ORLANDO, Fla. — The day before his team took the field for its Champs Sports Bowl matchup with Notre Dame, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that he had higher hopes for his team than how they ended up in 2011.
Loaded with talent and expectations in the preseason, the No. 25 Seminoles squandered early season opportunities against ranked foes and fizzled again late in the year to end any path back to the Bowl Championship Series.
Thursday night’s 18-14 win over Notre Dame in front of a sellout crowd at Florida’s Citrus Bowl might not have been the national stage Florida State expected to be on this season, but how it won the game could be proof it is finally making progress.
The Seminoles rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit and used a pair of touchdown passes by E.J. Manuel and two field goals from Dustin Hopkins to earn their fourth consecutive bowl win and second under Fisher.
“I’m proud to coach this football team,” Fisher said. “… We’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations … But that team has special character about it.”
Florida State receiver Rashad Greene, who caught one of Manuel’s touchdown passes, was selected the game’s MVP.
“We had a very good finish,” Manuel said. “We play for each other, not individual stats and performance. We just beat Notre Dame. We’re going to feel good for months.”
The Seminoles had only 18 yards of total offense in the first half. They finished with just 290, including going 3 for 14 on third down, and got an efficient night from Manuel. He played behind a young offensive line, but was 20 for 31 passing for 249 yards.
Injuries forced the Seminoles to start four freshman on their line and they gave up five sacks, but their defense picked off Notre Dame quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix three times and also had four sacks.
“It started in South Florida,” said Kelly of the Irish’s recurring theme of turnovers and missed opportunities. “And it continued to shoot itself throughout the entire year. We know what we need to do. We’ve already talked about it, and the players that are going to be back for the 2012 football season will be committed to getting that end done.”