Dec. 2, 2012
By: Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor), Seminoles.com Managing Editor
Next: Jan. 1 Orange Bowl
Bank of America Stadium // Attendance: 64,778
FSU PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sophomore // Safety
NUMBERS OF NOTE
James Wilder, Jr. is just the second FSU player since Warrick Dunn to have double-digit rushing touchdowns in a season.
FSU now has 13 conference titles to its credit, which is just one behind Clemson's 14 for the most in ACC history.
Karlos Williams had just 20 tackles combined all season before his 11-tackles outburst Saturday night.
FSU now has over 2,500 rushing yards and 3,00 passing yards this season to be come just second 'Noles team to ever gain that much yardage, joining the 1993 squad.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When No. 12/13 Florida State needed it most, the defense delivered.
In FSU's 21-15 crown-clinching victory over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game Saturday night, the 'Noles' defense started by delivering the discipline: they held the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense -- the No. 3-ranked rushing offense in the country with a per-game average of 323.3 yards -- to just 183 on the ground.
Then they delivered the knock-out punch: Karlos Williams intercepted Georgia Tech's (6-7) Tevin Washington and returned it deep into Yellow Jackets' territory with just one minute left.
And finally, they delivered the celebratory post-game Powerade bath to Mark Stoops: FSU's (11-2) third-year defensive coordinator accepted the Kentucky head coaching job earlier this week much to the delight of the Seminoles players, who dedicated the the game at Bank of America Stadium to him.
In the end, head coach Jimbo Fisher was doused in Powerade, too. After all, his team will deliver an ACC Championship Trophy to Tallahassee for the first time since 2005 and as a result will head back to a BCS game -- the Orange Bowl -- for the first time since then as well.
"That first one, you've got to get over that hump, and once you get over that hump you know what it takes," Fisher said about winning the league, his first as FSU's coach and the 13th in program history. "Hopefully from now on out, we can continue to play for the years to come and play great football."
FSU didn't play great football on offense against a less-than-stellar Georgia Tech defense but ultimately that didn't matter with Stoops' squad in control.
The Yellow Jackets' 183 yards rushing were the second-fewest recorded by the ACC Coastal Division champions all season, limited Georgia Tech to just 4-of-15 third-down conversion attempts and held them scoreless for the game's first 20:34 -- the longest such drought to start a game all season.
Williams was certainly the hero as his game-high and career-high 11 tackles were only made more special by his impressive game-saving interception against a Georgia Tech offense that wasn't lacking momentum on its journey towards a potential championship-earning touchdown.
"I just broke on it and tried to tip it up and bat it down, but luckily it tipped up in the air and I just tried to make a sure catch and that's what happened," Williams said. "I'm just happy I got the call and we're ACC champs.
Telvin Smith added 11 tackles of his own and Timmy Jernigan and Christian Jones both had nine stops. Starting the first game of his career in place of the injured Cornellius Carradine, freshman defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. added seven tackles and an athletic second-half tackle-for-losss and Vince Williams had six tackles and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Georgia Tech finished with 301 total yards to FSU's 328.
EJ Manuel was responsible for 183 of those yards as the redshirt senior quarterback threw for 134 on 16-of-21 passing and added 49 rushing on 10 carries but had three critical turnovers.
James Wilder, Jr. picked up 69 yards on the ground, two touchdowns and an MVP trophy for his efforts and Devonta Freeman added 59 yards on 13 rushes and score for a 2012 FSU team that now owns the school record for most touchdown runs in a season with 37.
The 'Noles finished with 194 yards on the ground to become just the third team this season to out-rush the Yellow Jackets.
Sophomore Rashad Greene grabbed a career-high nine passes for 82 yards as the lone bright spot in FSU's pass game. The Seminoles were held scoreless in the second half for the second time this season (the loss at NC State was the other).
"In the second half we kept shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties, lined up wrong, we'd get a drive going and then we had a fumble down in there," Fisher said, "but we did enough to win the game, and I'm going to tell you, we still won 11 games and won the ACC.
After the defense did its job by forcing a three-and-out on the first possession of the ballgame, FSU's offense opened with a 21-yard catch and run by Lonnie Pryor. Five plays later, Manuel's well-timed pitch to Freeman on the option-run resulted in a three-yard dash to the endzone by the sophomore tailback and an early 7-0 lead by the 'Noles.
The lead then increased to 14-0 early in the second quarter thanks to a 16-yard Wilder, Jr. run. His scoring scamper was set up by Manuel's 20-yard option keeper.
Following a 42-yard Georgia Tech field goal moments later, Wilder, Jr. added his second score of the night with a one-yard plunge that pushed FSU's advantage to 21-3.
"We just tried to establish the run, run the ball, knock a little time off the clock," Freeman said. "But still execute the plays and stuff, just go down the field and drive."
The Yellow Jackets then added a 47-yard field goal with 1:12 left in the second quarter to make it a 21-6 ballgame heading into halftime.
Through the game's first 30 minutes, FSU averaged 7.2 yards per play while Georgia Tech averaged just 3.8.
But for as good as FSU was offensively in the first half, the second half -- as it has been on occasion this year -- wasn't nearly as kind.
It started with a Kelvin Benjamin fumble midway through the third quarter, and even though it was immediately followed by Xavier Rhodes' interception to get the ball back one play later, it set a an all-too-familiar theme after last weekend's four-turnover performance against Florida.
Driving into scoring position after Georgia Tech connected on a deficit-trimming 36-yard field goal with 1:08 left in the third quarter, Manuel was sacked and fumbled early in the final period.
But unlike FSU's first turnover, the Yellow Jackets made this one sting. Georgia Tech went 70 yards in 13 plays after that takeaway and, before a failed two-point conversion attempt, scored on a one-yard Washington run to pay dirt that made it a 21-15 game with a little more than six minutes remaining in the conference-clinching contest.
Four minutes later, FSU was faced with a third-and-10 before the turnover bug bit again. On his deep pass attempt to Benjamin, Manuel was intercepted and Georgia Tech took over on its own 15 yard-line with 2:17 on the clock.
Following his team's fourth fourth-down conversion of the night, Washington was then intercepted by Williams who returned it 41 yards before being pushed out of bounds and the Seminoles set up in victory formation.
After the game, Florida State accepted an official invite to compete in the Orange Bowl on Near Year's Day in Miami against an opponent that will be announced Sunday night.
" I'm happy for my teammates, happy for our coaches and happy for our fans," Manuel said. "To be able to do this and get Florida State on the right track while I'm on my way out of here, I'm extremely excited and proud."