RECAP: Florida State rebounds from double-digit deficit to defeat Oklahoma in 2022 Cheez-It Bowl
There was plenty of optimism around No. 13 Florida State (10-3, 5-3 ACC) entering Thursday night’s Cheez-It Bowl contest against the Oklahoma Sooners (6-7, 3-6 Big 12). The Seminoles entered this game with a winning streak, while the Sooners were weakened by a multitude of injuries and opt outs. That didn’t mean Florida State could rest on its laurels and play a tough Oklahoma team in Orlando.
The Sooners took a double-digit lead in the first quarter and held it until the end of the second. As the frame progressed, Florida State finally saw the light.
The Seminoles outscored Oklahoma 32-18 over the final two and a half quarters to earn a 35-32 victory. The win marked Florida State’s tenth of the season and was the first victory for the program in a bowl game since 2016.
Oklahoma won first half coin toss, and the Seminoles got the ball first.
Florida State’s opening drive began at its own 25 and the offense began to find a rhythm early. Facing a third down, Jordan Travis escaped a sack and scrambled up the right side for 16 yards. He connected with wide receiver Johnny Wilson for 26 yards to move the Seminoles into Oklahoma territory. Treshaun Ward, running back, ran up the middle and broke multiple tackles to make FSU a goal-to-go situation. However, two runs that went nowhere and a deflection in the end zone forced the offense to settle for a 23-yard field goal.
The Sooners responded quickly to the Seminoles. Dillon Gabriel hit Brayden Willis, tight end, on 3rd & 6, who beat Kalen DeLoach, linebacker in converage for a first down. After he had broken up a Marvin Mims Jr. pass, cornerback Renardo Green stopped a touchdown from the sideline. It didn’t matter as Gabriel kept the ball himself for a conversion on the next play before finding wide receiver Jalil Farooq for a touchdown pass on 2nd and 21. Oklahoma took a 7-3 lead with 7: 01 remaining in the first quarter.
The Seminoles took over at their own 25 following a touchback. Lawrance Toafili ran back and found a hole in the play. However, a false start forced the offense to return. Travis brought the unit closer to the line of gain with a completion to Markeston Douglas. Running back Trey Benson was tackled on back-to-back plays, and Florida State turned over the ball on downs just above midfield. The defense responded by Renardo Green, a cornerback, making a tackle for loss. On the next play, Gabriel slipped on the turf and hit the ground prior to throwing a pass which made it 3rd and 19. Florida State applied pressure to the Sooners to force an incompletion.
Following a touchback on the punt, the Seminoles were back in action at their own 25. However, FSU quickly producted a three-and-out of its own, sending out punter Alex Mastromanno for a 46-yard boot that was returned back into opposing territory by Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims. With the first quarter drawing to a close, the Sooners were leading 7-3. They had a 1st-and-goal scenario in the second frame. Oklahoma outgained Florida State 106-99 in total yards on offense in the opening quarter. The Sooners had nine first downs, converted 4/5 of their third down attempts, while the Seminoles had only four and were only 1/5 on third down and fourth down. Oklahoma scored again quickly as Gabriel scored on a quarterback keep to start the second quarter. The Sooners suddenly led 14-3 with 14: 31 remaining in the first half. Feeling some pressure, Travis found Johnny Wilson again, this time for 31 yards. But he tried too hard on the next play and was sacked. The Seminoles tried to push the envelope on 4th and 8, but tight end Cam McDonald saw a pass bounce off of his hands for another down. Oklahoma saw an opportunity to push the Seminoles even further behind their heels and turned up the pace. On 3rd and 15, Gabriel went deep and hit Mims in the red zone, who beat cornerback Omarion Cooper down the sideline on the play. After Gabin Sawchuk ran back, he broke up the middle and scored a touchdown. However, a holding penalty took the points off of the board. Jared Verse and Derrick McClendon combined for a tackle for loss that resulted in the Sooners attempting a 46-yard field goal. The kick went wide left and Florida State took advantage to get back in the game. Benson broke a couple of arm tackles to gain 11 yards and a first down. The Seminoles used play-action to free up wide receiver Ontaria Wilson for 14 yards to the opposite side of the field before Travis hit Johnny Wilson for 23 yards. Ward bounced outside to get offense into the red zone. Travis made a tough throw to connect with Ontaria Wilson in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. The Seminoles were able to get tricky on the extra point attempt when tight end Wyatt Rector passed it to Brian Courtney for a two point conversion.
That meant Florida State ended up turning the missed field goal into a 15-point swing, cutting the deficit to 14-11 with 7: 18 remaining in the half. Defensive end Leonard Warner caused a fumble on Gabriel’s next possession, but Florida State was unable to recover it. Safety Jammie Robinson tackled Gabriel again during a blitz on their next play. Oklahoma elected to rush Gavin Sawchuck on 3rd and 21 and turned it into 17 yards. The Sooners punted back to Florida State as Mycah Pittman fair caught the kick at his own 12.
The Seminoles had an opportunity to take a lead into the half after Travis and Johnny Wilson hooked up for the fourth time in the opening two quarterbacks, this time for 30 yards. An incompletion and a short run brought up third and 8. The Sooners sent Travis to the house for a sack in order to force a punt. Defensive tackle Joshua Farmer gave the defense another sack to start the drive, but a penalty for wearing a face mask gave the Sooners a first down. The Sooners moved into scoring range and ended up kicking a 41-yard field goal attempt with less than a minute to play in the half.
With one last chance in the first half, Travis scrambled for 25-yards to put Florida State in field goal range. Ryan Fitzgerald’s attempt came up short from 54-yards out as Oklahoma carried a 17-11 lead into the break.
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Florida State’s defense opened up the final two quarters on a mission. McClendon made a tackle to lose in the first play of scrimmage, and DeLoach made another tackle for loss later in drive. True freshman cornerback Azareyeh Thomas saw Gabriel’s eyes on the third and long play and moved vertically to deflect a pass.
After taking over at their own 6, Seminoles began to see some consistency in offense. Travis threw to Ontaria Wilson, who made a great catch to keep the drive alive. Johnny Wilson broke through deep, and it looked as if Florida State would score a touchdown. Travis was able run for the conversion on his own, but the ball was dropped.
Travis may have injured his left ankle during the drive, but he continued to play for the Seminoles without a break. To keep the offense on the field, he found Malik McClain as well as Johnny Wilson. Travis stayed alive in the pocket and hit Ontaria Wilson for 19 yards to get into the red zone.
Florida State ended up punching into the end zone and taking its first lead, 18-17, since the opening minutes behind a touchdown from Ward out of the wildcat. Ward was able to pass through the Sooners’ defense because linebacker DJ Lundy cleared the middle.
Oklahoma didn’t blink as Gabriel hits Willis for 31 yards. Robinson, who was also in Florida State territory at the time, was dragged by the tight end. Dennis Briggs and Bethune combined for a sack that brought up long and third. The Sooners failed on a run, but decided to go for it on fourth-and-6. The play ended in a turnover on downs when Gabriel’s pass was almost intercepted by Kevin Knowles. The Seminoles had an opportunity to extend their lead over the Sooners with the next possession. Facing third and long, Johnny Wilson went up in traffic for a catch that resulted in 17 yards. A pass meant for Douglas was thrown short by FSU with a third down. Florida State chose to go for it and Travis’ throw was intercepted by Billy Bowman at the Oklahoma 30. Florida State led at the end of the final frame. But not for long. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Gabriel went deep and connected with Mims for 31 yards to get into Seminole territory. Sawchuk finished the drive with a run up the middle to bring the Sooners back on top. Gabriel hit Willis in traffic for a two-point conversion as Oklahoma took a 25-18 advantage with 13: 22 to play. The fourth quarter sawsaw continued into the ‘Noles’ next possession. Travis hit Douglas and Ontaria Wilson for back to back first downs before tossing outside to Williamson for 15-yards. Williamson sealed off two defenders on the ensuing snap to free up Ward for a 38-yard scoring run up the right sideline. Florida State tied things up at 25 a piece with 11: 05 to play in the game.
Oklahoma gained the next possession by a huge jet sweep to Drake Stoops. The Sooners decided to run Sawchuk down on the ground after being faced with a 3rd and 1. Cooper made a big hit to force Robinson to fumble. Robinson recovered the ball and the dfense was able to convert the momentum into points.
The Seminoles quickly tried to turn the momentum into points as Travis threw short to Benson on a screen pass, who cut up for 33 yards. Florida State used some trickiness on offense to free up Markeston Douglas over the middle for a 17-yard touchdown catch. FSU broke the tie and took back the lead, 32-25, with 7: 22 remaining in the contest.
The Sooners displayed their maturity on offense by not panicking despite being trailing in the game. Gabriel tried to convert on third down, but failed. He then used his legs to make another big gain. Defensive end Patrick Payton stuffed Barnes but Gabriel found Farooq for 28 yards as Robinson stopped him from scoring with a last ditch effort on the tackle. It didn’t matter as Barnes ended up running in untouched to tie the game again at 32. Florida State won the final chance to win the game in regulation. After a quick run by Benson, Travis went deep to connect with Bird Man, his favorite target of night. Johnny Wilson hauled in a 58-yard pass to put the Seminoles into scoring position. Following a few runs by Benson that didn’t gain much yardage, FSU brought out Fitzgerald for a kick that he connected on from 32-yards out.
The ‘Noles led 35-32 with 55 seconds remaining. Oklahoma got its last chance from its own 25. The Sooners’ hopes were shattered by a false start and a holding penalty. As time expired, Briggs fired Gabriel and the Seminoles won the victory.
The Seminoles finished with 587 yards of total offense, including 418 yards through the air and and 169 yards on the ground. Travis went 27/38 for a career-high 418 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while running seven times for 50 yards. Johnny Wilson caught eight passes for 202 yards.
Defensively, FSU limited Oklahoma to 496 yards of total offense, including 243 yards through the air and 253 yards on the ground. The defense racked up six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Safety Jammie Robinson led the team with 13 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack. Ten players accumulated a tackle for loss and a sack.
Florida State enters the 2023 offseason with serious momentum.
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.