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FSU leans on defense, gets by L'ville to win ACC

Written by 
Published in Breaking News
Saturday, 02 December 2023 20:57

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Playing behind third-string quarterback Brock Glenn, No. 4 Florida State won the ACC championship on Saturday night, beating Louisville 16-6 in what the Seminoles hope is enough to land them a spot in the College Football Playoff.

There is no denying Florida State misses veteran starter Jordan Travis, out for the season with a leg injury. They also missed backup Tate Rodemaker, out for the game with a concussion.

Without them, Glenn got the start and looked like a true freshman who enrolled in school in January - going 8 of 21 for 55 yards. And yet, Florida State overcame injuries to their top two quarterbacks to win its first ACC title since 2014 -- a triumphant moment for coach Mike Norvell, who took over the program at rock bottom in 2020 and built it all the way back up.

The fact that Florida State won this title without Travis -- its team leader instrumental in the program turnaround -- is a testament to the work the entire team has put in to get the program to this moment. As the final moments ticked away, the crowd started chanting, "F-S-U! F-S-U!"

Will it be enough for the playoff committee, though?

The offense struggled to move the ball -- and its most effective play was the Wildcat run with backup running back Lawrance Toafili, who finished with a game-high 118 yards and a touchdown to provide the spark the Seminoles needed.

While all the focus will be on quarterback -- and whether Florida State is good enough at that position to merit a playoff spot -- perhaps the committee will take a look at what the Seminoles did defensively in this game. Florida State was suffocating, overwhelming the Louisville offensive line for most of the game. The Seminoles finished with a season-high seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and nine pass breakups, and shut down one of the best rushing offenses in the ACC.

Defensive tackle Braden Fiske -- whom one Louisville assistant during pregame warmups pointed out was the player they were most concerned about -- had nine tackles, a career-high three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.

Louisville had its chances, though, but failed to take advantage. Sixth-year starting quarterback Jack Plummer struggled badly, overthrowing receivers while going 14-of-36 for 111 yards and an interception.

Twice in the second half Louisville had the ball inside the Florida State 15-yard line. Twice the Cards failed to score a touchdown. The first time, Louisville got down to the 7, but Jamari Thrash was tackled for a 9-yard loss and settled for a field goal. The second time, Louisville was set up in great position after pressuring punter Alex Mastromanno, who couldn't even get the punt off and had to fall on the ground to cover up the ball. Louisville started at the Florida State 12. But Tatum Bethune intercepted Plummer in the end zone to end that drive.

The Louisville defense had its opportunities, too. Twice on the same drive in the third quarter with Florida State up 10-0, Louisville dropped interceptions that would have given the offense prime field position inside the Florida State 30. Jaylin Alderman and Ben Perry had the ball in their hands but couldn't secure it.

Florida State has the fewest turnovers in the entire country this season with five. Even with a freshman quarterback, the Seminoles somehow avoided giving the ball away.

So now, it is a waiting game for the ACC champions. There has never been an undefeated Power 5 champion left out of the playoff. Even with a third-string quarterback, Florida State did enough to finish 13-0 -- with two wins against SEC opponents. Its defense put forward a resounding statement not only Saturday night, but last week in a win over Florida, too.

Florida State defensive end Jared Verse warned after that game what would happen if the Seminoles defense put together a full effort.

"It's when are we going to play the perfect game where we reach our full potential?" he said. "If we do that, I'm sorry for anybody in the country, they're going to have to get it."

The defense showed that full potential on Saturday night, and yet there is concern it might not be enough for the selection committee.

Florida State might not have Travis, but it has a team that has made the commitment to itself to finish for him.

Will the committee let it do that?

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