Aug 30, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Rashad Greene (80) celebrates making a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles with his teammates during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

FSU survives Oklahoma State in Opener

The defending champion Florida State Seminoles returned to the primetime gridiron tonight, as they traveled to Dallas to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Most expected the ‘Noles to roll, but the inexperienced Pokes came to play, and while FSU ultimately sealed a 37-31 victory, OSU proved solid test for the ‘Noles.

After Florida State won the toss and deferred to the second half, OSU went to work first– but not for long. A penetrating tackle from last-minute starter DeMarcus Walker helped prompt a four-and-out, and the ‘Nole offense took the field in nice position at their own 42. The Seminoles leaned on senior RB Karlos Williams early, and he helped them into kicker Roberto Aguayo’s range. The Groza-Award winner’s kick was true, and he produced FSU’s first points and a 3-0 lead.

It looked like FSU was going to blowout Okie State took when the Pokes muffed the succeeding kick off and began at its own three: on the first play of the “drive,” OSU QB J.W. Walsh was intercepted by Nate Andrews, who returned the pick for a TD. The score: 10-0, ‘Noles.

The Cowboys showed little interest in testing the Seminoles’ exceptional secondary early– they worked wide quite often, and to little avail on the athletic FSU defense. The only big plays they could muster in the first quarter were on special teams and consisted of a 40-yeard kick return and a nice punt return (that was largely negated due to a penalty). The Pokes were able to use a questionable unsportsmanlike conduct call to get a 42-yard field goal attempt for Ben Grogan, but his kick sailed wide and the score remained 10-0.

The Seminoles responded, as Winston connected on a 62-yard post to Christian Green, closing out the first quarter by moving Florida State to the Cowboy 13. Green was open largely due to Oklahoma State continually shifting a safety to help on Rashad Greene. The ‘Noles couldn’t capitalize, however: Winston was intercepted on an athletic Seth Jacobs’ catch on a pass across the middle.

But the Cowboys once again couldn’t solve the Seminole defense, and wound up punting for the third time. A 52-yard effort from Kip Smith, along with an FSU penalty, pinned the ‘Noles at their own six yard line. A third-down conversion to Nick O’Leary kept the ‘Nole offense on the field, allowing Winston to hit Greene on a 51-yard pass. A couple plays later Mario Pender’s first career carry resulted in an 11-yard touchdown run that brought the Seminole advantage to 17-0. The redshirt-sophomore has waited three years to see the field for FSU, and showed excellent vision in cutting back against the grain to find the end zone.

The resilient Cowboys came right back, though, relying on speedy playmaker Tyreek Hill and the gritty Walsh. A holding call on FSU’s P.J. Williams helped the Pokes down the field, as they began finding some success on crossing routes and by moving Walsh out of the pocket. Running back Desmond Roland’s one-yard plunge got the Cowboys on the board and narrowed the gap to 17-7 with 3:58 remaining in the half.

FSU started at its 20 after a touchback, but OSU’s second sack of the game forced a three-and-out and a punt, giving Oklahoma State the chance to gain momentum going into the half with 2:26 left and the ball on their one 37. The ‘Noles returned the favor, although a Tyler Hunter dropped interception probably would have resulted in six for the ‘Noles. With 1:33 left in the half and the ball inside its own 20, FSU looked content to run out the half, until another explosive Pender effort provided a first down. On the next play, however, Winston’s sideline throw to Greene became his second interception of the game, and the Pokes took over at midfield.

A nice catch by Jhajuan Seales and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Eddie Goldman matriculated the ball to the FSU 20, and as time ran out in the opening half, Ben Grogan booted a 37-yard field goal, making the score, at intermission, 17-10.

FSU started on offense in the second half, after Kermit Whitfield brought the ball out to the 25. A Whitfield first down catch and run and a pass interference call took the Seminoles across midfield to the OSU 48, when Winston found Greene for a 37-yard gain down to the 10. But the FSU offense again stalled in the red zone. Aguayo nailed his second field goal of the game, this one from 27 yards out, and the Florida State lead was 20-10 with 11:50 left in the third quarter.

The ‘Noles blew a coverage on the Cowboys’ next possession, and a wide open David Glidden got behind the defense for a 55-yard TD reception to make the FSU lead 20-17. The offense — particularly Winston — continued to look flat, as the ‘Noles went three and out on the succeeding possession, as OSU secured momentum gaining possession at its own 39. The drive stalled, and the ‘Noles were fortunate to force a punt when P.J. Williams, whom OSU went at through much of the second half, was beaten badly and interfered on a ball in the end zone that went uncalled.

That punt, however never materialized, as the snap hit an up-man, and FSU pounced on the ball to take over possession at its own 44. Williams picked up 14 on his best rush of the night to move the ball into Cowboy territory. Oklahoma State seemingly stopped FSU, but a defensive holding call produced a first down at the 28. Winston then turned in a tremendous play, dodging tacklers, hurdling his own man, and bullying his way into the end zone. After the PAT the ‘Noles reclaimed a 10-point lead at 27-17.

OSU again gained FSU territory on its next drive, on the strength of some pin-point throws by Walsh and missed Seminoles tackles. But the defense tightened up, keeping the Pokes out of FG range and forcing a punt. Williams’ running improved, and Pender continued to impress, showing shiftiness, resiliency, and the ability to finish runs. FSU struggled to achieve consistency and elected to punt back to the Cowboys on a 4th and 1 to begin the final quarter.

The Pokes took over at their own 25 and crossed midfield on a 21-yard reverse on a 3rd and 1. Later in the drive, on a 3rd and long, Walsh simply kept the ball and ran through a porous Seminole defense for a 24-yard TD to make it a 27-24 Florida State advantage with 11:51 remaining.

With the ‘Noles needing some possession to rest its defense, Whitfield hauled in a big catch on a tipped ball to convert on a 3rd and 5. But a penalty and another sack brought up 3rd and 27, and the Seminoles were content to run Williams to improve field position before surrendering the ball back to OSU.

Mario Edwards, Jr. forced an intentional grounding on the first play of the series, which led to OSU in a 3rd and 24. Tyler Hunter made a nice pass breakup, and the Cowboys again escaped a terrible long snap. The ‘Noles matched their sloppy play by missing a sure TD pass to Williams when Winston threw him out of bounds in loads of space. They then moved backward on a holding penalty, and settled for a 37-yard Aguayo FG to extend to a 30-24 edge.

Oklahoma State began at its own 47 yard line with 5:08 remaining, as the ‘Noles elected to kick short and gave up far too lengthy a return. After missing a tackle and allowing the Cowboys to enter FSU territory, Williams upended Walsh, who put the ball on the turf, which Williams also recovered. One Karlos Williams run later, Winston found Greene for a 52-yard touchdown reception on a missed tackle by OSU. The catch capped a huge night for Greene, who finished with 11 catches for 203 yards and aTD (Fisher would refer to him as “a silent assassin.”)

FSU 37, OSU 24. Game. Right? Not tonight.

For if the ‘Noles thought they’d crushed the OSU spirits, they were sorely mistaken. Hill returned the ensuing kickoff to the FSU 39, and after another nice scramble by Walsh, the Pokes quickly had a first down on the Seminole 14. OSU worked it down to the 3 yard line before Walsh powered his way into the end zone on a third-down keeper. With 1:55 left, the score was 37-31, FSU.

An OSU onside kick failed, but the Pokes boasted three timeouts, which they began burning immediately. The ‘Noles got aggressive, going for a pas to Greene  and earning a big defensive holding call that resulted in a first down, followed by a Williams 10-yard tote for another huge first. It looked like the Seminoles could run out the clock, but an OSU player’s helmet came off, and the Pokes actually benefitted from it. Winston wound up throwing the ball out the back of the end zone to kill the remaining six seconds and secure the 37-31 victory.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher spoke with the media afterward, and acknowledged that the team needs to improve: “We’ll learn a lot from that. . . we have some good players, but we still have to play good. . . It’s not about being great– it’s about playing great.”

Fisher also acknowledged that FSU’s No. 1 ranking may have played a part in its performance: “they felt the pressure of being No. 1.” Fisher added that the team started worrying about losing, focusing on results instead of the process.

Still, he was pleased that the team was able to make critical plays when it needed to, despite the fact that, as Fisher put it, “We lost momentum of the game. We never had momentum.” FSU will need to find that momentum soon. The ‘Noles host the Citadel on Saturday, and then the rival Clemson Tigers the following week.

 

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