‘Noles Cruise, Clinch Atlantic
By Southern Pigskin Staff
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Devonta Freeman leads Florida State to a 41-14 win over Maryland and the ACC Atlantic Division title.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The No. 6/8 Florida State football team is headed back to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game.
In a dominating 41-7 win at Maryland Saturday afternoon, the Seminoles captured the league's Atlantic Division title for the second time in head coach Jimbo Fisher's three-year tenure and set themselves up to end a most perplexing drought.
FSU (10-1, 7-1 ACC) has won 12 league titles in its successful history but has only competed in the conference title game twice since the league adopted that format in 2005 and hasn't won it since that first year. FSU's only other appearance was in 2010 with it lost to the Hokies in Charlotte.
By dismantling the Terrapins (4-7, 2-5) at Byrd Stadium, the 'Noles will get a chance for some redemption -- and an official return to the top of the ACC mountain -- in two weeks at Bank of America Stadium.
Sophomore tailback Devonta Freeman was the offensive star for the Seminoles against a typically-stout Terps defense. Freeman finished the day with a career-best 148 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns for his fifth multi-score game in two seasons. James Wilder, Jr. added 52 yards and a score as well.
For as good as Freeman was, though, kicker Dustin Hopkins did his best to steal the show. When his second-quarter 26-yard field goal sailed through the uprights he officially became the NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers.
Hopkins finished the game with 448 career points to his credit and three games still to play to pad his lead.
Playing in his final conference road game, redshirt senior quarterback EJ Manuel threw for 144 yard, two touchdowns and an interception for a ball-controlling 'Noles team that had the ball for 34:31 compared to Maryland's 25:29. Manuel was replaced by backup Clint Trickett with 11:16 left in the game.
Rashad Greene four of Manuel's passes for 50 yards and a touchdown and Nick O'Leary added three grabs and touchdown reception of his own as the Seminoles gained a combined 397 yards of offense
Defensively, FSU held Maryland's injury-depleted offense to just 170 yards. Linebacker-turned-quarterback Shawn Petty was able to throw for two touchdowns but was just 8-of-19 for 136 yards. Kevin Dorsey had the two scoring catches and 75 yards.
The Terrapins were just 4-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts and had two turnovers. FSU was a perfect 4-for-4 in redzone opportunities.
Timmy Jernigan led all FSU players with six tackles while Vince Williams and Cornellius Carradine had five tackles apiece. Carradine and Bjoern Werner both had 1 1/2 sacks against the run-first Maryland offense.
FSU was held to minus-15 yards rushing last week at Virginia Tech but quickly showed the run-game was back on track against against Maryland. On the very first series of the game, FSU ran eight times for 48 yards, highlighted by a five-yard Freeman run into the enzone.
After Chad Abram forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Toshmon Stevens recovered it, Manuel quickly connected with O'Leary for short pitch and catch and an early 14-0 lead for the visitors. A few possessions later, Petty fumbled the ball and FSU made the Terps pay once again as Hopkins hit the memorable 26-yarder for the record
Hopkins then added a 40-yard field goal to give FSU a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
After another Maryland punt -- the Terps' fourth of the opening half -- FSU got back on the board with a 30-yard lobbed throw from Manuel to Greene. The resulting 27-0 score FSU would take with it into halftime after an opening two quarters that saw Maryland register just 27 total yards.
But the Seminoles' shut-out bid wouldn't last much longer.
Maryland tippled its first-half output with an 81-yard drive to start the third quarter that was capped off by a Petty throw to Dorsey for a 12-yard score. The play occurred on a fourth-and-two for the Terrapins.
After a quick three-and-out and then one from Maryland, Freeman's 46-yard dash towards the goal line would spark what would turn out to be the 'Noles own 81-yard scoring drive moments later. Freeman's long run before being tripped at the last second got FSU 79 yards and his two-yard plunge into the endzone got the last few and a 34-7 FSU lead late in the third quarter.
Late in the third quarter and with the entire second-team offensive line in, Wilder, Jr. then put an exclamation point on FSU's triumph with a 22-yard run. Maryland later added a deep touchdown toss with 25 seconds left.
Of course, a potentially ACC title will have to wait as attention turns squarely to rival Florida. The 'Noles and Gators -- a clash of 10-1 teams -- will kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Doak Campbell Stadium next week.