Already fitted for a walking boot, Florida State quarterback Sean Maguire stumbled as he was stepping off the postgame podium, his coach right behind to lend a hand.
Maguire then was assisted by Jimbo Fisher before hobbling to a golf cart that took him back to an emptying locker room.
Playing on a sprained ankle many believed was going to prevent him from returning to the field, Maguire had his toughest day since taking over as the starter, unable to rally the Seminoles past a pesky, well-prepared Houston team. Florida State ended its season with a 38-24 loss in Thursday’s Peach Bowl, a game that was uncharacteristic of a season that was for the most part satisfying.
No. 9 Florida State (10-3) was outplayed and outcoached by No. 18 Houston (13-1). And in a season that was defined by Dalvin Cook’s running and a steady defense that had not allowed more than 24 points in a game, they failed to play up to their standards.
Cook was held to a season-low 33 yards on 18 carries, and Houston’s dynamic quarterback, Greg Ward Jr., exploited the Seminoles for 238 yards and one touchdown through the air and two scores on the ground. Even with Maguire hobbled, FSU twice pulled within a touchdown after falling behind 21-3 in the second quarter, but the defense could not keep Houston out of the end zone.
“They took advantage of some opportunities, and we had some opportunities to get back in the game and make some plays and didn’t,” Fisher said. “At the end of the game, we couldn’t get a stop when we had to, and we didn’t make enough plays on offense.”
If nothing else, Maguire’s effort was gutsy. He was 22 of 44 for 392 yards but tossed four interceptions, twice as many as he threw in 145 attempts during the season. And with Cook and the running game a non-factor — Fisher put it on the offensive line, saying: “We just didn’t block them” — Maguire was forced to throw on one good leg. When he did, he usually found Travis Rudolph, the former Cardinal Newman standout, who finished with seven catches for a career-best 201 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown.
Maguire downplayed the injury. While Fisher said he was limited, he added that he could move in the pocket.
“His toughness, his ability to compete, his willingness to come back in there and lay his heart and soul on the line … this guy’s a competitor now,” Fisher said.
The Seminoles trailed 7-0 late in the first quarter and were at the Houston 8-yard line when Maguire was hit by linebacker Matthew Adams as he released the ball. Maguire rolled out of bounds, attempted to get up, hobbled around and went back down. He could not put any pressure on his left foot as he was helped to the sideline.
FSU, which settled for a field goal, turned to J.J. Cosentino, who was in the game for seven plays, six of which were called passes. On those, he was 1 of 4 and sacked twice.
Maguire returned with his ankle heavily wrapped, but the offense was still limping around. The Cougars pushed the lead to 21-3 before the end of the half, scoring twice in less than two minutes, the second coming after Cook’s first fumble of the season.
The Seminoles ran 16 plays in the second quarter for minus-15 yards.
Florida State twice got within seven points in the fourth quarter, but, by now, the defense was starting to get worn down by Ward, who was 24-of-41 passing and ran for 67 yards. The Seminoles could not get off the field, allowing the Cougars to convert 13 of 23 third-down opportunities.
“It’s frustrating to come out on the losing end,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “We wish we could have a few plays back.”
Houston coach Tom Herman, who in his first year will have the Cougars ranked in the final poll for the first time in 37 years, acknowledged after the game that his team is not as talented as Florida State.
“So we felt like we had to use tempo to our advantage and go fast … and then we had to use some misdirection,” Herman said.