Shortly after Florida State put its finishing touches on Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois in Tuesday’s Discover Orange Bowl, fullback Lonnie Pryor stood on the trophy presentation stage and started dishing out oranges to his teammates.
One by one, players began devouring them and flashing “orange smiles” for what was left of the crowd of 72,074 at Sun Life Stadium after their 31-10 victory.
Although sucking on oranges at season’s end wasn’t exactly what the Seminoles had in mind before 2012 got started, finishing 12-2 and winning their first BCS Bowl game since 2000 turned out be a nice parting gift in the end for Jimbo Fisher’s team.
“Sometimes you take those things for granted,” said Fisher, referring to the run of 12 BCS bowl appearances FSU made in 14 seasons from 1992 to 2005. “Florida State had so many for so many years ...
“I’m extremely happy for our players, for what they’ve sacrificed and what they’ve done to put Florida State back on the map, put them back in the Top 10.”
Two of the 14 seniors on FSU’s two-deep roster — who fought through a 7-6 season as freshmen — were pivotal in helping the Seminoles hold off the first Mid-American Conference team to play in a BCS bowl game.
Pryor ran for a career-high 134 yards on just five carries and scored two touchdowns on runs of 60 and 37 yards — the two longest rushes allowed by Northern Illinois all season.
Quarterback EJ Manuel finished 26-of-38 passing for 291 yards and a touchdown. He also scored on a 9-yard run to open the fourth quarter and turn what had been a one-score game into a 24-10 lead.
“The biggest thing for a lot of the guys in the ’08 and ’09 classes, we wanted to leave a legacy and change the culture,” said Manuel, who became just the second quarterback in NCAA history to have a hand in four bowl victories, joining former West Virginia and Miami Dolphins QB Pat White.
“It wasn’t an overnight process, but we’re reaping the benefits right now.”
Said Pryor, who had run for 584 yards in his career entering the game: “It feels good. The seniors, we all went out with a bang.”
Include the defense in that. Lynch came into the game leading the nation in rushing and total offense. But he completed only 15 of 41 attempts for 176 yards, and carried 23 times for 44 yards.
Despite becoming the first player in NCAA history to surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,500 rushing in a season, the junior couldn’t deliver on his promise of having FSU’s second-ranked defense on its knees in the fourth quarter.
“The media made him look like he’s the next superstar quarterback,” FSU junior All-American defensive end Bjoern Werner said. “We saw a lot of running quarterbacks this year. Coach [Odell] Haggins did a good job preparing us and we just followed his lead.”
The Huskies, who came in as two-touchdown underdogs, ultimately did nothing to deride the doubters who said they were unworthy of a BCS bowl berth. They were outgained 534 to 259 and fell to 5-28 against Top 25 ranked teams all-time.
“Definitely the best defense we played all year,” Lynch said. “They were always in the right spot at the right time, it seemed like. They were hungry out there.”
The question now for FSU is just how hungry this team will be in 2013. Seven defensive starters are expected to be lost after this season. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a projected NFL first-round pick in April’s draft, announced after the game he was leaving early. Werner is expected to be the next underclassmen to bolt.
Still, Fisher sees a foundation for success.
“You look on offense, every offensive lineman, the tight end, all the backs, receivers [come back],” Fisher said. “We lose Lonnie and EJ and Rodney [Smith] and we lost [running back] Chris Thompson this year, but basically everything else is back. There are a lot of sophomores in that group, not just juniors.
“On defense we’ve got a tremendous amount of guys coming back: [linebackers] Telvin [Smith], Christian [Jones]. You’ve got the front guys up front, the ends. [Freshman defensive end] Mario Edwards came in and did a tremendous job, and Giorgio [Newberry] and some guys we got there. Chris Casher, young guy, in the secondary. We still got [Lamarcus] Joyner and we still got [Nick] Waisome, we still got [Terrence] Brooks, we got [Ronald] Darby, you got Tyler Hunter.
“We’ve laid a great foundation here. And there’s a heck of a football team coming back and I’m going to tell you why: Because these seniors showed them how to practice, how to win and how to prepare and how to do things with class. And they learned from these guys and they watched these guys.”