The Florida State Seminoles answered the bell, again, in the BCS National Championship Game, putting to bed all the speculation about whether or not this team could handle a close contest late into the fourth quarter. As folks pushed the idea that the Seminoles' lack of close game experience was a negative, Monday night's championship win, 34-31 over the Auburn Tigers, proved the doubters wrong.
The BCS National Championship, played in the Rose Bowl, was a game that saw the Auburn Tigers jump out to a big early lead, forcing Florida State into unfamiliar territory. Down 21-3 in the second quarter, Florida State had to answer the bell.
And the Seminoles did what they have done all season, respond in a big way. This team scored 17 unanswered points to pull within one of the Tigers. Then, following an Auburn field goal, Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield took a kickoff to the house to put the Seminoles ahead of the Tigers.
Florida State's work was not done, following an Auburn touchdown on a phenomenal Tre Mason run, the Seminoles were faced with going 80 yards with 1:19 on the clock facing a 31-27 deficit. Oddly enough, unlike many people speculated, Jimbo Fisher's team did not fold. Fisher's team was not uncertain of what to do in the tense situation under the bright lights.
Rather, the Seminoles proved that just because they boat-raced everyone on the schedule did not mean they were incapable of handling a tight contest.
Following a rough game, Winston put together a masterful drive. He completed 6-of-7 passes, including the first four consecutive passes to start the drive, grabbing 68 yards of the 80 necessary to go for the score. After a game full of errant passes, slow reads and poor decisions, Winston came alive when his team needed him the most, flying directly in the face of folks who expected a collapse as the moments got bigger in Pasadena.
It was not simply Winston's doing, the quarterback's final pass of the game was to Kelvin Benjamin for a touchdown. Benjamin struggled to get open, had some uncharacteristic drops and was a non-factor for the bulk of the game. Yet, when the chips were down, the Seminoles' receiver showed up in a major way.
Defensively, although the Florida State Seminoles gave up the most rushing yards and total offense of the season, the unit deserves to be applauded for bowing its neck and fighting for 60 minutes. Auburn found big plays in the pass game early, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt fixed the back-end without sacrificing his run defense; something teams like Alabama were unable to do.
232 yards on the ground was not the ideal number for the Seminoles; especially with Mason's 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put Auburn back on top. However, those 232 yards were the Tigers' lowest total since the loss to LSU in Week Four, and the third lowest total on the season as a whole. In other words, the Seminoles' effort was one of the best against Gus Malzahn's ground attack on the year.
In crunch time, when the pressure was the highest, Florida State showed up, something ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit called an "unknown" prior to the game. The Seminoles held the Tigers scoreless for over 30 minutes of game-time, allowing the offense to claw its way back into the contest. The heat was on and this Florida State team, who was a question mark to some because they had not been forced to play a full 60 minutes, remained as cool as it has been all season.
Jimbo Fisher's team was mighty good all season long, and when the chips were down and it mattered the most, his team was solid, again. It took the 'Noles a little while to settle into the game, but in the end it was the Seminoles proving they were prepared, they were ready for the pressure and they could overcome the adversity.