If you’re wondering what to make of Florida State’s stunning loss on a blocked field goal that Georgia Tech’s Lance Austin returned 78 yards for a touchdown as time expired, you can stop thinking.
It means little. Nothing has really changed.
Florida State wasn’t a legitimate national title contender to begin with or once they rolled up a surprising 6-0 start to the season. Only the surprisingly efficient play of transfer quarterback Everett Golson under head coach Jimbo Fisher’s remake kept the Seminoles unbeaten this long.
In a way, the way Florida State loss probably means more to Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson than it does to the rest of the Seminoles’ season. Watts-Jackson was a media sensation last week after he beat Michigan as time expired with a 38-yard return of a botched punt. Now Austin can share the miracle finish spotlight that for Watts-Jackson included appearances on ESPN’s Mike and Mike.
Realistically, a successful season for Florida State had a ceiling of winning the ACC Atlantic and the ACC Championship game. Those goals remain within range.
Sixth-ranked Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC Atlantic) was and remains the ACC’s best hope for a College Football Playoff berth. Florida State can spoil Clemson’s hopes when the teams meet Nov. 7 at Clemson.
With the Georgia Tech loss, the No. 9-ranked Seminoles dropped to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the ACC Atlantic. They also will fall from the Top 10. They certainly have a long road if they still hope to contend for a College Football Playoff berth.
But remember that these Seminoles aren’t as talented as the 2013 team that won the BCS national title or the 2014 roster that earned one of the four CFP berths. They’re more emotionally mature, with fewer antics on and off the field, but they aren’t as talented.
Florida State was unable to protect leads of 13-3 and 16-10 in the first half. With a 16-13 lead, Golson threw his first interception of the year at the Georgia Tech 10-yard line. The turnover prevented the Seminoles from taking a two-score lead with less than six minutes to play.
Golson finished 20 of 30 passing but for only 210 yards. He didn’t have a touchdown to go with his pick. Georgia Tech’s maligned defense also slowed down running back Dalvin Cook, who finished with only 82 yards on 17 carries with one TD.
Georgia Tech (3-5, 1-4 ACC Coastal) broke a five-game losing streak. The Yellow Jackets only had one cheap score – a nine-play 39-yard drive capped by Harrison Buker’s 53-yard field goal. Georgia Tech later mounted a four-play, 94-yard touchdown drive, 11-play, 52-yard field goal drive and eight-play, 45-yard field goal drive.
The Yellow Jackets remained in the game just long enough to set up Austin’s heroics.
The moment came about with Florida State and Georgia Tech tied 16-16 following a Georgia Tech field goal with 54 seconds to play. The Seminoles, though, quickly drove 37 yards to positioned All-American kicker Roberto Aguayo for a 55-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play (the same amount of time remaining Watts-Jackson converted rose to the occasion). The attempt was within the leg range and nerves of Aguayo as a kicker who had converted every fourth-quarter kick in his career.
But the field goal was blocked. Austin was alert enough to pick up the ball rolling free well beyond the line of scrimmage and run 78 yards for a TD that broke a tie for a 22-16 victory. He ran to the wide side of the field and picked up the blocks he needed to find the end zone.
Championship teams convert such field goals.
Florida State must now refocus its hopes on winning the Atlantic to return to the ACC Championship game. And since the ACC Atlantic is considered stronger at the top than the ACC Coastal, the Seminoles will likely be the favorite in the ACC Championship game.
The Coastal race still has a long way to go before it comes into focus, but it is boiling down to No. 23 Duke (6-1, 3-0 Coastal), No. 25 Pittsburgh (6-1, 4-0 Coastal) and North Carolina (6-1, 3-0 Coastal).
The trio kept pace with wins Saturday. Duke defeated Virginia Tech 45-43 in four overtimes, Pitt beat Syracuse 23-20 on a field goal as time expired and North Carolina defeated Virginia 26-13.
No matter how Florida State’s season ends, it was only a matter of time before the Seminoles’ unbeaten dream came to an end.