When you win an ACC championship, ESPN waits for you to check your text messages.
From the day Jimbo Fisher took over for the legendary Bobby Bowden, he had a plan to return Florida State to greatness on a regular basis last seen in the 1990s. On Saturday night, with Florida State hanging on against upset-minded Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game for a 20-15 win, Fisher and Florida State took that first giant step that was a couple of years in the making.
Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. rushed for a pair of touchdowns in key moments on his way to earning ACC Championship Game MVP honors. Karlos Williams had the defensive play of the night with an interception on Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington on Tech’s final offensive possession of the night to seal the victory for the Seminoles. It was the first interception of his career, and it could not have come at a better time.
With the win Florida State will return to a BCS game for the first time since the 2005 season. Florida State will play in the Orange Bowl in January, with an opponent to still be determined. For Fisher, the most important development was showing off the character his program has developed since taking over the program.
“I think it’s huge because you keep continuing to change the culture,” Fisher said after the game. “You have to win a conference championship before you can win a national championship.”
Florida State jumped out on top of Georgia Tech early by building a 14-0 lead before Georgia Tech managed to put together any scoring threat. Florida State pounded the football early against Georgia Tech’s defense, while the Seminoles managed to cut off running room for Georgia Tech’s triple option. Moving laterally was difficult for Georgia Tech all night long as Florida State’s linebackers and secondary were in position to meet the ball carrier often throughout the night, in what could be defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ final game as a member of the coaching staff at Florida State. Stoops was recently hired to be the new head coach of Kentucky, and he will be formally introduced on Sunday. Whether or not Stoops stays on the staff for the Orange Bowl remains to be seen, and Fisher admitted he was not sure when they will make that decision, but he did offer a hint.
“I wouldn’t expect him to,” Fisher said, while also mentioning it will ultimately be up to stoops to decide what he wants to do.
Florida State’s defense held Georgia Tech to 4-of-15 on third down conversions, and held Georgia Tech to two field goals inside the red zone, which proved to be a difference maker. Florida State scored three touchdowns on their three red zone trips. Florida State also held Georgia Tech to the second rushing total of the year, with just 183 rushing yards on 52 carries.
E.J. Manuel passed for 131 yards and was largely accurate and careful with his passing, completing 16 of 21 passes with one interception. Manuel was also sacked three times but was able to run the football as well, rushing 10 times for 49 yards. For the senior quarterback, helping Florida State capture the first ACC title since 2005 and helping the program get back in to the upper half of the top 25 rankings was special.
“To get Florida State back on the right track on my way out, I’m just extremely excited and proud,” Manuel said.
Fisher after the game this just another step in the return to glory at Florida State. Asked if Florida State has been following a same philosophy in program building Nick Saban has instituted at Alabama, Fisher respectfully agreed.
"Now we just need to win some championships."