Jimbo Fisher was being grilled … about penalties, first-half miscues on offense, offensive line struggles.
“I’m trying to be in a good mood,” the Florida State coach said, smiling.
But was he? Fisher has given his team a lot of rope early in the season, accounting for the youth and inexperience on offense. But even after a dominating second half Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium that led to a 41-21 victory over Louisville, Fisher was more annoyed than he has been at any time this season.
“We have to get better,” Fisher said. “I’m excited how we competed in the game, that we kept the poise and came back but I’m not happy. … We got to learn to put those things away.”
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No. 11 Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC) overcame another slow start by its offense, scoring on its first five possessions of the second half to run away with a game in which it trailed at halftime (7-6) for the first time this season.
The Seminoles stumbled around for the first 30 minutes with quarterback Everett Golson constantly being forced out of the pocket and the running game shut down by Louisville’s front seven.
But, like we’ve seen so often the last two years, the Seminoles came alive and turned what could have been its first ACC loss in more than three years into its 28th straight conference win and 35th win in its last 36 games.
“I don’t think anything really changed [in the second half],” said receiver Kermit Whitfield, who has emerged as Golson’s go-to guy the last two weeks.
“We kept playing our game and kept elevating and evolving.”
After managing 150 yards of offense in the first half — all through the air — the Seminoles finished with 510. Dalvin Cook was, well, Dalvin Cook, closing with 163 yards on 22 carries, another 40 on four catches and scoring two touchdowns. Cook twice hobbled off the field after feeling his troublesome hamstring tighten.
“I kind of sit there with my mouth open,” Fisher said. “He just makes play after play.”
Cook again downplayed his injury, saying the first time it wasn’t that bad and the second time it “kind of grabbed on me like the Miami game.” He added he does not believe this will be a season-long issue.
“I’ll be healthy in a few weeks,” he said.
Cook’s 54-yard touchdown — four defenders each got two hands on him — on the fifth play of the second half was the spark the offense needed. While Golson continued to be pressured, he once again was efficient, throwing for a season-high 372 yards and three touchdowns. Golson was 26 of 38 and at least half of those incompletions were because he had to throw away the ball to avoid a sack.
Once again, the Seminoles did not have a turnover and remain the only team in the country without an offensive giveaway. Golson, who had 14 interceptions and lost eight fumbles last season at Notre Dame, has thrown 177 passes without a pick this year.
“He took care of the football, made the plays when they were there, but he threw the ball away when they weren’t,” Fisher said. “The kid knows how to [manage] tough situations, scenarios.”
Golson spotted Whitfield (nine catches, 172 yards) for a 70-yard catch and run after being flushed from the pocket to give FSU a 20-14 lead it would never relinquish. After Cook’s second TD run (14 yards), Golson sealed the game with scoring passes of 13 yards to Travis Rudolph and 2 yards to tight end Ryan Izzo.
“Big-time drives in the second half by the offense,” Fisher said.
And at least two big-time plays by the defense forcing turnovers when freshman Derwin James sacked freshman quarterback, and former Boynton Beach High standout, Lamar Jackson, forcing a fumble that was recovered by freshman Josh Sweat. That was followed by an interception by fifth-year senior Javien Elliott, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship in August.
Jackson who sparked the Cardinals (2-4, 1-2) after they started the season with three consecutive losses, threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns to James Quick, and led his team with 32 rushing yards. Jackson, though, was sacked five times, giving the Seminoles 15, two shy of their 2014 total.
The news was not all good for the defense. Trey Marshall, who plays the star position, left the game holding his left arm and did not return. “It didn’t look good,” Fisher said.
Fisher was asked what changed in the second half.
“One word — poise,” he said. “Relax, control what you can control.”