Florida State may have survived on a cool, blustery day at Wake Forest on Saturday, but the Seminoles exited their 24-16 victory at BB&T Field a lot worse than when they entered.
Aside from another lackluster performance, the Seminoles lost three starters to injury in the first quarter and none returned. The most concerning is running back Dalvin Cook, who left after grabbing his left hamstring.
Not the way No. 11 FSU (4-0, 2-0 ACC) wanted to come into its showdown next Saturday with Miami (3-1, 0-0).
But coach Jimbo Fisher is not concerned as much about the injuries as he is about his team’s lack of a killer instinct. The Seminoles took a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter but never were able to shake pesky Wake Forest (2-3, 0-2).
“When we had an opportunity to put the football game away, we didn’t do it, and that’s what really good football teams do,” Fisher said after his team’s 26th consecutive ACC victory. “We have to get that killer instinct.”
Wake Forest had 27 first downs to Florida State’s 14 and outgained the Seminoles 357-329 yards. This from a team that was outscored 154-6 by FSU in their last three games.
The Seminoles also hurt themselves with penalties, committing 10 for 100 yards. They entered the game with 111 penalties yards on the season.
“We gave up field position,” Fisher said about the penalties. “On a day where it’s windy, that is critical.”
The game was not decided until safety Tyler Hunter intercepted freshman Kendall Hinter’s pass in the end zone. The Seminoles led 24-10 entering the fourth quarter before Wake cut into the lead with two field goals.
“We’re going to watch film and be upset with ourselves because we left plays on the field,” receiver Travis Rudolph said.
Cook pulled up at the end of an 8-yard reception. He had carried the ball twice, including a 94-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball, the third-longest run in school history. He spent the rest of the half on the sideline with ice taped to his leg and came out for the second half in street clothes.
Fisher only confirmed it was a hamstring and gave no indication if Cook would be ready for Miami.
Linebacker Terrance Smith left with a right leg injury and safety Nate Andrews was helped off the field after injuring his left knee. Smith was in uniform the rest of the game while Andrews left in the first half and returned in street clothes.
“Next guy up,” Fisher said. “That’s life.”
Although losing its best player in Cook did not help, Florida State’s offense continues to struggle.
Quarterback Everett Golson was 20 of 31 for 202 yards and the offense did not turn over the ball for the fourth consecutive game, but it still lacked consistency.
In the first half, FSU had scoring drives of 94 yards (one play) and 76 yards, along with two series in which it gained a combined 11 yards.
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The Seminoles scored 10 points in their first two series of the second half before totaling 28 yards on their final four series of the game, including taking a knee on two plays at the end.
“The missed assignments, things that should have happened that didn’t happen that cost us big plays or touchdowns, we have to eliminate those plays,” offensive tackle Rod Johnson said. “We have to execute every play to get big scores and put away the games.”
Golson did throw the ball down field more often, with mixed results. He found Jesus Wilson for a 51-yarder early in the game but often under threw receivers when going deep.
The defense yielded more yards than it had all season, allowed Wake Forest to convert on 7-of-15 third downs and surrendered 13 fewer first downs than FSU’s first three opponents combined. Still, that defense held a Wake Forest team leading the ACC with 300 passing yards per game to one touchdown.
“We’ve got to play better on first and second down,” Hunter said. “They got us in third and short a lot and they were able to convert.”
Fisher agrees, but sees a lot more areas where his team has to improve.
“We did not play smart winning football,” Fisher said. “We have to get better.”