There was plenty of optimism surrounding No. 13 Florida State (10-3, 5-3 ACC) entering Thursday night’s Cheez-It Bowl contest against the Oklahoma Sooners (6-7, 3-6 Big 12). The Seminoles entered the game on a winning streak while the Sooners were depleted by a plethora of opt outs and injuries.
That didn’t mean that Florida State had any room to rest its laurels and take a battle-hardened Oklahoma team lightly in Orlando.
The Sooners capitilized in the first half to take a double-digit advantage a couple of seconds into the second quarter. However, the lights finally began to turn on for Florida State as the frame progressed.
The Seminoles outscored Oklahoma 32-18 over the final two and a half quarters to earn a 35-32 victory. The win marked Florida State’s tenth of the season and was the first victory for the program in a bowl game since 2016.
Oklahoma won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Seminoles the ball first.
Florida State’s opening drive began at its own 25 and the offense began to find a rhythm early. Facing a third down, Jordan Travis escaped a sack and scrambled up the right side for 16 yards. He connected with wide receiver Johnny Wilson for 26 yards to move the Seminoles into Oklahoma territory. On the next play, running back Treshaun Ward went up the middle and broke multiple tackles to get FSU into a goal to go scenario. However, two runs that went nowhere and a deflection in the end zone forced the offense to settle for a 23-yard field goal.
The Sooners didn’t waste any time on answering the Seminoles. Dillon Gabriel hit tight end Brayden Willis on 3rd and 6, who beat linebacker Kalen DeLoach in converage, for a first down. Cornerback Renardo Green prevented a touchdown on the sideline after recovering to break up a pass intended for Marvin Mims Jr. It didn’t matter as Gabriel kept the ball himself for a conversion on the next play before finding wide receiver Jalil Farooq for a touchdown pass on 2nd and 21. Oklahoma took a 7-3 lead with 7:01 remaining in the first quarter.
The Seminoles took over at their own 25 following a touchback. Running back Lawrance Toafili found a hole and first down on the first play from scrimmage but a false start pushed the offense back. Travis moved the unit closer to the line to gain with a completion to tight end Markeston Douglas. However, running back Trey Benson was stuffed on back to back plays and Florida State turned the ball over on downs just over midfield.
The defense responded as cornerback Renardo Green made a tackle for loss. On the next play, Gabriel slipped on the turf and hit the ground prior to throwing a pass which made it 3rd and 19. Florida State brought pressure to force an incompletion and three-and-out by the Sooners.
Following a touchback on the punt, the Seminoles were back in action at their own 25. However, FSU quickly producted a three-and-out of its own, sending out punter Alex Mastromanno for a 46-yard boot that was returned back into opposing territory by Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims.
With the first quarter winding down to a close, the Sooners found themselves leading 7-3 with a 1st and goal scenario waiting for them at the beginning of the second frame. Oklahoma outgained Florida State 106-99 in total yards on offense in the opening quarter. The Sooners earned nine first downs and converted 4/5 of their third-down attempts while the Seminoles only had four first downs and were a combined 1/5 on third and fourth down.
Oklahoma wasted no time striking again as Gabriel scored on a quarterback keeper to begin the second quarter. The Sooners suddenly led 14-3 with 14:31 remaining in the first half. Feeling some pressure, Travis found Johnny Wilson again, this time for 31 yards. However, he tried to do too much on the next play and was sacked by linebacker Danny Stutsman. The Seminoles tried to go for it on 4th and 8 but tight end Cam McDonald saw a pass bounce off his hands for another turnover on downs.
Sensing an opportunity to put the Seminoles further on their heels, Oklahoma turned up the tempo. On 3rd and 15, Gabriel went deep and hit Mims in the red zone, who beat cornerback Omarion Cooper down the sideline on the play. Running back Gabin Sawchuk broke up the middle for a touchdown shortly after but a holding penalty took the points off the board. Jared Verse and Derrick McClendon combined for a tackle for loss that resulted in the Sooners attempting a 46-yard field goal.
The kick traveled wide left and Florida State took advantage of the swing to start getting back into the game. Benson broke a couple of arm tackles to gain 11 yards and a first down. The Seminoles used play-action to free up wide receiver Ontaria Wilson for 14 yards to the opposite side of the field before Travis hit Johnny Wilson for 23 yards. Ward bounced outside to get the offense into the red zone. Travis made a tough throw to connect with Ontaria Wilson in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. The Seminoles got tricky on the extra point attempt as tight end Wyatt Rector passed to fellow tight end Brian Courtney for a two-point conversion.
That meant Florida State ended up turning the missed field goal into a 15-point swing, cutting the deficit to 14-11 with 7:18 remaining in the half.
Defensive end Leonard Warner forced a fumble on the ensuing possession after sacking Gabriel but Florida State wasn’t able to come up with it. Safety Jammie Robinson sacked Gabriel again on a blitz on the next play. Oklahoma elected to rush Gavin Sawchuck on 3rd and 21 and turned it into 17 yards. The Sooners punted back to Florida State as Mycah Pittman fair caught the kick at his own 12.
The Seminoles had an opportunity to take a lead into the half after Travis and Johnny Wilson hooked up for the fourth time in the opening two quarterbacks, this time for 30 yards. However, an incompletion and short run brought up 3rd and 8. The Sooners sent the house and brought Travis down for a sack to force a punt.
Defensive tackle Joshua Farmer netted the defense another sack to begin the drive but a face mask penalty gave the Sooners a free first down. The Sooners moved into scoring range and ended up kicking a 41-yard field goal attempt with less than a minute to play in the half.
With one last chance in the first half, Travis scrambled for 25-yards to put Florida State in field goal range. Ryan Fitzgerald’s attempt came up short from 54-yards out as Oklahoma carried a 17-11 lead into the break.
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Florida State’s defense opened up the final two quarters on a mission. McClendon made a tackle for loss in the first play from scrimmage and DeLoach made a tackle for loss later in the drive. On third and long, true freshman cornerback Azareye’h Thomas read Gabriel’s eyes and went vertical to deflect a pass and force a punt.
Taking over at their own 6, the Seminoles started to find some consistency on offense. Travis threw to the sideline and Ontaria Wilson made a terrific catch to keep the drive alive. That’s when Johnny Wilson broke open deep and it looked like Florida State would connect on a touchdown strike. Instead, the ball was dropped but Travis was able to run for a conversion on his own.
Travis appeared to injure his left ankle on the drive but he stayed in the game for the Seminoles and didn’t miss a beat. He found Malik McClain and Johnny Wilson for big connections on third downs to keep the offense on the field. Travis stayed alive in the pocket and hit Ontaria Wilson for 19 yards to get into the red zone.
Florida State ended up punching into the end zone and taking its first lead, 18-17, since the opening minutes behind a touchdown from Ward out of the wildcat. Linebacker DJ Lundy cleared out the middle of the Sooners’ defense to make room for Ward.
Oklahoma didn’t blink as Gabriel hits Willis for 31 yards. The tight end dragged defenders in Florida State territory, including Robinson who went down after the play. Bethune and Dennis Briggs combined for a sack to bring up third and long. The Sooners failed to convert on a run but decided to go for it on fourth and 6. The play resulted in a turnover on downs as Gabriel’s pass was nearly intercepted by Kevin Knowles.
The Seminoles had a chance to further their lead over the Sooners on the ensuing possession. Facing third and long, Johnny Wilson went up in traffic for a catch that resulted in 17 yards. With another third down on FSU’s plate, a pass intended for Douglas fell short. Florida State chose to go for it and Travis’ throw was intercepted by Billy Bowman at the Oklahoma 30.
Florida State continued to lead at the beginning of the final frame, but not for long. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Gabriel went deep and connected with Mims for 31 yards to get into Seminole territory. Sawchuk ended the drive with a run right up the middle to put the Sooners back on top. Gabriel hit Willis in traffic for a two-point conversion as Oklahoma took a 25-18 advantage with 13:22 to play.
The fourth-quarter seesaw continued into the ‘Noles next possession. Travis hit Douglas and Ontaria Wilson for back to back first downs before tossing outside to Williamson for 15-yards. Williamson sealed off two defenders on the ensuing snap to free up Ward for a 38-yard scoring run up the right sideline. Florida State tied things up at 25 a piece with 11:05 to play in the game.
Oklahoma opened up the ensuing possession with a big gain on a jet sweep to Drake Stoops. Facing a 3rd and 1, the Sooners elected to run Sawchuk on the ground. Cooper delivered a big hit to force a fumble and Robinson recovered it as the dfense came up with a turnover at an opportune time.
The Seminoles quickly tried to turn the momentum into points as Travis threw short to Benson on a screen pass, who cut up for 33 yards. Florida State used some trickiness on offense to free up Markeston Douglas over the middle for a 17-yard touchdown catch. FSU broke the tie and took back the lead, 32-25, with 7:22 remaining in the contest.
The Sooners showed their maturity on offense and didn’t panic despite trailing late in the game. Gabriel scrambled for a conversion on third down before using his legs for another big gain. Defensive end Patrick Payton stuffed Barnes but Gabriel found Farooq for 28 yards as Robinson stopped him from scoring with a last ditch effort on the tackle. It didn’t matter as Barnes ended up running in untouched to tie the game again at 32.
Florida State took the field with a final opportunity to win the game in regulation. Following a short run from Benson, Travis went deep and connected with his favorite target of the night, Bird Man. Johnny Wilson hauled in a 58-yard pass to put the Seminoles into scoring position. Following a few runs by Benson that didn’t gain much yardage, FSU brought out Fitzgerald for a kick that he connected on from 32-yards out.
The ‘Noles led 35-32 with 55 seconds remaining. Oklahoma got its last chance from its own 25. A false start and holding penalty all but ended the Sooners’ hopes. Briggs sacked Gabriel as time ran out and the Seminoles held on for the victory.
The Seminoles finished with 587 yards of total offense, including 418 yards through the air and and 169 yards on the ground. Travis went 27/38 for a career-high 418 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while running seven times for 50 yards. Johnny Wilson caught eight passes for 202 yards.
Defensively, FSU limited Oklahoma to 496 yards of total offense, including 243 yards through the air and 253 yards on the ground. The defense racked up six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Safety Jammie Robinson led the team with 13 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack. Ten players ended up accumulating a tackle for loss or a sack.
Florida State enters the 2023 offseason with serious momentum.
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Source : Sports Illustrated