No. 11 Florida State’s offense kicks into overdrive to stay in playoff hunt

Florida State quarterback Everett Golson threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-21 win over Louisville on Saturday.

Mark Wallheiser/AP

Following a close win against rival Miami seven days ago, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said that his offense, which has relied heavily on sophomore running back Dalvin Cook for its scoring punch, was continuing to evolve around transfer quarterback Everett Golson. It had been a stressful night for the Seminoles. The 11th-ranked Seminoles scored nine points on four red-zone trips against Hurricanes, a stumbling block that would have cost Fisher’s team its undefeated record were it not for Cook’s record-breaking performance.

The Seminoles (6-0, 4-0) seemed to evolve in real time in a 41-21 win over Louisville on Saturday, though, particularly over the course of a near-perfect second half in which Golson & Co. tallied five touchdowns on five straight possessions.

Cook, of course, broke off two touchdown runs. Golson found junior receiver Kermit Whitfield for a 70-yard score down the sideline to reclaim the lead for good, then capped his day with two fourth-quarter touchdowns inside the Louisville 20. It was a 180-degree turnaround from the Miami game, or even the first half against Louisville. Florida State ran up 510 yards of total offense, did not commit a single turnover and, most importantly, finished drives against a quality opponent.

For the first time since Jameis Winston entered the NFL Draft, the Seminoles’ offense resembled a juggernaut.

"They kept their poise," Fisher said of his offense after the game. "We had plays in the first half, we were jumping, anxious. They’re wanting to do so well so bad. They’ve just got to relax and play a little bit."

The start of ACC play offered its own set of tense moments for this Florida State offense. An excellent Boston College defense kept things interesting in the conference opener. Wake Forest and Miami kept the final margin to single digits. Cook played the hero time after time — the Heisman candidate finished with 223 total yards and two touchdowns against Louisville — but the Seminoles were clearly still learning how to finish, both drives and games.

They entered this weekend’s slate of games ranked 112th nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage. Fortunately for the Seminoles’ playoff chances, All-American kicker Roberto Aguayo hasn’t missed a field goal under 40 yards in his career.

Few college teams feature such a luxury.

After a six-point first half, there was no such optimism. Two drives stalled inside the Louisville 30-yard line and three others resulted in a net of 40 yards and three punts. But once Cook found pay dirt with a 54-yard sprint to open the second half, the passing game started to open up.

Golson, the Notre Dame transfer, has done well to avoid the types of turnovers that plagued him a season ago (11 touchdowns, zero interceptions), but he started looking like a difference-maker against a Louisville secondary that, at times, looked lost.

"He gets better and better," Fisher said of Golson, who wrapped up his day with 372 passing yards and three touchdowns. "There’s still a lot of things he left out there, but he’s learning to manage situations. He’s understanding (our team) better. He’s playing disciplined football. He’s making smart plays. In other words, the big plays are there and he’s making them, but then he ain’t turning the football over and putting us in bad situations."

This is welcome news for the ACC as well. If undefeated Florida State fell to 2-3 Louisville, it would have left Clemson as the conference’s only practical option —barring chaos — for the four-team playoff. Past the season’s halfway mark, the fifth-ranked Tigers are in good position for a shot at an undefeated regular season and all-but-guaranteed bid, but as long as Florida State keeps winning it will remain a two-team race.

The two teams meet at Clemson Memorial Stadium on Nov. 7 — if both teams can arrive with unblemished records, all the better for the ACC.

Florida State has yet to put together a 60-minute performance. However, for a still-evolving offense, it doesn’t get much better than the final 30 minutes on Saturday.