ Ricky Williams of Texas, who came in fifth in ’97 and first in ’98. He rushed for 4,072 yards and 52 scores his last two years. Kind of light?

Of course, the legends don’t always compare. Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard each finished in the top five for three straight years from 1944-46, Davis won it in ’46 and was second in the other two years. Blanchard won it in ’44 and was third and fourth his other two years.

Davis had a grand total of 2,309 yards. Blanchard had a total of 1,670. For three years.

And so Cook keeps churning. He might not catch the Heisman Trophy.

Just greatness.

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Clemson holds off FSU to win a classic football game over Seminoles

At the end of a highlight show, the Clemson Tigers’ kept their dreams of reaching the national playoffs alive.

The third-ranked Tigers scored the final points of the game to take a breathless 37-34 victory over FSU Saturday night.

Clemson scored with 77 seconds left to play on a 34-yard pass from Deshaun Watson to Jordan Leggett. The Seminoles moved to the Tigers’ 34 yard-line with 34 seconds left to play, but two penalties and two sacks of quarterback Deondre Francois kept Clemson ahead.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was irritated at the officials, especially when it came to a chop block that called back a 50-yard touchdown by Cook.

“It was ridiculous,” Fisher said. “It was not a chop, it was not a chop. I will tell you what, you hold coaches accountable, you hold players accountable, hold the damn officials accountable. It is garbage and then to call another penalty on the sideline is even more garbage. Its cowardly, gutless and wrong. They can fine it or do whatever they want to do with it. That is a fact, look at the film. It is ridiculous that they do that. That was a huge call in the game. We still had chances in the game to win after that, but it is ridiculous.”

Fisher didn’t agree with a targeting call against Trey Marshall, either.

“I didn’t think it was targeting,” he said. “I still don’t. I don’t think he led. He hit him with the side of his helmet. I don’t think he hit with his crown. They review that, but they don’t review Deondre (Francois) who is being exposed on a two-step deal and they won’t call that. Whoever is in the booth is bad too.”

In all, FSU had 13 penalties for 111 yards.

“You’ll never get in a rhythm as a team if you have penalties and yardage like that,” Cook said. “We’ve got to clean those things up as a team and especially as an offense. If we want to attain the goals and be the offense we want to be, we have to clean those things up. We can’t have those self-inflicted wounds. That will get a drive stopped.”

The Tigers took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. But FSU shaved the lead to three points by halftime, part of it on one of Dalvin Cook’s four touchdowns on the day.

The Seminoles led 28-20 after three periods, but couldn’t hold the lead. The Tigers outscored FSU 17-6 in the final period.

For Clemson, Watson threw for 378 yards against the FSU secondary. For FSU, Francois threw for 286 yards and Cook ran for 169 yards. Sophomore Nyqwan Murray caught six passes for 96 yards to lead FSU.

The Tigers’ Leggett caught five passes for 122 yards.

FSU entered the game ranked 12th in the country, but with their third loss, they could tumble. FSU plays at N.C. State Saturday.

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The Predictions: Deshaun Watson will lead Clemson past FSU

For two weeks, the FSU defense has been solid.

For two weeks, opponents have found the game as difficult as ever.

Ah, but if you are an FSU fan, you remember. You remember quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Chad Kelly and Quinton Flowers and Mitch Trubisky. You remember teams constantly kicking extra points.

And now comes Deshaun Watson of Clemson. Yikes.

Watson, one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy, has guided Clemson to a 7-0 record and the No. 3 ranking in the country. FSU, No. 12, will counter with Dalvin Cook and Deondre Francoise.

Two years ago, Watson threw for 266 yards against the Seminoles in a loss. Last year, he threw for 297 yards and ran for 107.

Clemson, however, has struggled at times this year. They had a hard time beating Auburn, Troy, Louisville, and N.C. State. So a trip to Tallahassee doesn’t seem as if it will be a cakewalk.

Look for FSU to stay close for three quarters. In the end, however, the defense that gave up 177 points in the team’s first five games is still vulnerable.

Prediction: Clemson 28, FSU 17

Florida vs. Georgia

Once upon a time, Florida’s Jim McElwain and Georgia’s Kirby Smart used to coach together under Nick Saban. These days, they’re both fighting for the SEC East title.

So far, Georgia’s move to hire Smart wasn’t, well, intelligent. The Bulldogs still have impressive pieces.

Florida’s defense, however, should be the best unit on the field again Saturday, especially if linebacker Jarrad Davis can play. Florida’s offense isn’t anything to brag about. Still, the Gators are 5-1 and the Bulldogs have lost three out of four, including last week’s game against Vanderbilt.

Prediction: Florida 20, Georgia 16

Miami at Notre Dame

The Hurricanes are on a three-game losing streak and have been beaten up across the defensive line.

Both teams believe this season could be a lot better. Notre Dame lost by three to Texas, by eight to Michigan State, by three to Duke and by seven to both N.C. State and Stanford. Miami lost by one to FSU.

At home, Notre Dame should have just enough to win.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Miami 24

Navy at USF

When they play tonight, the Bulls will be trying to regain the momentum they lost against Temple last week.

USF still can move the ball with Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack. But Navy never seems to beat itself, which is one reason the Midshipmen are ranked No. 22 in the country. There are still large questions about a USF defense that gives up too many points.

Prediction: Navy 27, USF 26

UCF at Houston

The Knights are growing as a team, but they aren’t quite ready for a team as explosive as Houston. Look for the Cougers to dominate early.

Prediction: Houston 37, UCF 20

Western Kentucky vs. FAU

The Hilltoppers (5-3) won easily a week ago when quarterback Mike White hit 28 of 32 passes for 378 yards. The last time these two teams played, Western led only 14-13 at the half but then pulled away.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 35, FAU 21

Middle Tennessee at FIU

The Panthers can score, but it’s doubtful they can keep up with Middle Tennessee. Last week, the Blue Raiders upset SEC opponent Missouri as Brent Stockstill threw for 280 yards.

FIU, meanwhile, lost to Louisiana Tech.

Prediction: Middle Tennessee 34, FIU 13

The Pros

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

Running back Jay Ajayi has been impressive with back-to-back 200-yard games, something only four players in NFL history have done. But the going will be tougher against the Jets, who struggle on offense but have impressive pieces on defense.

Look for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be the difference, one way or another.

Prediction: New York Jets 20, Miami Dolphins 17

Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Bucs

The Bucs have won two straight road games. With three home games in a row, it’s time the team established a home field advantage. That’s easier said than done, however. The Raiders have impressive weaponry on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: Raiders 27, Bucs 23

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Football flashback: When Bobby Bowden called the ‘puntrooskie’

Looking back, it might have been the biggest gamble in the history of college football.

Think about it. FSU and Clemson are tied, 21-21. Fourth down. Ball at their own 21. Ninety seconds to play.

And Bobby Bowden calls a legendary fake. The puntrooskie.

Can you imagine the daring? Can you imagine the moxie?

The amazing play started when the center snapped the ball to up-back Dayne Williams. Williams then put the ball between the legs of Leroy Butler, who went around the left end for 78 yards. He was tackled at the one, but the Seminoles won on Richie Andrews’ 19-yard field goal.

“We’re just lucky it worked, but if it hadn’t Clemson could’ve turned around kicked a field goal and beat us,” Bowden said.

Analyst Beano Cook said it was “the best play since My Fair Lady.”

Years later, Bowden said he considered that his favorite of his trick plays.

”It’s got to be first,” Bowden said. ”We’ve had some other successful ones, fake field goals for touchdowns and stuff like that. But that was way above my expectations.

”It had two-thirds of a chance of working, because on a punt (Clemson) did three different things: they tried to block; they tried to return, and the other was just to play safe and be sure that you punt. If they had done that, we would have made nothing. And they put the return on.”

Said Butler: ”I had butterflies as big as pterodactyls.”

Clemson and FSU go after each other again Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.

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Steve Schale: Notes on the first day of early voting in Florida

Dear friends and casual Twitter followers:

It is Florida election memo time! I know you all are excited.

Fourteen days left. If Jaguars fans can survive the Gus Bradley era, America can do 14 days of this.

Also of note: 18 days until FSU basketball tips off.

So here are some notes on the first day of in-person early voting:

Frankly, for fans of the home team, it’s all good news.

Democrats entered the day down after about two weeks of vote-by-mail returns by about 20,000 votes. This 1.7 percent Republican Party advantage compares to a GOP advantage of 5 percent in 2012.

Then, early voting happened.

First, not all counties have reported yet (17 yet to report, most are small), but when all said and done, over 300,000 will have voted on Day 1. Just to put into scale, 1.2 million voted by mail in the first two weeks.

When you add in the mail ballots from yesterday, 22 percent of all the ballots cast in Florida were cast in person yesterday. That is a remarkable number.

In total, Democrats reduced the Republican advantage of 1.7 percent going into yesterday to around 0.5 percent after Day 1 (still counties reporting, so this number will move around).

Here are some interesting places on Day 1:

Won Duval County by 1,700 votes. Duval hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter, and is one of those places where Donald Trump really needs to run up the score. Dems also won the day in Polk County, an I-4 county that also hasn’t voted for a Democrat since Carter.

Won Volusia County by several hundred, again a place Trump was hoping to build on the gains of Romney in 2012.

And in bellwether county Hillsborough, the only place in Florida to vote for George W. Bush twice and Barack Obama twice, Democrats won by almost 3,000 votes, or roughly 14 points (49-35). By comparison, Democrats have a seven-point advantage in registration.

In fact, Democrats won every county along I-4, plus Pinellas — including both Republican strongholds Polk and Seminole. The total I-4 vote was 48-33 D. Seminole County hadn’t voted Democrat in a presidential election since Harry Truman.

Base turnout was also very encouraging.

In Orange County, Democrats won a robust day, 53-27 percent.

In Broward County, Democrats won a record day, 63-20 percent.

In Palm Beach, a county which improved for Mitt Romney in 2012, Dems won 53-27 percent.

In Alachua, where the University of Florida is, it was 65-22 percent Dems.

And in Dade County, 10,000 more voters showed up on the first day of early voting than 2012. Of the 35,000 who cast a ballot, Democrats won the day 53-27 percent.

Finally, with the help of a friend yesterday, I looked into the question of whether Democrats were simply “cannibalizing” their traditional vote by encouraging its traditional voters to vote early in person and by mail.

Two points: First, even if that’s all they did, Hillary Clinton would almost surely win Florida. Republicans need to expand the electorate to win.

But, that isn’t what is happening. Over 28 percent of Democratic vote-by-mail returnees as of yesterday were either first-time voters, or rare voters (voted in one of last three), compared to 20 percent for Republicans. Another way of looking at it: 80 percent of Republican Party vote-by-mail returns are from most-likely voters, compared to 72 percent of Democrats.

That is voter expansion.

I am going to try to do a little note each day. Try is the operative word.

As always, if you have any questions, give me a holler.

Steve

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Dalvin Cook-Deshaun Watson battle highlights FSU-Clemson

There are headaches ahead for the Seminoles. Take a glance at Clemson, and you can see why they were in last season’s national championship game.

They have running back Wayne Gallman and receiver Mike Williams. They have corner Cordrea Tankersley and linebacker Ben Boulware. They have defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins.

But most of all, they have quarterback Deshaun Watson. He’s the player FSU needs to stop.

It’s the same on the other sideline. The Seminoles have quarterback Deondre Francois and wide receiver Travis Rudolph. They have defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat. They have offensive tackle Roderick Johnson and linebacker Trey Marshall.

But mainly, they have running back Dalvin Cook. He’s job No. 1.

And so it will be that when FSU and Clemson face off Saturday, their stars will face off, too. One national poll this week ranked Watson as the No. 2 favorite for the Heisman. Cook was No. 6. It was that way when they two played last year. Watson threw for 397 yards and rushed for 107 more. Cook rushed for 194.

Oh, other players will matter, too. But those two will be in the starring roles. The defenders of FSU (12th in the polls) will be graded by how well they stop Watson. The Tigers (third in the nation) will be judged by how well they stop Cook.

Watson is 16th in the nation in total offense. Cook is ninth in rushing.

And stopping the opposition? Clemson is 30th against the run. FSU has improved, but it’s still 75th against the pass.

In other words, the game is going to be interesting. So, too, will the game inside the game.

Game time is 8 p.m. at Doak Campbell Stadium.

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