Field goals longer than 53 yards aren’t ordinarily made in college football. Viewed through that narrow prism, the Florida State Seminoles were unlucky to lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday afternoon in Doak Campbell Stadium.
North Carolina — which used three seconds to snap the ball (0:17 to 0:14) in the dying moments of regulation despite holding two timeouts — was incredibly fortunate to get a pass-interference penalty to push the ball to the Florida State 37, making the last-play field goal possible. Without that penalty, UNC would have had to resort to a Hail Mary, although in light of the denouement of the Tennessee-Georgia game, that might not have been such a bad thing for the Tar Heels.
At any rate, the point is easy enough to absorb: In a contest as crazy and cluttered as this one was in Tallahassee, Florida, it’s easy to make the claim that the winner got away with a lot of mistakes, while the loser wasn’t rewarded for fighting admirably.
The problem with that line of thought for the losing Seminoles: They were never supposed to play a game — especially at home — which fit that description.
Florida State wasn’t supposed to be taken to the wire by North Carolina at The Doak. The Tar Heels — as Today’s U writer Jason Hall explained with clarity and precision on Friday — played only one ranked team last season before the ACC Championship Game. This was supposed to be Florida State’s emphatic announcement to the defending Coastal Division champions that the ACC Atlantic was vastly superior… and that Florida State’s abysmal defensive showing against Louisville was merely a bad day, not an indicator of things to come.
North Carolina made an against-the-odds 54-yarder to win on the final play. Lucky? Maybe so, but one of the great truths of sports is that teams should never put themselves in positions where one improbable play can beat them.
Don’t want to lose on a near-miracle field goal? Lead by 10 points in the final minute. Florida State was supposed to be that good, given the copious amount of four- or five-star players on its defense.
Instead, without injured star Derwin James, Florida State couldn’t solve Carolina’s marvelous quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, who owned another fourth quarter one week after leading a successful 13-point comeback (37-36 against Pitt after trailing, 36-23) in an ACC game of supreme consequence.
Yes, Deondre Francois shrugged off a tough start to deliver the goods when his team needed him to stand tall. Yes, Dalvin Cook — as a runner, but also a receiver in space — did everything he could to win. Yes, coach Jimbo Fisher and his offensive staff found the right mix of plays to unlock the talents of the offense in the second half. Yet, when one side of the ball — specifically defensive coordinator Charles Kelly — is so utterly unable to announce its presence, enabling a visiting team to score 37 points in a stadium which used to make visitors quiver in fear, explanations and rationalizations about luck and fine margins don’t carry much weight.
There are no encouraging signs to take from this “almost-win” for Florida State. The Seminole program doesn’t live that way — and shouldn’t. Division, conference and playoff championship hopes are all done. Florida State’s grandest aspirations have all been roasted and toasted before the second day of October.
The idea that this defense can’t rally around or adjust to the loss of one player — Derwin James — is an embarrassment. It’s an indication of the inability of Kelly to react to a changing dynamic, and it’s just as much a reflection on other highly-touted players who haven’t been able to do anything of significance to pick up their fallen teammate.
Yes, North Carolina won’t make most 54-yard field goals, but Florida State put itself in position to be taken down by a slingshot.
The Goliath of the ACC in 2013 and 2014 has been flattened in 2016, its season in ruins, its dreams in tatters.
North Carolina was lucky? Perhaps… but there are times when certain arguments simply cease to matter. Such is the case for the home team on a stomach-turning Saturday in the Florida panhandle.