Florida State wins big over Southern Miss

By CAMAL PETRO,

SHREVEPORT, La. – The Southern Miss Golden Eagles won the first battle of the game, but the Florida State Seminoles won the war when it was all said and done.

The Golden Eagles marched down the field on their opening possession, but the Seminoles scored on their next three of four drives to take a 23-6 lead into halftime. From there, the ’Noles held on for the 42-13 win in the 2017 Walk-Ons Independence Bowl.

“Give Florida State all the credit,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “They played well and deserved to win. I thought we started off good, but we certainly didn’t get a whole lot going defensively in that first half.”

Southern Miss finishes the 2017 campaign 8-5 overall, earning its third straight berth to a bowl game.

On the opening drive, Southern Miss couldn’t record a first down until a roughing-the-kicker penalty on fourth-and-9. That moved the ball to the FSU 47, and Southern Miss needed four plays to score the game’s first points.

After a couple of runs by senior Ito Smith, one for a 33-yard gain, redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs scored on a 5-yard quarterback scramble three plays later to give Southern Miss a 6-0 lead after the missed extra point.

After that, it was all Florida State.

“I thought we started out good,” Hopson said. “We needed a little bit more momentum early.”

The Seminoles scored 33 unanswered points, including 23 points in the first half to pad the lead quickly.

On FSU’s ensuing drive after the USM touchdown, it put together a drive that lasted 5:45 minutes to score and take a 7-6 advantage. Freshman quarterback James Blackman completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open junior Tate Auden for the touchdown on a wheel route.

The Golden Eagles were called for offsides four times during the possession, which kept Florida State alive because two were on third down.

“We had a chance to get a stop there already up 6 and get the ball back, but we had a couple of offsides penalties that moved the chains and gave them a first down,” Hopson said. “If you can get a quick stop there and maybe get a little momentum going, you get a chance to carry this thing into the third, maybe the fourth quarter and we’ll see what happens.”

On Florida State’s next drive after a USM punt, Florida State held the ball for five minutes as it drove the ball 80 yards on nine plays. Freshman and Mississippi native Cam Akers caught a 14-yard pass to make it 13-6 Florida State after the missed PAT. The Seminoles added a field goal on their next possession – a 29-yarder from sophomore Ricky Aguayo – to take a 16-6 lead.

The Seminoles were stopped for the first time in the game on their next drive, but Smith had his third fumble of the season on Southern Miss’ third play to give FSU the ball at USM’s 24. Blackburn, again, found Tate for a score from 10 yards out to push the lead to 23-6 just before halftime.

Besides the first drive, Southern Miss couldn’t get anything going. It had drives of 19, 19, 8, 4 and 36 to close out the first half.

“We definitely didn’t get much going there,” Hopson said. “They got good rush on the quarterback, they really did, and they played man free early and got good pressure back there on us. After that first drive we scored, I thought what hurt us early was the first possession defensively.”

Florida State added a 39-yard field goal from Aguayo and a 2-yard touchdown run by junior Jacques Patrick to open the third quarter before Southern Miss could get back on the board.

Trailing 33-6, Southern Miss marched 75 yards on six plays in 2:41 of game time to make it a 33-13 game. Griggs found redshirt junior Korey Robertson for a 13-yard pass and catch.

The Seminoles’ Blackman broke the Independence Bowl record for touchdown passes in a game with his fourth passing score to Tate early in the fourth quarter. He found Tate open on the left side for the 17-yard score, and that pushed the lead to 39-13.

Blackman finished the game with 233 passing yards and the fourth touchdown passes for 18-of-26 attempts. He also added 29 rushing yards on six attempts, too.

Aguayo added his third field goal midway through the fourth to extend the FSU lead to 42-13.

Akers led Florida State in rushing with 94 yards on 13 carries, and Patrick added 61 yards on the ground on 16 carries. Tate caught five passes for 84 yards to go along with his three touchdown receptions.

Southern Miss had 129 passing yards - 86 from Griggs - and 131 rushing yards in the game. Smith has 92 yards and 16 carries to lead the offense.