Nothing Florida State did against USF was going to be even a scintilla as impressive as the Seminoles' demolition of Clemson last Saturday. But the 'Noles got the revenge they wanted in Tampa, coming away with a 30-17 win that was deceptively one-sided.
After allowing a field goal on the first drive of the game, Florida State (5-0, 2-0 ACC) scored on its first offensive possession, and never trailed after that. USF cut FSU's lead to 13-10 early in the third quarter, only to allow 17 points in the period's final 5:09 and head into the fourth quarter down 30-10.
EJ Manuel was serviceable and efficient (19-for-26 passing for 242 yards and a touchdown); Chris Thompson was serviceable and efficient (16 carries, 74 yards, but only 49 before a final garbage-time drive); and the Florida State defense was excellent, throttling the Bulls for the middle two quarters of the game, giving up just 32 yards on 20 offensive snaps in those periods and forcing three three-and-outs and a turnover.
That USF (2-3, 0-1 Big East) scored during that span was almost accidental, the result of great field position derived from a blocked punt. Indeed, USF's successes came on FSU mistakes, few though they were: three times, the 'Noles sputtered after getting to the USF 30, and had to settle for Dustin Hopkins field goals, and another field goal miss from Hopkins was set up by a holding penalty that pushed the 'Noles back.
That Florida State can be sloppy and unspectacular and still win pretty comfortably on the road -- despite USF's apparent gaming of their ticketing, there were 'Noles fans by the thousands in Tampa, but it still counts as a road game -- is evidence that Jimbo Fisher's FSU is one that can absorb some bad play and have margin for error left to burn, something that teams from the end of Bobby Bowden's tenure never seemed to do.
USF is not and may never be part of a Big Four in Florida, not after failing to capitalize on the momentum that came from beating the 'Noles in Tallahassee just three short years ago, and its fans are left to talk about moral victories again. Florida State avoided letting a letdown ruin a season. This was a restoration of order, nothing more, nothing less.
Miami, on the other hand, has no order to speak of in a season that appears likely to be chaotic, dramatic and only occasionally rewarding. Saturday had all three for 'Canes fans, as Stephen Morris had the game of his life in Miami's 44-37 win over N.C. State.
Morris threw for 566 yards, a new school record, and five touchdowns, as the 'Canes (4-1, 2-0 ACC) proved capable of acting out a sequel to last week's come-from-ahead-then-from-behind win over Georgia Tech. After the Wolfpack went up 7-0, Miami scored the next 23 points, then allowed N.C. State to close to 23-21, then traded points until the final minute, when Morris hooked up with Phillip Dorsett for a 62-yard game-winning touchdown.
Dorsett (seven catches, 191 yards, two touchdowns) and Rashawn Scott (six catches, 180 yards, two touchdowns) have emerged as playmakers for an offense that is significantly better than anyone expected. Morris has thrown for 1,002 yards in his last two games, a staggering number that outpaces Ken Dorsey's high for consecutive games by more than 200 yards. Jacory Harris, in 47 games for Miami, never threw for even 400 yards; Morris, in five games as The Man at quarterback, has two.
There's no way of knowing now whether the Hurricanes will be bowl-eligible in 2012, given the Sword of Indianapolis hanging over the program from now until the NCAA finally delivers its sanctions. But the path to six wins seems pretty simple: beat two of Virginia, USF, and Duke, and Miami will have the requisite number under the W.
Sure, four likely losses remain between now and then, though Virginia Tech looked very mortal in a loss to Cincinnati, and North Carolina's been erratic.The Hurricanes' defense is a disaster area (yielding 664 yards to N.C. State, which hadn't topped 500 against an FBS team since October 2010, is a bad sign). But this is more fun than the doom and gloom predicted elsewhere, the right sort of exciting to keep hope alive for a future as a power under Al Golden. The next month will test the strength of that flickering flame, but this start is enough, probably, to ensure it won't be fully doused.
The last time UCF had played an SEC team, before Saturday, the Knights knocked off Georgia in a bowl game. After an early lead by UCF on Saturday in Orlando, Missouri made sure it wouldn't get put in a sentence like that, holding off the Knights for a 21-16 win in a game UCF should have won.
UCF (2-2, 0-0 C-USA) had 27 first downs to Mizzou's 16; outgained the Tigers on the ground, through the air, and in total; and permitted just one third-down conversion in 11 tries. Blake Bortles threw for 267 yards and two scores; Storm Johnson ran for 93 yards. UCF led 10-7 at halftime despite Dorial Green-Beckham getting the first major highlight of his promising college career on an 80-yard touchdown pass.
But the Central Florida of old, the one that wanted so desperately to be UCF and not a directional school, struck at the end of the second quarter, when an attempt to score a touchdown and go up 17-7 resulted in a sack that squandered a brilliant 80-yard drive, and in the third quarter, on a 66-yard punt return touchdown by Marcus Murphy that gave the Tigers the lead for good.
Those are mistakes that UCF can't make against good teams if it wants to win, and they sunk the Knights in their second attempt to take down a power-conference foe this season. Missouri likely isn't much better than UCF, if at all, but it has pull-away talent; the way to beat a better team, as George O'Leary should know well by now, is to put it away.
Florida Atlantic and Florida International seem to alternate between being frisky and awful. 2012 seems like a year of the latter for both.
FAU's 20-14 loss to North Texas dropped the Owls to 1-4 on the season, and came in a game FAU never led. The Owls cut the Mean Green's lead to 17-14 in the fourth quarter, then allowed a 16-play, 64-yard field goal drive that sapped momentum. FAU was only able to gain a total of 12 yards on their final two drives. Good news: the six-point margin of defeat is FAU's smallest one this year. It's looking like that 7-3 triumph over Wagner might be the Owls' only win for a while.
Fortunately, they will play FIU (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt) at some point, and the Golden Panthers, who lost 48-20 to Louisiana-Lafayette, have their own set of copious and fatal flaws. Commiting 12 penalties for 142 yards and allowing 501 yards to the worse of the two Louisiana-This Is A City schools -- the one that wants to be known as simply Louisiana, though few know it as that -- are symptomatic of those ills. On the bright side, as Akron throws its way into every game it plays, that overtime win is looking not terrible!
In FCS scores: Florida A&M (2-3, 2-0 MEAC) fell, 21-14, to Southern in Atlanta, after losing a 14-7 fourth-quarter lead; Bethune-Cookman (3-2, 2-0 MEAC) built a 31-10 lead over Hampton and cruised to a 38-26 win; Jacksonville (4-1, 1-0 Pioneer) used 16 unanswered fourth-quarter points to top Marist, 26-17;
Sunday Brunch looks back at the state of Florida's week in college football.