The mistakes — taking a bad sack, squandering timeouts, having a punt blocked — all added up to deal a heavy blow to Florida State's hopes of contending for the national championship.
It has left Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher with no shortage of things to focus on in the coming days.
"In a game like that, there are a lot of wouldas, couldas, shouldas," Fisher said after Saturday night's 17-16 loss at North Carolina State. "It comes down to execution and that comes down to coaching and we didn't do a good job, and it starts with me. We have to do a better job."
The Seminoles (5-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) entered Raleigh with a No. 3 ranking — their highest since 2003 — and looked headed for an easy win when they led 16-0 at halftime.
But N.C. State rallied and went ahead on a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, while EJ Manuel's desperation heave downfield was knocked away to end it moments later. The loss knocked Florida State to No. 12 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll heading into next week's game against Boston College.
There were obvious problems for the Seminoles. The defense that looked so dominant in the first half couldn't get much pressure on Mike Glennon behind the Wolfpack's injury-depleted and reshuffled offensive line. The offense that moved the chains so effectively behind the running of Chris Thompson (141 yards rushing) suddenly slowed to a crawl, with Manuel unable to make any big throws that the Seminoles needed as the Wolfpack inched back into the game.
There was also the fact the Seminoles gave up a blocked punt with 21/2 minutes left to give the Wolfpack a short field to set up the go-ahead drive.
But there were smaller mistakes, too. Manuel had to burn two timeouts in a span of four plays early in the fourth quarter after the Wolfpack had pulled to within 16-10. Then he took a 15-yard sack on a third-and-2 from the N.C. State 19, which knocked the Seminoles out of field goal range and forced them to punt in the one-possession game.
The Seminoles blew their final timeout challenging an incomplete-pass call along the sideline with 4:43 left, which proved crucial once the Wolfpack went ahead.
FSU also twice settled for first-half field goals on drives that had pushed inside the Wolfpack 20.
"When you're moving the ball and getting field goals when you needed touchdowns, you have to go out and know you need touchdowns in the red zone," Manuel said. "We have to be better on that next week."
The Seminoles are hoping to avoid any repeats of last year, when they followed their first loss to Oklahoma — Manuel suffered a shoulder injury in that one — with consecutive losses to Clemson and Wake Forest.
In fact, it was on Fisher's mind immediately after the N.C. State game.
"This was a tough loss, a heartbreaking loss," Fisher said. "We have to forget it and move on. This team isn't like last year. We have to regroup and move on."
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