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Column: Emotional preparation as vital as game plan vs. Miami

In the Osceola’s preview to the Florida State-Miami game, Patrick Burnham detailed three keys to beating Miami. After the 31-28 win he wrote another piece showing how the Seminoles had achieved each of those three keys.

Those three keys were spot on but after the piece had been posted, a fourth key occurred to me, one I posted on the Osceola message board prior to kickoff.

This is what I wrote: “FSU doesn’t need to concern itself with UM (as much as) they need to concern themselves with themselves. FSU can only win this game, or any other game, when they are the best version of themselves, which is to say when they minimize unforced errors.

“Playing clean is easier said than done in a rivalry game, when the guy across the line is your friend or a person you cannot stand. FSU players will be tested, taunted, punched in the mouth. They will need to elevate their emotion to match Miami’s — which shouldn’t be difficult — yet be in control of it from the planting of the spear to the final whistle.

“While still a work in progress, FSU has proven much tougher mentally and emotionally this season. While the price of tuition has been high, you get the feeling FSU has learned its lesson: they cannot overcome multiple mistakes. FSU has also shown the willingness to fight and not quit, which is always a key to victory in this game.”

Give Norvell credit for having team emotionally prepared

Florida State did a much better job of managing emotion than did Miami from the time Osceola stuck the spear in the ground until Jordan Travis stuck the spears on his helmet into the Miami end zone to cap an 11-point, fourth-quarter comeback after momentum had swung from FSU to UM.

“This game showed it all,” said the victorious coach, Mike Norvell. “We’ve talked about this, we talked about it all throughout the course of the week. When you have an emotional game, there’s going to be highs, there’s going to be lows, but make sure you maintain your composure. I thought, for the most part, we did a pretty good job of that but then we had times where we had lapses in focus.”

While this Florida State team has proven to be a team that will not quit, it has struggled to close out games.

“You’ve seen the momentum swings. You’ve seen a positive response,” he said about inconsistency in finishing. “I think our guys took heed of that, they understand, take ownership of the lessons that we’ve learned. I thought tonight, in crunch time, they were able to go out there and get the job done. As a coach, so proud of them for what they’ve done and what they’ve invested to make that happen.”

Miami was a mess in first quarter

The Seminoles were better prepared emotionally than Miami, which was playing on the road in front of 71,000 fans intent on creating a home field advantage in Doak Campbell Stadium.

In that initial quarter, Miami committed eight penalties (FSU had two) with three turnovers (FSU had none) and found themselves trailing FSU 14-0. Imagine this, the Canes had more yards in penalties (50 yards) than total yards gained (31 yards) in the opening quarter, meaning their production was negative in those 15 minutes. 

In addition, FSU’s two touchdowns were each aided by UM mistakes. The Hurricanes were flagged for 25 yards in penalties on the opening 75-yard drive and FSU’s second touchdown came as the result of a UM fumble at the Hurricanes’ 12- yard line. 

If you were at the game, you probably noticed Miami players pushing FSU players or talking trash after every play. And you might have noticed FSU players backing away arms stretch out to be sure the referees didn’t flag them in retaliation. The FSU behavior looked rehearsed and it was. 

“That’s something we talked about through the week,” Norvell said when asked on Monday. “We knew it was going to be an emotional game, an emotional start, but poise and control is so critical in those moments. We had a team meeting on Friday where I took about 10 clips and used them as examples of things we can expect to see. We could respond in a positive way or we could respond in a negative way. But where do we want our advantage? Control, poise, those are things that can be an advantage for you if you allow them to be.

 “I thought our guys were very emotional, but for the most part, I thought we were able to keep that under control and go out and execute in the moment.”

Miami settled down after the first quarter. Unlike the first quarter, where the Canes had eight penalties, UM had only two flags in the second quarter with no turnovers. 

Momentum swung against FSU in the third

The Seminoles didn’t play well in the third quarter, with a fumbled exchange between Jordan Travis and Jashaun Corbin at the 32-yard line that led to a quick UM score to cut the lead to 20-14. FSU was also charged with three penalties in the third (eight in the game) for 25 yards, which is more yards than the Seminoles gained (18 yards) in that stanza.

There was one more particularly-egregious offense with 1:28 left in the third quarter when FSU cornerback Jarvis Brownlee ran into the Miami kicker, who had just missed a 54-yard field-goal try. The penalty led to a fourth-quarter touchdown that put Miami ahead 21-20.

If you asked yourself, why rush a 54-yard try into an eight-mile an hour wind, then you were reading my mind. But it happened and added to the drama, which made this year’s FSU-UM game that much more exciting.

Everything seemed to be going Miami’s way, including two fourth-down conversions in that drive, one on a touchdown pass that was tipped at least once before falling randomly into the hands of a Hurricane player laying in the end zone.

Miami fans were celebrating in the stands. 

“As the game went on, there was a swing in momentum,” Norvell acknowledged. “There were some negative plays and missed opportunities but give some credit to them. They responded. They hit some plays. But what I loved was the sideline. That’s where I always get my feel. What does it look like? What does it feel like? There was nobody hanging their head, there was nobody panicked.”

Going into the fourth quarter, as the Miami offense and FSU defense reversed ends of the field, the benches emptied and the entire Miami team came onto the field, where they were met by the entire Florida State team at midfield just yards apart, staring each other down.

Flags flew as coaches and staff successfully kept the moment from escalating like has happened so many other times in this series.

“That was something that was kind of surreal,” said Norvell, who wasn’t on the sideline last year due to a Covid infection. “I was pretty glad to be a part of that but it was emotional. That’s what it should be in that game, as long as everybody can collect their emotions and make sure they still control themselves the right way.”

Miami scored to make it 21-20 and the Seminoles had the chance to answer but receiver Andrew Parchment missed a signal from Travis and didn’t realize the ball would be coming his way. Travis threw a pass that would have hit Parchment in stride for what could have been a touchdown. 

The crowd sighed at what could have been as FSU had to give the ball right back to the Miami offense, which drove 73 yards in six plays to take a 28-20 lead with 11 minutes remaining. 

How FSU reversed momentum

If you were wondering what FSU could do to stop the hemorrhaging, let alone flip the momentum, you were reading my mind. 

“Anybody can put a smile on their face when the sun is shining and it feels good,” Norvell said. 
“But when you are in that moment where you feel like momentum is going against you, you feel like things are stacked up, you just continue to play. You focus on the things that you can control. I thought our guys absolutely did that.”

On Monday, Norvell was asked about the mounting adversity and how momentum finally swung back in FSU’s favor. In his answer he talked about learning from previous costly mistakes. 

“That’s one of the things, two weeks ago at Clemson, we didn’t (handle),” Norvell said, referring to three 15-yard penalties incurred on four plays after Jermaine Johnson scored what looked like it might be the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. 

“We found success there late in the fourth quarter, but we weren’t able to sustain that with some of the little things,” he said. “But our guys answered the bell (against Miami). That (Clemson game) was a big message for our team. No matter what situation you find yourself in, you answer the call. Whether it’s the field-goal team on fourth-and-3, when I made a decision to kick a field goal, they go out there and executed. Defense needs a stop, went out there and executed. The offense, two-minute drive, they have to answer the call whether it’s fourth-and-14, let’s do our job. And all those things stacked together, just created an incredible finish. I was really proud of our guys for not getting too high, and not getting too low, in the emotional swings that game had, and it allowed them to have success.”

The Seminoles answered Miami’s final score with a patient 14-play, 64-yard drive comprised of six plays of six or fewer yards. Unfortunately, the drive consumed 6 minutes and 21 precious seconds. With 4:44 on the clock, Norvell faced a fourth-and-3 decision. Do you kick the field goal to cut the lead to five and depend on the defense to stop Miami quickly so there’s still time for your two-minute offense? Remember, Miami scored four touchdowns on its previous five possessions. Even if the defense were to stop Miami quickly, FSU’s two-minute offense would have to be on point, too.

“When I made the decision to kick the field goal there, being down eight, I knew we were going to get a stop,” Norvell said. 

Coaches controlled their emotions too

When we talk about emotional intelligence being a key to winning this game, we include the coaches, too.

Throughout this game, even when the momentum had turned decisively against FSU, Norvell looked calm, decisive. 

“We needed to do it in all three phases, but I thought, our guys, you could see the confidence.” Norvell said repeating a philosophy he considers the bedrock of his program. “Everything builds in this program. We challenge them daily. We challenge them to be their best on the field, off the field, in the classroom, in everything they do to prepare them to have confidence in the moment when things get uncomfortable.”

Down eight with 4:44 against the arch-rival is the definition of uncomfortable.

You could see the leadership from Jermaine Johnson on defense and Travis on offense as he led the final two drives with 11 unanswered points to gain the 31-28 victory.

“I thought Jordan played really well,” Norvell said. “Throughout the course of the game, there were some tough moments for him but he was just so level-headed throughout. I thought he started great, responded to some of the adversity that showed up and he finished strong for us.”

On the final drive, facing fourth-and-14, Travis patiently stepped up into the pocket and threw a strike to Parchment, who made the catch and advanced the ball to the 1-yard line.

On Monday, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said Parchment was Travis’s fourth option on the play. 

“It’s not a real fun situation to be in, but that’s a play that we’ve been working on at practice and one that we knew if the game was on the line, it was going to provide good options,” Norvell said. “I thought Jordan did a great job of stepping up in the pocket, Andrew did a great job of getting his depth and really just working into the next window. What a throw. What a catch. To put us down there at the end, it was a special play. Those guys, it was a heck of a connection.”

The Noles had the ball at the Miami one with 45 seconds remaining. Important decisions needed to be made by Norvell and Diaz, who was the defensive coordinator in this game. Diaz would rely on his defense to try to make a goal-line stand, a decision he would second guess in hindsight. On Sunday he said he would have been better served to let FSU score on first down, which would have put FSU up by one, and then defend the two-point conversion. By doing so, he would have saved two precious timeouts and 15 or more seconds, which they could have used to send the game to overtime.

Miami stuffed FSU on the first and second try — but was penalized, again — which gave FSU another down. FSU scored on the third try. With a one-point lead, Norvell wisely went for the two-point conversion to put the Seminoles up 31-28, leaving Miami 25 seconds and no time outs to navigate 40 yards to reach reasonable field goal position. Miami completed a 20 yard pass before Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke mistakenly spiked the ball to stop the clock without enough time remaining to do so. It was the final mistake for Miami. 

“We talked about playing 60 minutes together,” Norvell said. “We knew all three phases were going to have to show up and tonight they did. We did all the things necessary to put ourselves in position to win that thing late. I was just so proud of our guys for maintaining that consistency there late and getting the job done.”

While this game did not have national championship implications for Miami or Florida State, it still had the classic feel of two evenly matched teams fighting for their football lives. And it likely was for Diaz. 

In every Seminole-Hurricane clash there is a winner and a heartbroken loser and generally the winner is the team who makes the plays and best manages emotions and mistakes.

With a win over Miami now in the books, this young Seminole team faces a new test of emotion. Can they put the thrill of victory over the arch-rival behind them? Can they turn their focus to practice preparation for a very talented Boston College team, 1,296 miles to the north, and 20 degrees colder than Doak on Saturday night?

How well Florida State handles emotion this week will be a key to victory once again on Saturday.