It took Florida State all of six plays to score six points Friday night, so enough with the jokes about Renegade the noble Seminoles warhorse taking an ignoble tumble to the turf during Orange Bowl pregame festivities.
By the time this Orange Bowl was finished, lifting and dashing the spirits of both fan bases so many times, the pratfalls were long forgotten and the heroic moments stored away pretty much forever.
That includes FSU’s Nyqwan Murray fumbling a punt return to set up Michigan’s first score and then going high to outfight an All-America cornerback for the winning touchdown with 36 seconds remaining.
The Seminoles sort of qualify as a whole in that comeback category, too, with a 5-3 start to the season looking like a slump and a 33-32 Orange Bowl win eventually feeling like the kind of triumph that might point a program right back to the top of the mountain.
“Boy, the future looks good,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who has already moved on to 2017, with a rollicking win over Jim Harbaugh and the nation’s No. 6 team to serve as recruiting rocket fuel. He’s got a new contract extension. He’s got another 10-win season. He’s even got the satisfaction of being able to tell SEC powerhouse LSU no thanks, I’m good.
With that kind of momentum, anything seems doable, including a fourth-and-1 gamble at the FSU 34-yard line when failure would have given the Wolverines the chance to cut a two-touchdown lead in half.
Jimbo called a timeout to think about it. Then he sent Deondre Francois back out to burrow his way to the first down on a quarterback sneak. It worked, which served to get a multitude of FSU fans pretty worked up, and let’s face it, they were already in full New Year’s partying mode.
“We came here to win the game,” said Jimbo, “to be aggressive with our calls. If we didn’t make an inch there, we didn’t deserve to win the game.”
FSU got their inch on a quarterback sneak by Francois, but before long Michigan was trying to take a mile with 17 fourth-quarter points. A 30-yard touchdown run by Chris Evans put the Wolverines up 30-27 with 1:57 to play once a successful two-point conversion was tacked on.
That’s right, Michigan wiped out every bit of a 20-6 FSU halftime lead and then some. No wonder Harbaugh believes so much in his guys, who came within a double-overtime loss to Ohio State of making the College Football Playoff field.
The problem was, Orange Bowl results routinely are beyond any kind of belief in the way that games are won and lost and generally chewed right down to the bone.
Stack this one right next to a 35-34 Michigan win over Alabama in the Jan. 1, 2000 Orange Bowl. Tom Brady was the Wolverines’ quarterback that night and his 369 passing yards helped to erase a couple of 14-point deficits.
Friday the winning quarterback, Francois, completed just 9-of-27 passes and threw an interception for a Michigan touchdown. Stuff like that is supposed to stink, but two of his completions went to Murray for scores and one of them covered 92 yards, the sixth-longest touchdown play in Orange Bowl history.
“Let me tell you,” said Jimbo, “you can throw a ball all you want. The object is to get guys on the team to fall in and want to play for you. That’s what a quarterback is and that’s what Deondre is.”
Dalvin Cook, voted the game’s Most Outstanding Player for his 207 yards in total offense, made Francois and everyone else look better during an FSU career that tortured Hurricanes and Gators alike and almost certainly will end early on the doorstep of the 2017 NFL draft. He wouldn’t confess to making a decision late Friday night, though.
Like Harbaugh, who called timeouts with 12 and 10 seconds remaining as the Seminoles were in the process of kneeling it out, Cook just didn’t want to hurry out of this crazily competitive environment.
In the end, however, there were a few too many red-zone flameouts for Michigan and too much speed by the FSU defense, which made 15 tackles for loss and sacked 6-foot-6 Wilton Speight four times.
Matter of fact, if not for an interception return for a Wolverines touchdown and a FSU special-teams blunder that set Michigan up for an early field goal, this wouldn’t have been a game at all with a quarter to play.
Harbaugh’s guys never stopped pounding away, however, trying to do what Jabrill Peppers would do if he could play every position, which is pretty much what the Heisman Trophy finalist did this season. Peppers never took the field Friday, however, because of a hamstring injury from practice and probably a touch of NFL draft fever, too.
Maybe that was just enough to get FSU out of a few tight spots, or maybe the Seminoles and their own first-round talent, Cook, were simply better.
It would be fun to find out about the overall depth and durability of both programs by matching them up again next year in the College Football Playoffs.
Is Jimbo ultimately greater than Jim, or will the equation work the other way some day?
All that’s certain is that this Orange Bowl set the bar very high for the playoff semifinal games to come, and that you can forget all that talk about every bowl game being meaningless unless there’s a national title in the balance.
FSU might have felt that way while losing the Peach Bowl to Houston last year, but this shootout with Michigan was an entirely different matter. Name-brand programs tend to take their meetings pretty seriously, whenever and wherever they happen.
“Both teams played to where it was a real credit to the game of football,” said Harbaugh, “and that’s the way I feel about it.”
Happy New Year, in other words, from college football. How, in a game so wild and wonderful, could it ever be otherwise?