COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher pumped his fist in the air as he jogged off the field to chants of his name following the Seminoles’ 30-16 win over Maryland on Saturday.
For a program stocked with championship tradition, a win of this magnitude was still new to Fisher, a first-time head coach, and his players, none of whom had ever won six conference games. Florida State might not make it to Charlotte, N.C., the site of this year’s ACC championship game, but with a 6-2 ACC record in his first season, Fisher has the program headed in the right direction.
“I say this all the time -- winning is a culture and it’s a habit,” Fisher said. “It’s not only winning on the field, it’s the way you walk, you talk, you eat, you breathe, you believe. And everybody in the organization -- not just the players and the coaches -- but everybody who affects those kids has to have that mentality. That’s what we’re starting to bring back. It’s going to be a process. We knew it was going to be tough. We’re nowhere close to where we need to be, but we’re learning to get the mentality, and that’s what I’m happy about.”
In order for Florida State to play in the ACC championship game, NC State has to lose to Maryland on Saturday. If NC State wins, it will win the Atlantic Division title. Florida State, though, can finish no worse in the standings than tied with NC State. While those within the program still hope to play for the title, they’ll gladly settle for a win over the Gators and title of co-champs in the Atlantic Division.
“We wanted more,” said running back Chris Thompson, whose 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave FSU a 7-3 lead. “We wanted to go to the ACC championship and everything, but maybe it will work out in our favor and maybe not, but one of our goals was to win at least six ACC games and we’re glad we met that goal. I think we’re going in the right direction as a team and as players on this team.”
FSU hasn’t won six ACC games since 2004. Part of the process has included learning how to win the close games, and it’s something the young players on this roster can continue to build on. They weren’t able to do it in the 28-24 loss at NC State, and lost another heart-breaker a week later, 37-35, to North Carolina. A 16-13 win over Clemson kept the Noles in the conference race, though, and they were able to pull away from Maryland in a game that was tied twice.
“We’re pleased,” said sophomore safety Nick Moody, who had a career-high 13 tackles and a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown that sealed the win . “We think we definitely could've did better in the close games if we had less mistakes, less self-inflicted wounds and things like that, but we can’t do anything about that now. Hopefully next week we get good news between Maryland and NC State. We just have to worry about Florida now.”
One of the biggest factors in the game was Florida State’s ability to force Maryland into four turnovers -- two fumbles and two interceptions. Maryland lost the ball just eight times all season entering the game. The final interception -- Moody’s -- was the most costly, as it came on fourth down with 36 seconds left in the game.
“It was a tough loss, just to lose down the stretch like that, it’s tough,” said Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien. “We turned the ball over, which hurts. When we win the turnover battle, we seem to always win, but we didn’t do it tonight.”
And that’s what will separate the two programs this season.
Both are in rebuilding mode, and Maryland deserves credit for its unprecedented turnaround in the ACC after winning just two games a year ago. The young Terps proved they’re not quite ready to be champs, though, while Florida State got one step closer.
“No matter what, you’re at least the co-champion of this (division),” Fisher said, “and that was one of our goals. We did what we could do. We had a chance to be 8-0, we didn’t get it, but six wins is where we’re wanting to go. It’s a step in the right direction. I’m very proud of these guys. These seniors can at least say they were co-champion of this division no matter what happens.”
Possibly no senior on the roster has wanted to say it more than quarterback Christian Ponder.
“It was huge,” he said. “We’re co-divisional champions. Hopefully Maryland takes care of business next week, but for us to get this many wins in the ACC, it’s been a while for us. I think this program definitely took a huge step forward this year.”