- Associated Press
This was far from Florida State-Florida of old.
Two losing teams. Two struggling offenses. Two proud programs essentially playing out the string.
The only thing that seemed even vaguely familiar: The outcome.
Jacob Pugh and Levonta Taylor turned takeaways into touchdowns and helped the Seminoles beat the Gators for the fifth consecutive year, 38-22 Saturday.
Pugh returned a fumble 16 yards for a score in the first quarter, and Taylor returned an interception 18 yards for another in the second. Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks was responsible for both costly turnovers.
“This rivalry game matters no matter what your record is,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Our guys were ready. I could see it in their eyes in the locker room before the game. There is still a lot of heart and character with this team, a lot to play for.”
The Seminoles (5-6) used the defensive scores to build a 24-7 lead and didn’t need much more against offensively challenged Florida, which ended the season by losing six of its final seven games.
“You can’t win games having too many turnovers for touchdowns,” Gators interim coach Randy Shannon said. “That was the biggest problem in the game. We fought back in the game trying to get ourselves trying to end the game on some positive notes. It didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t get started. The running game was doing well, but throwing the ball today wasn’t very good for us. Too many interceptions.
The Gators (4-7) actually lost twice Saturday since former Oregon coach Chip Kelly picked UCLA over Florida. The Gators had targeted Kelly to replace Jim McElwain, who was let go last month following a lopsided loss to Georgia.
Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, school president Kent Fuchs and several other Florida executives met with Kelly last week in New Hampshire, but failed to secure a deal. Kelly then interviewed with UCLA and snubbed Florida.
The Gators — who for just the second time in 27 years will not play in a bowl game — will now renew their search efforts, potentially targeting UCF’s Scott Frost. Frost has the 13th-ranked Knights undefeated and playing in the American Athletic Conference championship game next week.
“The next coach has to do it his way,” Shannon said. “There’s no rhyme or reason. That’s the one thing: Every coach is different. He’s got to do it his way, and he will and this program will move forward.”
Florida State, meanwhile, moved a step closer to becoming bowl eligible for the 36th consecutive year. The Seminoles can extend their NCAA-record streak by beating Louisiana-Monroe next Saturday at home.
“This was a big win,” Fisher said. “It means a lot to these kids. Just ask them about keeping that bowl streak alive. It’s important to them. It’s important to me.”
If FSU plays like it did against Florida, it should have no problem making the postseason again.
“We are having fun and playing through adversity,” Pugh said. “Our locker room is determined not to lose.”
FSU true freshman quarterback James Blackman of Belle Glade completed 10 of 21 passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Franks, meanwhile, was 18-of-39 passing for 184 yards, with two touchdowns and three picks. The Seminoles made Franks look lost most of the day, sacking him five times, hitting way more often and forcing four turnovers.
“You got a feeling that their quarterback was feeling our pressure,” FSU defensive end Brian Burns said. “It definitely affected him and that’s what we want.”
Franks said he has learned from a difficult season.
“It’s part of the game,” Franks said. “It’s something for me to learn from and get better at it. The guys have confidence in me; that’s all that really matters. I’m not worried about everybody in the nation having confidence in me.”
Florida State: The Seminoles improved to 18-2 against teams from the Sunshine State since Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010 and now have their longest winning streak (five) against Florida since they first played in 1958. There’s clearly a gap between the in-state rivals, one Florida’s next coach will try to close.
Florida: The Gators ended up with a losing record for just the second time since 1979. Suspensions and injuries had a lot to do with the team’s struggles, but developing a quarterback has to be the top priority for the next coach.