Landry Jones came into a raucous atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday night having a checkered track record in road games. He was 3-5 in true road games as the QB of the Oklahoma Sooners, and going into a stadium that was louder than it has been in nearly a decade, it was going to be a huge test of his resolve and ability to call an effective game for the number one team in the country.
As for the Florida State Seminoles, this game provided an opportunity for them to get the kind of statement win that teams don’t get a lot of chances to get. The program has lost some of its luster since its heyday around 10 years ago, but with a young and exciting quarterback in EJ Manuel and an energetic head coach in Jimbo Fisher, the ‘Noles are looking to get back to prominence, and Saturday night was a tantalizing opportunity on national TV and in front of their home fans.
Unfortunately for Florida State, it was not meant to be, as they were victimized both by a ferocious Oklahoma pass rush and injuries to several key players in a 23-13 defeat at the hands of the Sooners. Jones ended up passing for 199 yards, and Kenny Stills came back from his one game suspension to catch seven passes for 125 yards and the game winning TD in Oklahoma’s win.
What else did Saturday night’s huge clash between top-five teams demonstrate about the two clubs? Here are five more thoughts on the game:
One: Jones Gets Headlines, But There are Other Stars on This Sooners’ Offense
As the quarterback of the number one team in college football, Landry Jones rightfully gets a lot of publicity. Last night was a good one for him in that regard, as he got tons of props for passing Sam Bradford to become Oklahoma’s all-time leading passer when he found Kenny Stills on a slant route late in the third quarter. The reality, however, is that this Sooners’ offense is bigger than just its quarterback.
Stills, who had been suspended for the team’s first game against Tulsa because of a DUI incident, was an absolute beast in this one, catching seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. He helped stretch the field for Jones and the Sooners, and he made it a lot easier for them to overcome a second half Florida State rally.
Ryan Broyles also had a good game for Oklahoma, catching seven passes of his own for 55 yards. This follows his superb performance against Tulsa when he caught 14 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in the Sooners’ 47-14 win. He and Stills give Jones two great pass catching options on the outside, and they open the door for the team’s running attack to thrive.
Early in the game, Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay were difference makers, and while the Seminoles’ defense did stiffen up and stop the run game for the most part later, you could see their potential explosiveness quite a bit. Whaley had four touchdowns against Tulsa, and while he was kept out of the end zone against the ‘Noles he did pick up 71 rushing yards on 21 grueling carries. Clay had 52 yards on 12 carries, and the two of them help provide a great 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Don’t let the 23 points they gave up fool you: Florida State’s defense is a top notch unit. After giving up a touchdown on Oklahoma’s first drive of the game, the Seminoles held the Sooners to two second quarter field goals and shut them out in the third quarter, giving their offense an opportunity to put together some sustained drives and to ultimately tie the game at 13-13 in the fourth quarter.
As mentioned in the previous section, their big accomplishment in this one was forcing Jones to throw more passes than he likely would have cared to. Shutting down Oklahoma’s running game is not an easy thing to do, and they further thwarted the Sooner offense by picking off two passes.
Before Oklahoma went on what would ultimately be their winning drive in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Seminoles had only allowed them 32 yards of total offense up until that point. It was a heck of a performance against such a highly touted offense, and Fisher would be well-advised to remind his team of the positive aspects of this performance should they run into trouble further down the road this season.
Three: Oklahoma’s Bend But Don’t Break Defense Effective
Just as the Florida State defense made it a point to prevent Oklahoma from getting into the end zone, the Sooners largely returned the favor to the Seminoles. FSU actually got into the red zone on their first two possessions, and they came away with only three points as Dustin Hopkins (doing his best Michael Johnson impression with his golden spikes) booted a huge 53 yard field goal and Tom Wort also picked off Manuel deep in FSU territory.
Setting aside the 56 yard touchdown to Rashad Greene, the Oklahoma defense only allowed 196 yards of offense to the Seminoles, a testament to just how good that unit is. In total, Florida State had just over 1000 yards of offense in two games before the showdown with the Sooners, and Oklahoma acquitted itself beautifully.
Four: Florida State Needs to Get Better in the Running Game
In the first two games of this season, the Seminoles had a decent rushing attack, going for 265 yards. On Saturday night, however, they were completely stifled by the Oklahoma defense, managing just 27 yards on 26 carries. It was an abysmal night to be sure, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
The team’s leading rusher at this moment is quarterback EJ Manuel, who has 98 yards on the ground this season. While that isn’t a huge deal normally, the issue that they could be facing is one of practicality. In the third quarter, Manuel went down with an apparent shoulder injury, and although he was able to try to come back later in the game, he gave way to his backup Clint Trickett. He cannot keep taking hits like that if it is going to result in injuries, and so the Seminoles are going to need to have another running back in their stable to step up and keep Manuel from having to constantly be the go-to running option.
Five: Ultimate Deciding Factor in This Game: Momentum
If there was a defining moment in this game, it occurred in the fourth quarter, and it displayed exactly why Oklahoma is the number one team in the country. Florida State had just seeming risen from the grave when they scored a 56 yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-28 play, and Doak Campbell Stadium was absolutely rocking. In fact, the noise was so intense that the graphic showing the down and distance on screen was shaking. To further complicate matters, Florida State had the Sooners pinned to a 3rd and 12, and looked as though they’d get the ball back with a chance to take the lead.
Showing their resolve, Jones tossed a 22-yard completion to Broyles for a first down, and then on the very next play, he found Stills for a 37-yard touchdown strike to quickly quiet the crowd and turn the momentum of the game completely around. Trickett then threw an interception on Florida State’s next possession, and when Jimmy Stevens booted a field goal to make it a 23-13 contest, the game had come to a sudden conclusion.
With all of the madness going on around the Sooners, Jones stepped up to the plate and delivered a couple of key strikes in front of a hostile crowd that threw out all of the thoughts of his 3-5 record on the road as OU QB and also helped deliver what could prove to be a signature win for this team going forward.