Florida's defense spent much of Saturday's game trying to hold FSUs' offense down. But yet again, it was FSU's defense that came up with a critical play to help break the game open.
FSU's offense faced slow going in building a commanding lead, and Florida's defense managed to hold firm for much of the first half. FSU's routine attempt at a quick pair of scores sandwiched around halftime appeared to sputter when the Seminoles had to punt on their first drive of the third quarter. Momentum seemed to swing towards the Gators.
Instead, Mario Edwards and the Seminole defense had the last laugh.
On the first play of Florida's drive, as Sykler Mornhinweg dropped back to pass, Edwards broke free on his blind side. Mornhinweg never saw Edwards coming. Edwards' hit jarred the ball loose and Telvin Smith picked it up.
"I just hit him in the back," Edwards said. "I didn't even know the ball came out.
That was definitely big, it gave us a momentum swing and the offense came back out on the field and did what they needed to do: put points on the board."
FSU's offense didn't waste the renewed opportunity. The Seminoles ended up with a field goal to start a run of four consecutive scoring drives, a stretch which put the game out of reach.
"That's a good momentum change," center Bryan Stork said. "You've got to keep pressing, keep the momentum and make it sound like church out there. Make it so quiet you can hear a pin drop."
That kind of swing in a critical moment is par for the course for FSU's defense, which has made a habit of forcing turnovers in bunches. With two fumble recoveries Saturday, FSU now has seven straight games with multiple turnovers. And while FSU didn't intercept a pass for the first time since Oct. 25, most of that was due to Florida abandoning the vertical passing game in favor of short, safe passes.
But Saturday's game carried special significance for Florida State, still smarting after quotes from Florida after the Gators' 37-21 win last season in Tallahassee implied FSU's defense was soft. Those quotes found their way into every FSU player's locker, and stayed there all season.
"They put it in everyone's locker," Safety Terrence Brooks said. "Defense, offense, special teams, it didn't matter. Just because that's disrespectful to the team.
We don't ever want to be disrespected. That was kind of our motivation."
On Saturday, FSU answered that challenge. The Seminoles held Florida to 78 yards rushing and just 3.2 yards per carry. But outside of a 50-yard rush by Trey Burton early in the game, UF averaged 1.2 yards per carry.
"We definitely took it personally that they thought we were soft," Edwards said. "We didn't want to lip talk or nothing like that. We wanted to prove it with our pads, and I thought we did a good job of that."
FSU capped off its undefeated regular season with an extra-sweet cherry on top: the Seminoles' 37-7 win in Gainesville on Saturday clinched a state championship.
FSU swept the trio of heated in-state rivals between itself, Florida and Miami for the third time in four years. Jimbo Fisher is now 7-1 in his head coaching career against Miami and Florida.
This season, FSU was particularly dominant. The Seminoles defeated their instate rivals by a combined score of 78-21 this season.
It hasn't been an easy road to get to this point for the veterans. Senior center Bryan Stork is one of the few remaining players from the 2009 FSU team that lost to Florida 37-10.
"Those were the dark days of Florida State I call them," Stork said. "We didn't have that great of a decade but now it's in my control partially." Stork said. "It means a lot. In high school a state championship is awesome but there's more at stake."
The Seminoles have dominated not just their instate rivals, but all of their opponents as they wrap up only the third undefeated regular season in school history.
"I'm really proud of this group of seniors and this whole team" Fisher said after the game. "And why it was able to do that was it played one game at a time...it's a very mature group."
The Seminoles have two games remaining this season. They face off against the Duke Blue Devils next Saturday in the ACC Championship game and have a potential matchup for the national title after that.
"The sky's the limit, we're never satisfied," said senior safety Terrence Brooks, "We still have to win games."
Erving adds stability to OL
Cameron Erving spent parts of FSU's first two series on the sideline with an undisclosed injury. During FSU's first offensive series, Erving left the field and briefly visited the locker room.
The sudden departure threw FSU's offensive line out of whack. Center Bryan Stork moved to right tackle, RT Bobby Hart switched to left tackle and Austin Baron came in at center.
With FSU's anchor left tackle out, the offensive line suddenly struggled to adjust to Florida's defensive pressure. Jameis Winston faced pressure as UF's stunts and twists with sprung defensive linemen or linebackers free.
"They got him a little bit when he was in there," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "But it definitely helped having him in there. We want him in there, there's no doubt."
Erving came back onto the field in time for FSU's offense to get into a groove, and his play so frustrated UF players that video replay appeared to show a Florida defensive lineman spitting on Erving. Erving was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play, but it wasn't enough to stop FSU from scoring on the drive.
"I saw the aftermath of it and I'm pretty sure he was, (spit on)" Stork said. "That happens. It's football. it's a big rivalry. People talk crap and people spit, let them do that. We don't do that."
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