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First Impressions: Mistakes add up, deficit too much in comeback bid

GAINESVILLE — FSU’s fourth-quarter comeback bid against Florida game up just short on Saturday afternoon as the Seminoles fell to the rival Gators 24-21. The Seminoles finished the 2021 season with a 5-7 and one win short of bowl eligibility in Mike Norvell’s second season leading the Florida State program.

The game itself was evenly contested from start to finish with both teams at times being their own worst enemy due to either penalties or turnovers. FSU and Florida combined to commit 24 penalties — FSU committed nine penalties for 89 yards, only to be topped by Florida’s 13 penalties for 107 yards. FSU turned the ball over three times (one fumble and two interceptions, while Florida turned the ball over while Florida threw three interceptions in the game).

Here are the Osceola’s first impressions and keys to the game:

Third-down defense

One of the biggest culprits in FSU’s loss to Florida was its defense’s inability to get off the field on third down, where the Gators would convert on 11 of their 19 chances. FSU’s third-down issues started from the game’s first drive. Florida converted all three of its third-down chances on its opening drive, including a 12-yard completion on a third-and-8 play and a 47-yard touchdown pass to give the Gators an early 7-0 lead.

In the third quarter, with the game tied 7-7, Florida was again able to convert on two more third-and-7 (or longer) opportunities before ending its first drive of the second half with a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.

On Florida’s next scoring drive, which took place after FSU’s Ontaria Wilson fumbled a punt deep inside his own territory, the Gators would once again find success on third down. With Florida facing a third-and-21, backup quarterback Anthony Richardson completed a 22-yard pass that moved the ball from FSU’s 44-yard line to the Seminoles 22-yard line. Five plays later, on third-and-5 at the FSU 5-yard line, Richardson completed a touchdown pass to give Florida a 17-7 lead.

On its final scoring drive to take a 24-7 lead FSU did manage to hold Florida out of the end zone on a third-and-goal situation from the five-yard line. However, Florida would score one play later on an off-tackle play on fourth-and-3.

For the game Florida was 7 for 8 on third-down opportunities on drives in which it scored and was 4 for 11 on third-down opportunities in which its drives did not result in points.

Short-field opportunities

Both teams struggled to sustain drives throughout the game, which made scoring on short-field opportunities crucial. Unfortunately, FSU didn’t have a single possession in the ball game that started inside Florida’s territory. However, Florida had four possessions that started inside FSU’s territory and converted on two of those drives, which accounted for 10 points.

To give you an indication of just how hard it was for either team to sustain drives, FSU had 12 offensive possessions in the game with seven of those drives consisting of four plays or less. Six of Florida’s 13 possessions were drives of four plays or less and seven of 13 were of five plays or less.

Run to win

One of the Osceola’s pregame keys to victory was that the team that rushed the ball best would give its team the best chance to win. The team that ran the ball best had the most chance to find balance on offense because it would open up its passing game. Neither team was truly outstanding in the traditional running game (non-quarterback scrambles), but Florida had more success with its running backs in the ground game. Florida would total 104 yards on the ground outside of yards gained on the ground by its two quarterbacks who combined for 47 rushing yards. FSU managed 59 yards on the ground, minus the 102 yards quarterback Jordan Travis accumulated on the ground in the ballgame.

Turnovers

FSU’s ability to force turnovers in the first half went a long way to keeping it in the game going into halftime. The Seminoles picked off three Florida passes in the first half with all three of the interceptions occurring with the Gators driving inside FSU territory. All three were critical as it factored into the game being tied at the half but none was bigger than Jarvis Brownlee’s pick of an Emory Jones pass on first-and-goal from the FSU 9-yard line with 29 seconds to go in the half. Linebacker Kalen DeLoach’s interception of Jones earlier in the second quarter set up FSU’s only touchdown of the half. The Seminoles would drive seven plays and 68 yards to tie the game.

One of the biggest turning points in the game would be a turnover in the second half by FSU. On Florida’s second drive of the second half FSU forced a three-and-out. However on the Gators’ ensuing punt, FSU’s Ontaria Wilson would “muff” the ball, which was recovered by Florida on the Seminoles’ 33-yard line. Eight plays later, Florida would score its second touchdown of the game to take a 17-7 lead.

Fight to the finish

One the biggest traits of the 2021 version of FSU football that has been on display all year has been its fight and determination. That was on display again on Saturday in Gainesville. Down 24-7 with 12:32 left in the game FSU came storming back to make it a ballgame by scoring 14 points to close Florida’s lead to three points and what would ultimately be the game’s final score of 24-21. FSU would total 157 of its 348 total yards in the final quarter while holding Florida to just 41 total offensive yards in the fourth quarter. Too little, too late to be sure but another example of the change in culture that has taken place since Mike Norvell took over the program in December 2019.