The Daily Nole

What Went Right/Wrong for FSU in Orange Bowl athletics

The 33-32 Florida State victory over Michigan in the 2016 Capital One Orange Bowl could not have been closer. Florida State had a razor-thin margin of error coming into the game, yet it seemed to use that margin up and then some.

How were the Seminoles able to have crucial mistakes like a fumbled punt, pick-six, and seven penalties, yet still beat one of the best teams in the nation? Because they succeeded in areas that few expected them to. Who could’ve predicted that Nyqwan Murray was going to give Jourdan Lewis his toughest match-up yet? Or that Dalvin Cook was going to have over 60 yards receiving? That and many other factors helped propel FSU to one of its biggest wins of the past three years.

After watching the game in person, and watching it a couple more times on replay, trends become apparent about what went right for Florida State and what went wrong. We break it down below, as we identify those trends that led to an FSU victory…and the trends that may have made the game closer than it ever should have been.

Note that some of these occurrences may have exceptions (like certain drives or plays) but that doesn’t take away from the overall trend.



FSU running back Dalvin Cook got into a rhythm and struck early. Cook knew what was at stake on Friday night. He had to try and gash one of the best run defenses in the nation if his team wanted to win.

The Rose Bowl at the end of 2014 and 2015 Peach Bowl were still fresh in his memory and the 2016 Orange Bowl was Cook’s last chance at putting together a good bowl outing. What did he do? 207 combined yards and a touchdown on a ridiculous 7.4 yards per carry. It started early when he gained 40 yards on the first drive, and he continued to showcase his versatility with 62 receiving yards as well.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher clearly watched enough tape on Michigan to realize how teams like Michigan State and Iowa were able to have some success with power running. Lead blocks with fullback Freddie Stevenson were crucial in springing Cook for big runs, as were plays that involved pulling tackles and confusing Michigan defenders. After the game, Cook mentioned what his favorite run of the night was:

“3rd-and-22,” Cook said. “Coach Fisher had the mindset to give me the ball, so that’s how much he trusted me. For him to give me the ball on 3rd-and-22 and I just made the run.”

More analysis on Cook will be published later, but the point is that the Florida State offense was working exactly how it was supposed to. The Seminoles got their best player into a rhythm and let his pure talent do the rest.


The Florida State defensive line had been on an upward trend ever since the Sept. 17 loss at Louisville, and it culminated in an absolutely dominant performance against the Wolverines. By the end of the game, Michigan had a meager 89 yards on 36 attempts and 30 of those yards came on one play. It was a season-low for Jim Harbaugh’s team.

Every single position on the line was getting push throughout the night, and the Michigan offense could not get any momentum going without a reliable running game. Quarterback Wilton Speight was once again great at evading pressure, but constantly having to scramble brought some of his accurately issues to light, as he missed multiple open receivers. Add in the best game of FSU linebacker Matthew Thomas’ career, and Michigan had nowhere to go.


Nobody was ever going to mistake Speight for Matt Ryan, but the Wolverines had a couple of good deep threats in Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh who could exploit an FSU secondary depleted at safety. In fact, they did just that a few times throughout the game, but Speight sailed his passes and could not connect.

Credit still needs to go to players like cornerbacks Tarvarus McFadden, Marquez White, and safety A.J. Westbrook for not letting receivers get behind them.

“Yeah I feel like it was a perfect way to end it,” Westbrook said following the victory in Miami. “I had a great game against N.C. State too, but I just felt like I was tuned into the moment and locked in…it came down to practice”.

The only way Michigan could get a spark on offense was through big plays or FSU mistakes. A couple of the latter occurred, but the former did not. In fact, Speight only had one pass that went for more than 20 yards. He finished the game with a paltry 4.28 yards per attempt average.


There is no winning team in the history of college football that did not have at least some luck on their side. Every team needs it. Florida State’s portion of luck arrived late, but came in the form of Keith Gavin breaking a tackle from a future NFL player on a 66-yard kick return that he wasn’t sure he was supposed to even bring out of the end zone.

There are a few other instances, like FSU quarterback Deondre Francois recovering his own fumble, or Michigan missing big play opportunities. But for the most part, Florida State’s luck came just at the right time. And that’s what it needed.


After Nyqwan Murray’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown and Logan Tyler’s punting against Florida, many thought that it couldn’t get worse for the FSU special teams. Surprise. A Murray muffed punt recovered by Michigan at the 1-yard-line, blocked extra point returned for two points, a kick out of bounds, and mediocre punts from Logan Tyler brought forth incompetency not yet seen.

Yes, Gavin’s return was exhilarating, and kicker Ricky Aguayo had a good night besides the blocked PAT near the end of the game, but the former was almost complete luck. Murray’s muffed punt in the first quarter led to only three points, but imagine if Michigan had punched it in to the end zone and tied up the game. He redeemed himself thankfully with a pair of touchdown grabs, including the game-winner…but chasing after a punt inside the 5-yard-line and then muffing it is deserving of a SportsCenter Not Top 10 placement.

When it came to field position, Michigan had an absurd advantage. Florida State started at its own 20 or inside it six different times. Michigan did so once. Part of that was Michigan specialist Kenneth Allen’s fantastic 47.4 yard per punt average. He had four different kicks that went inside the FSU 20 and four that were 50-plus yards.

By comparison, Tyler averaged 38 yards and had none land inside the Michigan 20. None of his went more than 47 yards. It’s not controversial to say that FSU special teams made the game closer than it should have been. There needs to be some sort of change to either staff or depth chart if the Seminoles want to find consistency in this aspect of their game.


Deondre Francois had the best worst game of the season. The redshirt freshman finished with a terrible 33 percent (9-for-27) completion rate…yet still put up 222 yards and one touchdown pass, along with one interception.

It was astounding to watch Francois hit perfect passes that went for 45 yards, 92 yards, and for a game-winning touchdown, yet miss throws in close range or with open receivers. He was still forcing too many deep passes when he should have checked down to a safer option, but he was also missing stationary receivers near the sidelines.

Ultimately Francois did enough to help FSU secure a victory, but his inconsistency really was detrimental to the team. His pick-six with FSU leading by 11 in the third quarter and general inaccuracy let Michigan hang around in a game where it was on the verge of getting blown out. Francois is still a redshirt freshman and it should be noted that he was missing his biggest target in sophomore Auden Tate.

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