It wasn’t until an untimed down on the last play of the third quarter that No.4 Florida State (5-0) finally took over, but afterward there was little doubt in Raymond James Stadium in what ended up a 30-17 victory.
On backup quarterback Matt Floyd’s first snap of the game, FSU senior defensive end Tank Carradine came screaming untouched off the edge, blindsiding Floyd and causing a fumble that junior linebacker Christian Jones took in for the score to put the Seminoles up 30-10 with one quarter left to play.
“The tackle wanted to block me, but instead he went on down,” Carradine said. “I just hit him hard and the ball popped out of his hand. When I got up, I didn’t know what was going on.”
Said Jones: “We were in our base package and I was the spy. I told [junior defensive end] Bjoern [Werner] and all them to crash in because the quarterback was right-handed, I knew he was going to roll out.
“I just stabbed inside and I saw Tank coming, then I saw the ball just kind of bounce up into my hands, so I ran it in.”
The touchdown, which put the Seminoles up by 20, was the first breathing room Florida State had all evening in what ended up being a well-played, physical football game against the host Bulls (2-3).
“We just had to calm down,” junior safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “First game sold out away, it was pretty tough, man. We all had to learn a lesson as an organization that it’s pretty tough to go into someone else’s home. They’re going to fight you hard.”
From the first kick the Bulls came out firing, going 62 yards on nine plays to open the scoring with a field goal. It was the last time the Bulls would lead, but they continued to threaten all evening.
FSU answered with a touchdown on its ensuing possession, after Karlos Williams took the kickoff 60 yards to set the Seminoles up with great field position. Rashad Greene ran it in five plays later on an end around to put Florida State up 7-3.
The two teams traded possessions for much of the rest of the first half, with the Noles’ Dustin Hopkins connecting on two of three field goals.
USF had a chance to knot the score at 10 heading into halftime after Hopkins missed a kick from 48 yards at the end of the second quarter. But senior quarterback BJ Daniels forced a pass into double-coverage that FSU cornerback Xavier Rhodes intercepted to set up a 43-yard field goal that Hopkins converted as time expired, putting Florida State up 13-3.
The Bulls came out ready to make it a game in the second half, though.
After forcing the Noles to go three-and-out on their opening possession, USF blocked a punt inside the FSU 10-yard line and scored in three plays to cut the FSU lead to three.
Two series later, FSU answered the call, going 63 yards on seven plays and scoring on an EJ Manuel completion to former Penn State tight end Kevin Haplea to go up 20-10. A Hopkins 23-yard field goal put Florida State up 23-10 before Carradine’s strip-sack blew the game wide-open at the end of the third quarter.
USF wasn’t done. Despite taking a serious blow to the head that caused his knees to buckle as he attempted to pick himself up off the turf, Daniels missed just one play (the strip-sack), then led the Bulls down the field on their ensuing drive for a touchdown to bring the score to 30-17.
The USF defense got to work going after Manuel, who took two sacks on the Noles’ ensuing drive before FSU punted the ball back to USF up 13 with about 10 minutes remaining.
The Bulls couldn’t get anything going, though. One drive ended in a punt, and their final possession was turned over on downs.
On the day, Manuel finished a modest 19 of 26 for 242 yards and a touchdown, and Florida State’s offense rolled up 425 yards and 30 points.
The Seminoles travel to Raleigh next weekend to play N.C. State.