TAMPA, Fla. -- Outside the stadium, hordes of fans clad in garnet and gold milled about, occasionally tussling with a wayward USF supporter, but largely in command of enemy territory.
Inside Raymond James Stadium, however, things were different. All of those same fans had made their way through the turnstiles, but when the game began, there was no denying Florida State was in a hostile environment.
"We still had our fans there, but they were way up in the upper deck," EJ Manuel said. "You can't really hear those guys, just all the USF people."
Saturday was a test. This was a hostile environment, from the fans to the field to the fog that still hovered over a Seminoles team fresh off its most significant game of the season.
It was, as so many experts had been careful to remind coach Jimbo Fisher throughout the week, a recipe for a letdown.
"It's different, and you've got some guys who haven't been through this before," Fisher said. "It's different, and we've got to learn to do that. But I was proud of them."
The 30-17 win over USF was far from perfect. FSU's defense slumped early, the offense struggled in the red zone, and a special teams gaffe provided a crucial spark for a Bulls' rally. There were silly penalties and missed assignments and all the mental miscues that would normally give Fisher fits. A week after a dramatic win, Florida State's focus was lacking. For USF, however, it was their Super Bowl.
But Saturday's test was more of a pass-fail assignment, and on that scale, Fisher saw all he needed.
"It sounds crazy, but wins are big," Fisher said. "In the past, I think we might have folded a little bit. Our kids kept believing, kept playing hard. You have to find ways to keep winning those games when you're not playing your 'A' game. That's what good football teams do."
This won't be game film Fisher is eager to watch again, but there were lessons learned amid the ugliness and sluggishness.
This was Florida State's first win in a road opener since 2009, the year before Fisher took over as head coach. It was a game in which the final results didn't prove overwhelming, but the opportunities were ample. It was a game, much like a week ago against Clemson, that the Seminoles rallied after a slow start, shunning adversity with an unwavering resolve.
"We knew we were going to get the adjustments right," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "No one panicked. That was the great thing is to be down and not panic and have faith in your offense and special teams. We calmed down and guys got back into that groove."
The defense struggled to solve B.J. Daniels and the USF offense in the early-going. The Bulls marched 62 yards on their opening drive, which culminated in a field goal. By the time the first quarter was over, FSU had held the ball for just 4 minutes, 32 seconds, and USF had ticked off a whopping 144 yards of offense.
It was eerily reminiscent of last week's start against Clemson, only USF wasn't interested in fooling Florida State with trick plays. The Bulls simply outplayed their opposition.
"We were expecting a lot of trick plays, but they came out and just ran their offense," defensive end Cornellius Carradine said. "In the meeting room, we all said we can't let them get any more. We came out and picked it up in the second half."
South Florida managed just 29 yards of offense in the next two quarters combined, and the Florida State offense used the opportunity to crawl back into command of the game.
"We had to calm down and not let circumstances get the best of us," Joyner said.
From the travel to the pregame schedule to the hostile USF fans, it was a starkly different environment than what Florida State had been accustomed to during its first four weeks of dominance. On the field, the FSU offense quickly succumbed to the conditions, which included a soft, sloppy turf that slowed it to a crawl at times.
The Seminoles still mustered 425 yards, but the game had the feel of a defensive battle. FSU's frustrations in the red zone and struggles on third down overwhelmed the big plays that keyed the win.
"It wasn't pretty, we had some ups and downs but a win is a win," fullback Lonnie Pryor said.
And that's the bottom line for Fisher, too.
Sunday will bring film study, will allow the coaches to magnify the mistakes. This week's practices will no doubt be littered with reminders of what went wrong against USF and what must be corrected before the Seminoles invade N.C. State.
But in the wake of a game that set up perfectly for a collapse, Florida State merely stumbled its way to a win, and that's all the style points Fisher needed.
"We competed well, but made enough mistakes to not put that away," Fisher said. "We had some critical issues in the game, but it was a hard-fought game and we made plays when we had to."