It was ugly, sloppy, and probably for fans of both teams, incredibly maddening.
But Florida State’s narrow 41-39 win over Miami on Saturday at a soggy Dolphins Stadium finally gave something for long-suffering FSU fans to crow about. More importantly, however for the Noles faithful it gave them hope and a hint of optimism.
Yes, FSU was 3-1 coming into the annual clash with the Canes, but two of the wins came over cupcakes and proved nothing. The win against Colorado was a good start, yet even that victory left fans with enormous questions, especially about how far the team could go with quarterback Christian Ponder.
There are some FSU fans who suggest that all the signs of an upswing were there for this young team and that critics are spoiled fans with no appreciation of how hard it is stay on top in the cut-throat world of college football. I wasn’t one of those optimists. What I saw in the mind-numbing loss against Wake Forest was yet another FSU squad looking lethargic, and more importantly, playing with a game plan that was vanilla, safe and inadequate against an experienced Demon Deacons team.
Jimbo Fisher, the man with the keys to the kingdom, the heir waiting for Bobby Bowden to finally crawl off to retirement, made a calculated decision in that game to put his fate in the hands of two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks instead of relying on senior Drew Weatherford.
It was a questionable decision because it made it appear as FSU was already writing off the season. Fisher during the game look flummoxed at what was happening, staring in disbelief as Wake man-handled the Noles. The fact that the game was not a bigger blowout was due directly to the Noles defense.
But Fisher redeemed himself against Miami and for now can tell the critics and the loud-mouth fans to stow it.
The closeness of the game for the most part was not his fault, although I do wonder about that Ponder pass out of the end zone late in the game that led to a Canes touchdown. Fisher did the things he needed to do to help his young quarterback deal with an aggressive Canes team.
Roll-outs, quarterback options, wide receiver screens all helped keep UM off-balance, especially in the first half. Ponder sliced through the Canes defense not with his arm, but with his legs, becoming the first FSU quarterback to rush for over 100 yards since Charlie Ward. The offensive array provided enough breathing space to help Antone Smith have a stellar game, where he rushed for four touchdowns and nearly 100 yards.
Am I sold on this experiment yet? Not by a long shot. Even Bowden noted on his ABC interview that the decision to name Fisher “head coach in waiting” was a decision of the president, not him. But for FSU fans long accustomed to losing tight games to Miami this victory give them an enormous boost of confidence in their team and Fisher.
The Canes lived up to their heritage by roaring back into the game and flashing an array of offensive weapons. Freshman wide receiver Travis Benjamin — and his nearly 300 all-purpose yards – looks like the next great NFL bound receiver that will come out of the U. Even with the loss there’s no doubt in my mind that UM looks like a year away from being a truly ferocious, scary and national championship contending team.
Those Canes fans who spent the day getting wet probably went home cursing at how close they came to knocking off the Noles. (That’s of course an emotion FSU fans – thanks to Wide Right I, II, and III – are familiar with.) They should, however, take some solace in the fact that after trailing 24-3 at one point their team never gave up.
FSU fans meanwhile get a bit of reassurance that maybe Fisher knows what he’s doing, maybe Ponder is the next great Noles quarterback and that maybe, just maybe, the days of glory will soon return.