In many ways, Florida State’s regular-season finale was a perfect summation of the Seminoles’ season under first-year coach Willie Taggart.
Penalties, field position woes and discipline issues — all consistent issues for the Seminoles this season — all simultaneously showed up, severely damaging FSU’s chances.
All of this proved to be far too much to overcome as FSU (5-7, 3-5 in ACC) was blown out by No. 13 Florida (9-3, 5-3 in SEC) 41-14 Saturday.
With an announced crowd of 71,953 at Doak Campbell Stadium — the smallest for an FSU-UF game in Tallahassee since 1992 — FSU saw its 41-year streak of consecutive winning seasons, 36-year streak of bowl appearances and five-year winning streak over the Gators all ended in one fell swoop.
“It’s very frustrating,” Taggart said of the lack of discipline.
“It’s kind of like throughout the year where we had our struggles, we do things that cause you to lose ball games like that.”
Penalties had been a major issue this season. The Seminoles entered as the most penalized FBS team, committing 9.1 penalties per game.
There had been minor improvement on this front over the previous two weeks — FSU had a combined 12 penalties for 91 yards against Notre Dame and Boston College — but all that progress was erased against UF.
The Seminoles weren’t tagged for an exorbitant number or penalties or penalty yardage (10 penalties for 60 yards) but many of them were extremely untimely.
“We just took turns making mistakes. We played an undisciplined game as a team,” FSU quarterback Deondre Francois said.
“We gave up big plays on defense and didn’t move the ball on offense. Florida capitalized, made big plays on offense, and they stopped us on defense. We just didn’t execute.”
A completely unnecessary illegal shift penalty by Nyqwan Murray erased a 70-yard touchdown catch by FSU running back Cam Akers.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels III wiped out what would have been another third-down stop in the red zone for the Seminoles. Two plays later, the Gators scored a touchdown.
“We do things that cause you to lose ball games like that,” Taggart said.
“It’s third down, we were ready to get them off the field and then we, we’re not tough enough to walk away and that’s what we got to be, that’s what good football teams do and we didn’t do that.”
Multiple penalties made reasonable third downs much tougher to convert.
Maybe toughest to defend of all, FSU had 10 men on the field for a punt play twice in the loss to the Gators.
It was a total culmination of all the issues that have plagued the Seminoles this season.
That led not only to the Seminoles’ laundry list of impressive streaks coming to an end, but in blowout fashion and against their main rival.
“Disappointing game, disappointing season,” Taggart said. “You look at some of the games that we lost and the way we lost is we weren’t disciplined, we didn’t do the things we needed to.’
The main problem for the Seminoles is that although they showed growth in other facets, they were making the same problems in their 12th game of the season as they were in the first game.
Going forward, that’s not exactly promising for Taggart.
For a half, the defense gave FSU a shot it didn’t deserve
FSU’s defense wasn’t at its best Saturday.
Florida’s first touchdown came on a 74-yard touchdown run which saw running back Lamical Perine run untouched for the longest rushing touchdown FSU has allowed this season.
The Gators didn’t stop from there, finishing with 535 yards of offense in a balanced attack. Quarterback and former Wakulla High star Feleipe Franks threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns and UF rushed for 282 yards.
It was the first time since 2012 that UF finished with 300-plus yards of offense against the Seminoles and the most yards of offense since it had 545 vs. FSU in 2009.
“I think it was a little bit of everything. I think it was a little bit of coaching, I think it was a little bit of tackling, guys being where they’re supposed to be. I think it was just everybody made mistakes,” Taggart said of the defensive issues.
“Coaches, players, we all made mistakes in this ball game and that’s what happens when you’re playing against a good football team, you can’t make those mistakes.”
Although the final score wasn’t indicative of it, the FSU defense again played above its weight class for the first half to keep an extremely one-sided game close.
UF outgained FSU 264-124 over the opening 30 minutes, but took just a 13-7 lead into the break.
The defense’s saving grace early on was that it saved its best play for when it was backed up against the wall.
In three first-half red zone trips, FSU allowed just six points on two field goals.
That was a huge part of keeping the Seminoles in the game while the offense was sputtering for almost all of the opening 30 minutes.
That effort finally wore down in the second half when — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the FSU defense was forced to deal with an offense incapable of staying on the field.
The Gators racked up the yards and points against a fatigued defense that was on the field for 36 minutes and two seconds and made a game that was close for a half anything but by the final whistle.
Like the penalties and discipline issues, the defense not being able to win games by itself was a worthy summation of the season as a whole.
FSU finishes the season allowing 31.5 points per game. That’s the most in program history, surpassing the previous worst of 30.1 points per game surrendered in 1973.
That team went 0-11.
Unbelievably, both of the following statements are true. This year’s FSU defense was statistically one of the worst in program history. It was also the best facet of an FSU team that was inexplicably worse on offense and special teams this season.
One step forward, two steps back for offensive line
Every time it has looked like the FSU offense line took a step forward this season, it has followed that up with a major step in the wrong direction.
This proved to be the case for the Seminoles Saturday as the offensive line limited all of what FSU’s offense was able to do.
The Gators often needed to bring just three or four rushers to pressure FSU quarterback Deondre Francois.
Francois was sacked five times and the Gators had eight tackles for loss.
Three false starts — all on replacement right tackle Brady Scott — came in crucial situations, two of them coming on back-to-back plays.
“I think there’s some guys that played probably that weren’t necessarily ready yet and this experience is going to help them going forward,” Taggart said of the offensive line.
“Some guys are going to have to wait another year in the weight room that’s going to make them bigger, stronger, faster.”
FSU rushed for 100-plus yards for the third straight week, but that was mostly due to the high volume with which the Seminoles ran the ball.
They averaged four yards per carry — heavily influenced by Francois’ 32-yard keeper in the third quarter — and Francois was the team’s leading rusher with 41 yards until a few garbage-time carries from senior Jacques Patrick.
The offensive line limited what Taggart wanted to do on offense all season. Pending significant strides in development that don’t seem likely, there’s little reason to believe that the offensive line will look much better next season.
Said Taggart, “You got to go out and recruit the pieces you need to help you get to where you need to go. And so that’s going to be a part of, a big part of what we’re doing.”