After one of its worst seasons in decades, Florida State opened its 2019 campaign by giving away an early lead and getting beat down the stretch in a 36-31 loss to Boise State. The circumstances of the game had changed dramatically since it was originally scheduled for Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida with Hurricane Dorian bringing a venue and time change. Early on, it looked like Florida State was benefiting from the noon ET start in Tallahassee at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Seminoles jumped out to a 31-13 lead thanks to explosive plays from the likes of James Blackman and Cam Akers. Everything, to that point, suggested that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles had put a talented group of skill players in positions to succeed and raised the ceiling for the Seminoles offense.
But the anatomy of Florida State's collapse was two-fold: The offense stopped hitting explosive plays and the defense, left out on the field for long Boise State drives, wore down over the course of the game.
By the late third quarter, Mavin Wilson and Florida State's top-line defenders were getting pushed around in the trenches and spending their time between snaps with their hands on their hips trying to catch their breath. Boise State ran 108 plays in total on Saturday compared to Florida State's 62, and those 62 plays only took 19:57 off the clock. In critical moments of the second half, when Florida State's defense did need its time on the sideline to get refreshed, Blackman and the offense responded with short, scoreless drives.
As the players left the field, the setting was familiar for both teams: Florida State suffering another close loss and Boise State celebrating another victory against a Power Five opponent.
Here are three things to know about the loss and what it means moving forward.
1. Boise State has found its next great quarterback in Hank Bachmeier: The true freshman was outstanding, completing 30-for-51 passes for 407 yards and hanging in the pocket to make tough throws through an afternoon of pounding from Florida State's defensive front. Bryan Harsin got a recruiting win when Bachmeier committed to the Broncos, but I don't think anyone expected the raw talent to translate to poise and production at the college level this quickly, especially against a team like Florida State.
2. James Blackman's stat line is misleading: If Florida State moves on from this game and improves dramatically on offense, maybe the memories of offensive ineffectiveness in the second half will be forgotten. Maybe as we're discussing the best quarterback performances in the ACC this season, we'll just be left with a stat line from the loss: 23-for-33 passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Left alone without context, that appears to be an excellent performance by the junior quarterback. A deeper examination reveals Florida State's 1-for-12 conversion rate on third down and the frequency of Blackman ending up on his back. He struggled to find space or time against a Boise State defense that got stronger and more dominant late into the game.
3. A failed fumble recover represented the saddest omen of an FSU collapse: Sometimes climbing out of a program drought is even harder than it should be thanks to lingering disappointment that can seemingly find its way into the fabric of a locker room like sweaty shoulder pads. Through the last two tumultuous years -- the final year of Jimbo Fisher and first year of Willie Taggart -- the Seminoles have been competitive in games that they lost by letting mistakes and bad breaks chip away at their resiliency in the second half. When two senior defenders are both trying to recover a fumble inside the 10-yard line that would have prevented a go-ahead score for Boise State, that familiar feeling of disappointment became the dominant emotion rather than the hope of a turned page in 2019.
From 2004-17, Florida State was undefeated in games where it had a lead of 18+ points, a perfect 79-0. In the short 13 games of the Willie Taggart era, there has already been two such occasions of a blown 18+ point leads, in 2018 against Miami and Saturday against the Broncos.
Now, the Seminoles must rebound against Louisiana-Monroe before taking on ACC Coastal division darlings Virginia in two weeks. The Broncos, meanwhile, take on Marshall on Friday in their home opener before hosting Portland State.