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September 20, 2008

FSU fails first test of the season

The new day for the Florida State football team has not yet dawned.

Facing their first real compeition of the season -- No. 18 Wake Forest -- the 24th-ranked Seminoles collapsed under an avalanche of turnovers and penalties. Only a stout defensive performance kept a 12-3 final score from becoming much worse.

"We just wouldn't give ourselves a chance to win the game," head coach Bobby Bowden said.

After throttling two Division I-AA opponents by a combined score of 115-7, the rumblings began that the Florida State football program might be closer to returning to its glory days than first imagined.

But the Seminoles' first offensive play showed that path might still be a long one.

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder, who threw six touchdowns against no interceptions in the first two games, threw a pass right into the arms of Demon Deacons corner Alphonso Smith on his first play of the game.

Smith took that pick 18 yards to the Florida State 45 and Wake turned that into their first field goal of the game.

The Seminoles weren't done handing the ball back to Wake Forest. They committed seven turnovers in all. Five were interceptions, three from Ponder and two from D'Vontrey Richardson, who replaced Ponder in the third quarter and played for most of the remainder of the game. Two were fumbles.

Neither Ponder nor Richardson were effective Saturday. Richardson did lead the Seminoles with 46 yards rushing and guided the offense to its lone score of the game -- a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter from returning kicker Graham Gano. But the two redshirt sophomores combined to complete just 12 of 36 passes for 118 yards.

Ponder admitted his performance was one to forget, one where his feet were too happy and his passes weren't on target.

"I think I definitely left the pocket too early several times," Ponder said. "I really should have stayed in there and it hurt us. It's a lot of dumb mistakes on my part, and it hurt us.

While FSU's offense struggled, it's defense kept the team within one score of the Deacons until the closing minutes of the game. The Seminoles sacked Wake quarterback Riley Skinner twice, held the Deacons to 59 yards rushing after they averaged 106 yards in their first two games and, despite facing short fields several times due to the offense's mistakes, held a team that was averaging nearly 34 points per game without a touchdown.

"We were put in a lot of tough situations tonight," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said, "which is going to happen. But I'm really proud of the way our kids fought tonight. We'd go out there a lot of times with the ball across our 50-yard line, but I couldn't be prouder of the way we kept them out of the end zone."

The defense did have a hand in the team's 12 penalties for 139 yards.

On Wake's last drive of the third quarter, the Deacons picked up two first downs on penalties -- a face mask call on Markus White and a pass interference call on Michael Ray Garvin. While Sam Swank missed a field goal at the end of that drive, one of those penalties came on third and 10, which kept the FSU offense off the field.

"The thing that hurt us most were the penalties," Bowden said. "I mean, where you just self-destruct, would not give yourself a chance to win."

Revenge might have played too heavily on FSU's mind. The players remembered the 30-0 loss they suffered at Wake's hands in 2006. The Seminoles still haven't scored a touchdown against the Deacons in Doak Campbell Stadium since then.

The Seminoles now must try to regain their footing on the path back to college football's elite. A date with an improved Colorado team in Jacksonville looms next Saturday. So, defensive back Myron Rolle said, the team can't spend too much time sulking over their first loss of the season.

"You try to have amnesia and forget this loss because it hurts everybody from the coaches on down to the staff, personnel and players," Rolle said. "We have to see what we did wrong and see how we can correct those mistakes to prepare for Colorado."


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