TALLAHASSEE | Florida State took the lead over Miami in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game twice.
Both times, the Hurricanes sped down the field behind junior quarterback Malik Rosier to go ahead. The second time meant the ballgame as Rosier completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Langham with six seconds left to give the Hurricanes a 24-20 victory and end their seven-game losing streak against the Seminoles.
Pardon FSU fans if they’ve seen this re-run in the last two seasons.
It’s the reason defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has become the favorite social media whipping boy of FSU fans, although head coach Jimbo Fisher, the only one on the staff allowed to talk to the media, took the blame for the staff after the game.
“We’ll coach them better … blame it on me,” Fisher said after the game.
If Miami goes on to have a successful season, the two drives may well define Rosier’s college career. Because FSU kickoffs weren’t returned, he took over at his own 25 with deficits of 13-10 and 20-17. Both drives chewed up the 150 yards UM needed for the touchdowns in 15 plays, using a total of only 3:04 of clock time.
Rosier completed 7 of 10 passes for 118 yards. Prior to those two drives, he had completed 12 of 34 for 136 yards as the FSU defense baffled him with a man-to-man defense that included 12 passes broken up, three sacks and one hurry.
But with two leads, the ‘Noles defense played passively, trying to keep plays in front of them. And the ‘Canes took what was given — all the way to the end zone.
It continued a two-year pattern for the FSU defense in games it has lost or struggled:
• In last season’s Orange Bowl, the Seminoles took a 27-22 lead with 5:22 left against Michigan. The Wolverines then went 61 yards in just over two minutes to go ahead, only to have Keith Gavin return the kickoff 66 yards to give quarterback Deondre Francois superb field position to drive for the winning touchdown.
• In a 37-35 loss to North Carolina earlier in the season, FSU went ahead with 23 seconds left. The Tar Heels managed to run three plays (and benefited from a defensive penalty) to get kicker Nick Weiler in position for the winning 54-yard field goal.
• Four weeks later, FSU took a 34-29 lead over Clemson with 3:23 left. The Tigers required only five plays and 67 seconds to 75 yards for the winning touchdown.
More frustrating to the Seminoles is that the Miami, North Carolina and Clemson games were at home.
The fourth-quarter fold by the defensive ruined what had been a strong effort, especially in the first half. Miami didn’t make a first down until the final play of the first quarter, had only four in the entire first half, and was held to 23 yards rushing and 34 passing.
The Hurricanes averaged 1.9 yards per offensive play and were shut out in the first half for the first time since 2015.
“In the first half things were working … things were rolling,” said defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. “They’d punch, we’d punch back.”
Nnadi said one of the problems in the fourth quarter were missed assignments and missed keys.
“Certain techniques you have to take,” he said. “After the [FSU’s last] touchdown everybody on the team was amped up and everyone was thinking that we are going to end this now on the last drive.”
Miami made halftime adjustments and found ways to get wide receiver Ahmmon Richards open more. But its first touchdown was set up when Braxton Berrios returned a punt 44 yards to the ‘Noles 21. Rosier hit Berrios for the TD on the next play.
The last two touchdowns were all the credit of the Miami offense.
“We made a couple of mistakes … four or five plays determined the outcome of the game,” said FSU linebacker Matthew Thomas. “We were trying to stop them. We were thinking turnover or negative plays.”
What’s more disconcerting to the Seminoles is that defense was supposed to be the team’s strength this season, with all 11 starters returning. But FSU is eighth in the ACC and tied for 47th in the nation in scoring defense (allowing 23.5 points per game) and are not making nearly enough big plays: the ‘Noles are tied for 123rd in the nation in forcing only three turnovers and are tied for 66th in the nation with an average of 2.0 sacks per game.