For a while, emotions ran high.
For a while, the 17-point underdog University of South Florida Bulls seemed tantalizingly close to a major upset.
But even with a full moon hovering over Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night, it didn't take long for the No. 4-ranked Florida State Seminoles to restore order.
The Seminoles, relying on their big plays and a suddenly dormant USF offense, erupted for 17 unanswered points to close the third quarter. They took advantage of two critical USF turnovers. And that was all they needed to eventually close out the Bulls 30-17 before an announced sellout crowd of 69,383.
"We were close,'' Bulls senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "But not close enough.''
USF (2-3), on a three-game losing streak, pulled within 13-10 with 11:55 remaining in the third quarter with a 1-yard run by Bulls senior quarterback B.J. Daniels on third-and-1. It was set up by a stunning punt block from USF freshman Tashon Whitehurst, who soared through the wedge and smothered the attempt by FSU's Cason Beatty.
It looked like a sign that USF was prepared to add upon its 2009 upset of FSU in Tallahassee.
Instead, it merely was a signal for FSU (5-0) to get serious.
Behind the pinpoint accuracy of senior quarterback EJ Manuel (19 of 26 for 242 yards), the Seminoles drove for a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Haplea, then a 23-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins, while USF's offense twice went three-and-out.
And with Daniels out for one play due to an injury, after his first-down run was negated by a holding penalty, FSU's defense crashed in on USF backup quarterback Matt Floyd, who was stripped by Cornellius Carradine at the 12-yard line. Linebacker Christian Jones scooped it up and scored, putting the Seminoles up 30-10 heading to the fourth quarter.
"There was miscommunication on that play,'' USF coach Skip Holtz said. "B.J. didn't know where he was for a moment. I felt like we had to get him out of there. My headphones weren't working and coach Fitch (Todd, offensive coordinator) wasn't sure whether B.J. was in or out.
"So it was a tough spot to put him (Floyd) in. You can't give a team like that a short field. It was a tough mistake. We didn't chip the (defensive) end. He came off scott-free off the corner.''
USF senior running back Demetris Murray took the blame.
"I'll put that one on me,'' Murray said. "We had turnovers that gave them 10 points. That killed us.''
At that point, it seemed like half the stadium was doing the Tomahawk Chop.
That's not how it started.
USF's offense came out with a purpose, gaining 144 yards in the first quarter, marking the first time this season that FSU (85 yards) was outgained in the opening stanza.
The Bulls, intent on controlling the line of scrimmage, mounted a 62-yard initial drive, which featured six runs and a 25-yard pass to tight end Evan Landi. But it bogged down and USF settled for Maikon Bonani's 32-yard field goal.
FSU, meanwhile, was buoyed by Karlos Williams' 62-yard kickoff return and needed just five plays to drive 37 yards on its first possession, capped by a 10-yard end-around from Rashad Greene. The Seminoles established a 7-3 they would never lose.
USF's defense tightened at the right moments during the first half, limiting FSU to a pair of Hopkins' field goals in the second quarter.
Hopkins drilled a 43-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the half, putting FSU up 13-3. It was set up by an interception from FSU cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He picked off Daniels, who was looking for Andre Davis in double coverage down the left sideline.
"We had about a minute to go and a timeout,'' Holtz said. "It's not like we're looking to take a knee. You can't be too conservative against a team like that. We couldn't win in the passing game. They kept bringing a safety up and we couldn't take advantage of their man coverage.''
"It wasn't a good throw by me,'' Daniels said. "I'd like to have that one back.''
Overall, FSU passed the 400-yard mark and even a much-improved USF defensive effort wasn't enough.