FSU played its most complete game of the 2021 season in its 35-25 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Saturday afternoon. The Seminoles improved to 2-4 on the season and 2-2 in the ACC with an impressive performance running and throwing by starting quarterback Jordan Travis. The FSU defense also held Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell to his worst performance of the season, allowing him to complete just 17 of 32 passes for 203 yards. Here are the Osceola’s first impressions of the keys to the Seminoles upset victory on the road.
Time of Possession-Shorten Game
One of the things FSU had to do to beat UNC was shorten the game by sustaining drives, taking time off the clock and keeping the Tar Heels’ high-powered offense off the field. That is exactly what the Seminoles did in the first half to take a 21-10 halftime lead. The Tar Heels started quickly, scoring on their first two drives to take a 10-0 lead. However, after going three and out on its first possession, FSU scored three touchdowns on its last three possessions of the half. That included a 12-play drive for its first score that took 7:20 off the game clock and cut the lead to 10-7. On FSU’s last drive of the first half it scored on an eight-play drive that took 3:59 off the clock to take a 21-10 lead. In total the Seminoles held the ball for a total of 12:26, where it ran 23 plays and gained 204 yards. FSU’s last scoring drive left the Tar Heels with only 53-seconds left on the clock to try and cut into FSU’s lead going into halftime, which it could not do.
FSU’s third drive of the second half resulted in a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive that took 4:53 off the clock. In total FSU held the ball for 8:57 in the third quarter, which resulted in the Tar Heels running just 13 plays in two and a half possessions to start the second half.
On FSU’s first drive of the fourth quarter, with a 35-17 lead, it held the ball for 4:34 despite picking up just 22 yards on six plays.
It also got some help in this area from its opponent. Finding itself down by three scores, UNC got the ball back with 8:02 left in the game but was apparently in no hurry to try and score. UNC did cut the lead to 35-25 after its 11-play, 58-yard touchdown drive but it took 5:25 off the clock in doing so. FSU found itself with a 10-point lead with just 2:47 left in the game.
The Seminoles held the ball for almost 17 minutes in the second half and allowed UNC just four second-half possessions.
Howell was Harmless
FSU’s pass defense has been much maligned over the last two and half seasons but had its best performance of the season against UNC quarterback Sam Howell, who came into the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The Seminoles’ defense made Howell look harmless as he had his worst passing performance of the season. He finished the game just 17 of 32 (53 percent) for 203 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He had completed 64 percent of his passes in UNC’s last four games, where he had also thrown 13 touchdown passes.
Run the Ball
It goes with out saying that FSU has to run the ball to win because it is what it does best offensively and because it allowed FSU to shorten the game with the byproduct of opening up opportunities in the passing game off of play action. The Seminoles ran for 144 yards in the first half, where it possessed the ball for a total of 13:30 and limited UNC to just five offensive series to start the game. FSU’s last touchdown of the first half was set up off play action when Jordan Travis pulled a ball fake and delivered a strike to the other side of the field for a 32-yard touchdown to Ontaria Wilson.
In the second half FSU scored on its second possession on a five-play, 75-yard drive with the key play being a play action pass where Travis sold the run fake, pulled the ball from the ball carrier’s belly, rolled to his right and hit Keyshawn Helton for a 44-yard completion that was aided by a roughing the passer call on the play which resulted in a 59-yard gain.
On FSU’s third drive of the second half, to make the score 35-17, the Seminoles scored on roll-out pass from Travis to Wilson. FSU ran the ball five times for 43 yards and also ran a screen play for 16 yards, where the pass was completed behind the line of scrimmage to Cam McDonald.
FSU also couldn’t afford to let Travis be run heavy. Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward needed to help shoulder the load and not allow the UNC defense to key too much on Travis. Travis ran for 121 yards on 14 carries, while Ward gained 77 yards on 12 carries, and Corbin ended up with 52 yards on 13 carries.
One of the signs of FSU taking another step in its development was that it was able to play complementary football. After the Seminoles scored their first touchdown the defense forced a three-and-out on UNC’s next series. FSU’s offense got the ball back and quickly thanked the defense by scoring on a three-play, 65-yard drive to give itself a 14-10 lead.
After seeing UNC score on its first drive of the second half to cut FSU’s lead to 21-17 the Seminoles’ offense responded by driving the length of the field to make the score 28-17. Travis was by far the star of the show offensively for the Seminoles but success running the ball by both running backs helped keep the Tar Heels’ defense honest.
FSU’s struggle to sustain and prolong possessions offensively had caused its defense to be on the field for lots of plays and series. In games against Louisville and Syracuse the Seminoles defense was on the field for a total of 14 series in each game. With FSU’s offense sustaining drives (and scoring) the defense was on the field for just nine series and 68 plays against the Tar Heels.
Another reason for FSU’s second win in as many weeks was its performance on offense on third down. The FSU offense finished 7 for 10 on third down conversions.
On FSU’s first scoring drive of the game the Seminoles converted on both of their third-down plays, the first a third-and-8 and the second on a third-and-6 play. It also converted on a third-and-12 play to extend the drive that resulted in going ahead 35-17.
On its last possession of the game FSU converted on a third-and-3 situation that allowed it to run out the clock to end the game.