Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher could not have been happy at halftime of FSU’s game with the South Florida Bulls. They were being outplayed by USF.
The Seminoles went on to win the game, 34-14, but they were fortunate to enter the locker room at the half tied with the Bulls at 7-7. USF’s defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half except for one 76-yard burst by Dalvin Cook. Florida State Quarterback Everett Golson completed one pass.
Heading into the break, the Bulls had to think they were poised to be the first unranked, nonconference opponent to beat USF at Doak Campbell Stadium since the B.J. Daniels-led USF did it in 2009.
FSU then turned it on in the second half, but things could have been closer, if not a USF upset.
To pull off big upsets on the road, such as the one sought by South Florida, three things must happen. The first is to avoid costly turnovers. The second is to avoid costly penalties. The third is take advantage of opportunities presented.
The Bulls committed only one turnover, but it was an important interception. They were only flagged twice for 21 yards in penalties, but one of those was huge. They clearly failed to take advantage of their chances.
While the final score was a 20-point margin, the Bulls missed several opportunities to place enormous pressure on the Seminoles. One of those missed opportunities allowed FSU to leave the field tied after 30 minutes.
Late in the first quarter, the Bulls had the ball on the FSU 4-yard line driving for the tying score. Quarterback Quinton Flowers lofted a pass toward the back of the end zone intended for Tight End Elkanah Dillon, but it was intercepted by Marquez White. The ball was thrown poorly, but a simple cut to the right by Dillon, a redshirt freshman, would have left him with a wide-open section of the end zone and an easy target for Flowers.
With less than five minutes left in the third quarter and the Bulls still within striking distance at 17-7, Flowers overthrew a wide open Chase Whitehead that would have put the Bulls well into Seminole territory. A chance to get the game to a one-score deficit was lost.
On Florida State’s ensuing possession, the Bulls forced an incompletion on third down, but a devastating roughing-the-passer penalty (questionably called “targeting”) on the Bulls’ Auggie Sanchez allowed FSU to keep the ball. Four plays later, Golson connected with Bobo Wilson on a touchdown to make it 24-7.
“I thought that was the momentum change in the ball game,” said Bulls Coach Willie Taggart. “That was bad for our football team.”
The Bulls had two final opportunities to make it interesting in the fourth quarter. With eight minutes left and USF down 27-14, Flowers missed a streaking Chris Barr that prevented a big play.
On the very next snap, Flowers lofted a perfect pass onto the hands of Austin Aikens along the sideline well into FSU territory. Aikens dropped it, the Bulls punted and Florida State drove 88 yards to cap the scoring.
The difference between winning and losing may look larger on the scoreboard than it would have with two or three plays turning out differently. USF is a young team with some quality players.
When they start making more plays, they are going to be hard to play against. They can learn from FSU’s ability to do that, especially in the second half.