Football program gains momentum despite FSU loss

By on November 3, 2014

By Derek Brightwell–

If Thursday’s showdown between second ranked Florida State University and number 25 Louisville was a Tale of Two Halves, then the first half was the best of times and the second was the worst of times for Card Nation.

Florida State came back from down 21-7 at the half to remain undefeated, winning 42-31 in front of the second largest crowd ever at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The Cards set the tempo early, with a 71-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Will Gardner to senior receiver DeVante Parker who was stopped at the four yard line. Florida State stopped the Cards three straight times, leading to the first big decision of that game. Coach Bobby Petrino chose to go for it on fourth down from the two-yard line.

“You always second-guess yourself: should you take the field goal, should you be aggressive and go for the touchdown,” Petrino said. “We kind of made the decision going into the game that we were going to really be aggressive.”

“I just saw the end zone,” Parker said of the big reception. “We just wanted to score and get a big play on the first play.”

The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie, but Louisville had started driving going into the second. That drive culminated in a touchdown for senior running back Michael Dyer, giving Louisville the lead 7-0.

In the following drive, Florida State had started an impressive, sustained drive into Louisville territory, but on the twelfth play of the drive, linebacker Keith Kelsey got a clean run on quarterback Jameis Winston, forcing him to rush his throw. Junior linebacker James Burgess caught it for his third interception of the year, giving Louisville the ball on their 49-yard line. Louisville capitalized on the turnover with a drive that resulted in Dyer’s second touchdown of the day.

The first play of the ensuing drive for FSU was Winston’s second interception. This time to the national leader in interceptions, redshirt sophomore safety Gerod Holliman, for his ninth of the year. Again, Louisville didn’t let the chance slip by, scoring on a touchdown from Gardner to tight end Gerald Christian to push the lead to 21-0.

“Not to take any credit away from those guys, they got a good defense. But in that first half, we were dialed in. We knew what they were going to do,” Gardner said of the offensive output in the first half.

Florida State’s lone score in the first half came on a bizarre play. On the one-yard line, Winston and senior running back Karlos Williams botched the hand-off exchange and the ball bounced into the end zone where senior tight end Nick O’Leary fell on it for the touchdown to bring the score to 21-7 heading into the half.

“At halftime, I felt good,” Petrino said. “When you looked at what we were doing running the ball, what we were doing throwing it, what we were doing holding them. But they’re real explosive and they made a lot of plays.”

FSU got the ball to start the second half, and on the first play, Winston threw his career high third interception, again to Holliman. Winston didn’t give up on the play and forced a fumble on the return and Florida State got the ball back. Louisville’s defense was still able to hold, stopping the Seminoles on the next four plays to get the ball back on downs.

After a John Wallace field goal made the score 24-7, Florida State started to mount their comeback.

The first score came by way of a 68-yard touchdown pass from Winston to true freshman Travis Rudolph. Rudolph beat corner Terell Floyd on the play and the safety was late getting over, leaving Rudolph wide open for the catch. The drive only lasted 1:31.

Winston was back on the field again after the ‘Noles defense got a quick stop. The former Heisman winner connected with true freshman running back Dalvin Cook three times on the same flat route. Eventually, Cook would get loose on a 40-yard touchdown run to put the Seminoles within three of the Cards.

The third different true freshman to score for Florida State was wide-out Ermon Lane, with a 47-yarder thrown into triple coverage. On the play, Kelsey was late reacting the catch, possibly thinking the ball had been intercepted. Petrino admitted to thinking the same thing.

“He has great vision and he sees things, threw a perfect strike on one touchdown,” he said of Winston.  “Then the one that ricocheted off- I thought it was an interception. I didn’t know the guy had caught the ball until he was running for the end zone.”

A one-yard touchdown from Dyer put the Cards ahead in the fourth. The touchdown, Dyer’s third, marked the first time since Russell Wilson in 2010 that a player rushed for three touchdowns against a Florida State defense. But Cook broke another long run for a 38-yard touchdown to give the ‘Noles the lead for good.

The second half, in which Florida State gained 374 yards, 278 of those came off the arm of Winston, was a rare occurrence for a Louisville defense that had been among the nation’s best all season long. Usually, when a team explodes in the second half, it’s because of the adjustments that they made in the locker room. Senior linebacker and team sack leader, Lorenzo Mauldin, however, attributes the output to the lack of adjustments FSU made.

“We thought they were going to come out and do something different and they didn’t,” he said. “They just came out and made plays that we weren’t ready for.”

“They had two real big runs. Some really good running backs but we had chances to make tackles, some missed tackles, a few errors in our gap responsibility,” coach Petrino said.

“When you’re playing a team that’s real explosive, there’s a reason they were the National Champion last year, you got to give them credit for coming back. At half time, we knew they were a team who’s been good in the second half. We weren’t able to stop them,” he added.

Even in a loss, this was undoubtedly the best offensive performance for Louisville. Parker’s 214 yards was his seventh career hundred-yard game and by far the most of his career. Dyer had 142 yards rushing to go along with his three touchdowns. Gardner set a personal season high in passing yards with 330.

“We always have faith in our offense when it comes to that. All we do, as a defense, we want to get the ball back to them so they can score. We know they’re going to score,” Mauldin said.

“I think the offense looked a lot better tonight as far as what we needed to see all year. Of course, Michael Dyer helping with the run game, receivers catching balls and making plays and the offensive line doing a good job up front,” Gardner said, adding that they needed to finish better. “We had positives and there are also negatives to learn from.”

“DeVante, he’s a big playmaker. He made a bunch of big plays tonight,” he added of his star receiver. “First play of the game, hit him there for a big play. Proud to have DeVante back and proud of the way he played tonight.”

All said, Louisville had a real shot at winning the game, but let the lead slip away. For Petrino, one of the main reasons for the loss was their third down conversion rate of 1-11.

“We didn’t execute well. We had some chances, they made some good tight coverage plays, but we had some chances too. Just missed a couple of throws, some guys were open,” he said. “But when you look at it, offensively, that’s the one area that really killed us.”

For the Cards, the focus is getting past this loss and looking forward to their next game at Boston College.

“It’s a tough loss, but you can’t dwell on it. We gotta put it behind us and move forward because we play next week. You can’t let this hurt you and keep you from preparing for the next game and hurting the next game,” Gardner said.

“That’s the challenge, to be able to come back from it. We have to go on the road, play a tough one on the road,” Petrino said, adding that they will have a few extra days to prepare. “They did put a lot into this. Practices were really good, focus was really good. Now we have to rely on our leadership to help us get ready and go win our next game.”

Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal 

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