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FSU vs Houston: What Did We Learn?

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Florida State fell 38-24 to Houston in the 2015 Peach Bowl, a game in which the Seminoles were favored by seven points at gametime. Tom Herman, in his first season as head coach for the Cougars, led them to 13 wins and has cemented himself as one of the best coaches in college football. What makes his performance even better is that he’s using players from the previous regime, not ones that he has recruited himself. Greg Ward Jr. has had a breakout year and, even though he was somewhat limited in this game due to injury, he had established himself as one of the most explosive playmakers in the country.

Unfortunately, injuries also derailed Florida State in this game. Starting right guard Kareem Are and right tackle Chad Mavety both sat out due to injuries, which meant redshirt freshmen Corey Martinez and Brock Ruble were called to duty. They were severely overwhelmed by Houston’s rush defense, which ranked 20th in the nation coming into this game. While some of their stats might have been overinflated due to facing weak competition, they lived up to their hype and limited Dalvin Cook to only 33 yards on the ground and a 1.8 yards per carry average.

Sean Maguire also suffered a severe ankle injury late in the first quarter. He was carted off the field and was out of the game for a significant period of time. Because Everett Golson did not make the trip to Atlanta due to personal reasons, redshirt freshman J.J. Consentino was thrust into action and he didn’t have a good time. He was sacked twice on his second and third drop-backs and was unable to push the ball down the field. This was his early audition for the open quarterback competition this offseason and Consentino did not show anything positive for Jimbo Fisher moving forward. Fortunately, Maguire was able to return, his ankle heavily taped, but his throws were hampered by his ankle injury. Several deep balls were under-thrown because of this, one of which was intercepted.

Florida State had a solid day defensively. Houston’s rush game, which has been the primary focus of their offense, was held to just 187 yards and 3.5 yards per attempt. With top running back Kenneth Farrow limited due to injury, the majority of their rush game came from Greg Ward Jr., who had 67 yards on the ground. Ryan Jackson had 54 yards on the ground, but only 5.4 yards per attempt. Houston ran 99 plays for 448 yards, only 4.5 yards per play. For comparison, they’ve averaged 6.0 yards per play throughout the season, good for 30th in the country. Florida State played really well defensively, but it was the offense that lost them this game.

Despite entering the game with only 10 turnovers all season, Florida State committed five turnovers in this game. Dalvin Cook lost his first fumble since last year’s Rose Bowl versus Oregon and Sean Maguire tossed four interceptions. Florida State finished -4 in turnover margin, a tough task for any team trying to come back to win a game.

What did we learn in this game?

For one, we learned that the quarterback competition is wide open heading into spring practice. Sean Maguire had an opportunity to get an early advantage, but four interceptions won’t help him and he’s done nothing this season to lock up the job. Consentino did not perform well in backup duty and looked lost on the big stage of the Peach Bowl. Freshman Deondre Francois took a redshirt year this season and will likely be the favorite heading into spring practice. The x-factor could be true freshman Malik Henry, who is enrolling this spring and will be by far the highest ranked quarterback on Florida State’s roster.

Despite the struggles of the ground game, there is hope for the future. Dalvin Cook will return next year for (likely) his final season of college football and the offensive line returns every starter and several backups who saw meaningful snaps. The main weakness of the team this year was the offensive line but having every starter back next year is huge if FSU wants to make a run at the playoffs.

Somewhat forgotten in the quarterback struggles was the good performance of the wide receivers. Travis Rudolph finished the game with seven catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Bobo Wilson had eight catches for 68 yards and a diving touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. If those two, along with Kermit Whitfield, can continue to develop, that’s a very nice trio of receivers that Florida State has heading into 2016. Although they don’t have a big-body receiver at the moment, they have a bunch of young players who could possibly develop into this role.

Florida State loses several key players on the defense, but the performance of several key players in this game should be an indication that the Seminoles should have a championship-worthy defense in 2016. Derwin James finalized his phenomenal freshman campaign with another good showing in the Peach Bowl. He made tackles left and right and should be a vital cog to next year’s defense. Josh Sweat missed some opportunities for tackles for loss, but made a huge play early on to tip a ball that was then intercepted by Demarcus Walker. Marquez White was flagged for some physical play in this game, but has shown throughout the year that he is capable of becoming this team’s No. 1 cornerback assuming Jalen Ramsey leaves for the NFL.

While the result isn’t what Florida State fans wanted, the future looks bright for this team. A very exciting quarterback competition is right around the corner and several playmakers on defense return next season. A 10-3 season might seem like a down year for a program like Florida State, but considering the talent they lost last year, this has been a very successful rebuilding year for the Seminoles. Jimbo Fisher has this team on the right track and 2016 should be an exciting year for fans and players alike.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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