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November 12, 2011

FSU rides special teams, turnovers to 23-19 win over Miami

Fresh off another win over a heated rival, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher called this chapter of FSU-Miami "another classic." It could be called wild. Unique. Perhaps all of them apply.

It was definitely something.

In a wacky affair that saw Florida State get outgained convincingly, almost doubled up in first downs, saw two special teams touchdowns called back and eight pit stops for official reviews, the Seminoles made it through the muck to top Miami 23-19 at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night.

It's a game that will go down in this rivalry's lore, for better or for worse.

"I've outgained them and lost too, so I feel a lot better being on this end," said Fisher, who led the Seminoles to its first home win over Miami since 2005. Fisher is now 3-0 against Miami and Florida as FSU's head coach.

"That game was very weird," he said. "The flow of it, just how it was, it was a different type game. But rivalry games a lot of times are."

The numbers certainly weren't adding up for Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC). It mustered only a season-low 259 total yards. It took 23 minutes to get a first down. The Seminoles allowed 24 Miami first downs and committed 10 penalties for 76 yards.

And through all of that, FSU trailed for only 4:32 of the contest.

Down 7-3, quarterback EJ Manuel responded to the UM touchdown, connecting with Rodney Smith on a 21-yard score to take the 10-7 lead with 4:42 to play in the first half. The Seminoles would build a lead as large as 16 on Dustin Hopkins' 38-yard field goal early in the fourth.

Miami clawed back, scoring twice in the final 6:27 to make it 23-19. FSU freshman Nick O'Leary iced the victory when he came down with Miami's onside kick attempt with 1:24 to play.

"It did seem like an odd one when I look up and we have three first downs and had 17 points (at halftime)," said receiver Bert Reed, who tallied three catches for 45 yards. "But that's what it's about, about being a team and preaching that it's all four phases. When the offense is not doing well, the defense and special teams pick us up."

The key to FSU's victory was attained by those two units.

The special teams was magnificent across the board, highlighted by an 83-yard punt return late in the second quarter by Greg Reid that gave FSU the 17-7 halftime edge. Punter Shawn Powell pinned two punts inside the Miami 5, Hopkins was 3-for-4 on field goals, the Seminoles blocked an extra point to keep it a four-point game at 23-19 and O'Leary capped it with the recovered onside kick. That doesn't count a punt return and kick return for touchdown that were called back on penalties.

"Turnovers, penalties and special teams," Miami coach Al Golden said. "(Miami) is a resilient group, keeps competing by in the end it's just to hard to overcome. We beat ourselves with turnovers, we beat ourselves with penalties and I think they out executed us on special teams."

And while the FSU defense didn't dominate in the way it manhandled the past four opponents - it bent to the tune of 383 total yards - it forced three turnovers including a momentum-stopping endzone interception on Miami's 15-play, 84-yard opening drive.

"I thought we did a good job," defensive end Brandon Jenkins said.

It wasn't pretty, but in the end, Florida State's performance was effective. The Seminoles will now tote a five-game winning streak into next week's home finale against Virginia and attain a year's worth of bragging rights.

"It wasn't just a fluid game with the field position, the turnovers and the penalties and the delays and the returns, there was no rhythm to the game," Fisher said. "But there was two teams out there scratching, fighting and playing hard.

"You find ways to win, that's part of athletics. Everyone wants it to be pretty, you want it to be perfect, competing doesn't work that way. When you have two teams competing as hard as they did out there, that's kind of what happens sometimes."



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