Francois, Murray rally Seminoles past Louisville, 28-24
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Florida State coach Willie Taggart wasn’t expecting Louisville to throw the ball late. Neither was Seminoles defensive back A.J. Westbrook.
But Louisville, up three with the ball at the Seminoles 21 and the clock running under 2:00, did just that, and Westbrook, a senior safety, stepped in front to get the interception his team desperately needed. Five plays later, Deondre Francois connected with Nyqwan Murray on a 58-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 left to give the Seminoles a wild 28-24 come-from-behind victory Saturday.
For most of the day, it looked like Florida State (3-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) would go to 0-3 in conference play for just the second time and continue the tailspin started after blowout losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse. Instead, they ran to the locker room jubilant with a victory that could reverse their fortunes for the season.
“We needed this win to continue the progress that we’re trying to do with our football program,” Taggart said. “This was huge for our team.”
Francois completed 16-of-27 passes for 294 yards and a career-best four touchdowns. Murray caught six for 114 yards and two scores.
Louisville (2-3, 0-2) sought a win for many of the same reasons Florida State did. The Cardinals offense had looked lethargic in recent weeks as the team was ranked among the bottom of bowl subdivision squads in passing, rushing and total offense.
For most of the afternoon, it looked like the Cardinals had cured their offensive ills. Jawon Pass, who was removed as Louisville’s starting quarterback before coming back in a relief role in last week’s 27-3 loss at Virginia, started and threw for a season-high 306 yards and two scores on 24-of-45 passing. He also went 6-of-7 for 57 yards on an 11-play, 70-yard drive late in the first half that culminated with a 3-yard pass to Dez Fitzpatrick to make it 21-7 Cardinals (2-3, 0-2) with :10 left in the first half.
However, he also threw two interceptions. The first was the one Westbrook picked. It stopped a four-minute drive that saw the Cardinals move the ball 50 yards and force Florida State to start burning timeouts. Taggart was telling his players they’d need to strip the ball to get the takeaway they needed, but then Westbrook said he saw Cardinals tight end Mickey Crum make a gesture to Pass on the pivotal play.
“So, I just sat there and jumped it,” he said.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino took responsibility for the play calling.
“I look back at it, obviously, I should have ran the ball,” a somber Petrino said in the postgame press conference. “I did know what they were in, and I was expecting him to throw the hitch into the field. It’s my job to make sure we’re on the same page. I didn’t get that done.”
A tough road still remains for the Seminoles, with ranked opponents Miami, Notre Dame and Clemson looming on the schedule. However, Saturday’s win, and the rallying effort it took to secure it, can only help the first-year coach and his team.
“We’re not completely there, but our guys are working really hard to get it how we want it,” Taggart said. “I thought today was another jump in that direction.”
Florida State: The Seminoles found ways to make big plays and claw back into a game where they trailed by double digits for most of the second half. All three second-half touchdowns were passing plays that went for at least 25 yards. Taggart credited Francois and his receiving corps for their work.
“Deondre can throw the football and we’ve got guys who can catch it and run. We’ve got to continue to use that,” Taggart said. “I can only imagine when we finally get our running game going, it will really help this offense go like we’re capable of.”
Louisville: The Cardinals offense did look improved and more efficient, but mental errors still continue to plague the unit. Pass had a couple of overthrows to open receivers downfield that could have blown open the game for Louisville. Instead, those missed opportunities allowed the Seminoles to stay in the game, and Pass’ late play proved devastating.
Louisville’s defense has been hampered by the injury bug all season, but the Cardinals did get one of their playmakers back Saturday. Dorian Etheridge, who missed the last two games after injuring his ankle in the first half against Indiana State three weeks ago, started for the Cardinals and made a team-high five tackles. The sophomore linebacker was an ESPN All American last season.
Florida State goes on the road again and plays No. 16 Miami next Saturday. It’ll be the third straight conference road game for the Seminoles.
Louisville returns to action Friday night and hosts Coastal Division foe Georgia Tech, which snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday.