The final drive of No. 25 Virginia's 31-24 win over Florida State was an absolute mess, in which all three teams on the field -- the one in blue, the one in white and the third team in black and white stripes -- made critical mistakes.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Seminoles took over at their own 25-yard line with 2:34 remaining. The 'Noles went backward in their first three plays and then threw a game-ending incomplete pass on 4th-and-15, but Virginia was flagged for pass interference. First-and-10 at the 35.
On the next play, Virginia committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, pushing the ball to midfield.
The Cavaliers forced Florida State into another do-or-die fourth down where FSU quarterback James Blackman again threw incomplete, but once again UVa was flagged for pass interference, handing Florida State a 1st-and-10 at the Virginia 30 with 1:09 remaining.
Blackman was sacked on the next play, forcing Florida State to burn its final timeout. The Seminoles overcame that sack, hitting a 16-yard completion to Keyshawn Helton with seven seconds left to put the ball at the Virginia 4.
That's when a chaotic drive jumped the guardrail and started barreling down a ravine.
If you didn't catch it the first time, notice how Helton hits the ground with seven seconds left but the clock doesn't stop until four.
Even still, it takes forever and a day for Florida State to get lined up, there's no attempt to spike the ball, and the do-or-die-for-real-this-time play is a run.
Let's watch it one more time just to be sure.
Running the ball with four seconds left and no timeouts is certainly an interesting decision, one bound to elicit a response. And it sure did.
Here's Blackman, speaking to Noles247: “It was a great play call, we just didn’t execute it. Everybody tried their hardest to execute the play, do what they can to execute the play. Cam made a great effort trying to get in the end-zone, man. You know he’s going to fight his hardest. It wasn’t the play call, we’ve just got to execute the play.”
And here's Willie Taggart:
“We didn’t get what we wanted, we wanted a touchdown. So, no, we didn’t get what we wanted. But we called the play, there was four seconds left, we didn’t have any timeouts, and we called a play that didn’t work.
In response to a reporter's question of, "Is that a situation where you already had the play called up before you converted the 3rd down? Did you know what you were going to run before you converted it?"
“Well I didn’t call the plays, Kendal [Briles] called the plays. He had the play called and we just didn’t get it done.”
After Florida State's first loss, a come-from-ahead setback to Boise State that saw the Seminoles turn a 31-13 lead into a 36-31 defeat, Taggart said the players weren't hydrated enough, comments that went viral and he later had to clean up.
Now, after their second loss ends at the buzzer, Taggart steps aside and shoves his offensive coordinator into the spotlight.
Look, Florida State is 1-2 and an ugly 1-2 at that -- their one win came 45-44 over Louisiana-Monroe on a missed extra point in overtime -- but the team is improving. They did build that 31-13 lead on Boise State, after all, they led ULM 24-7 at halftime, and Saturday night was a tough road loss to a ranked team. Through three games, the offense has improved from 5.12 yards per play to 5.76, and their scoring average has jumped from 21.9 to 33.3.
The defense, 80th in yards per play and 120th in scoring, will likely improve with Jim Leavitt now on staff as a consultant.
There's opportunity yet for Florida State to improve, but the head coach pointing fingers at his newly-hired offensive coordinator probably won't help.