It turns out that Florida State was plenty motivated for the Independence Bowl after all.
FSU interim head coach Odell Haggins and the rest of the Seminoles added another bowl trophy to the school’s already crowded cabinet, thumping Southern Miss 42-13 Wednesday afternoon.
With the win, FSU clinched a 41st consecutive winning season.
FSU won its final four games of the season. The last two came after the departure of head coach Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M.
“I’m extremely proud of what these young men did,” Haggins said. “It’s amazing. In my career, when I look back I can say I coached in four of five national championships. I’ve been to numerous bowls and this is probably one of the most special seasons I’ve had to see these men grow and learn life lessons.”
FSU freshman quarterback James Blackman had one of his best games of the season, completing 18 of 26 passes for 233 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His four touchdown tosses set a new Independence Bowl record.
The quarterback had plenty of time to find his receivers as FSU dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Blackman took over for the injured Deondre Francois after the season-opening loss to Alabama and showed progress throughout the season.
“He had to grow up fast, take those diapers off and go to work,” Haggins said. “Being 18 years old and starting 12 games, that’s a lot of pressure. These players put their arms around him. James made a few mistakes, but they picked him up. He’s a fighter.”
Former Clinton star Cam Akers played well for Florida State, clearing the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 14 carries for 94 yards and a 14-yard touchdown reception.
USM redshirt junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs completed 13 of 25 passes for just 86 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
FSU applied consistent pressure to Griggs and his receivers struggled to get open.
“They got a good rush on the quarterback,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “They played lot of man early and got good pressure on us.”
In his final game as a Golden Eagle, senior running back Ito Smith ran 16 times for 92 yards and had 168 all-purpose yards.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Smith said. “It probably will next week. I’ll miss my teammates and all the coaches. I’ll miss my brothers on Saturday and all the hard work we put in. I’ve just got to keep working.”
USM caught an early break on its way to a 6-0 lead. After punter Zac Everett was hit late by Florida State to keep the drive alive, Smith broke off a 33-yard run to the FSU 9. Three plays later, Griggs ran 5 yards to the left pylon for a USM touchdown.
Parker Shaunfield’s extra point try was no good and USM led 6-0 with 11:05 left in the first quarter.
Florida State responded with 33 consecutive points to quickly dispatch of the Golden Eagles.
USM didn’t find the end zone again until Griggs threw a 13-yard touchdown toss to Korey Robertson with 44 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the FSU lead to 33-13.
USM was very sloppy at times, committing four offsides penalties on Florida State’s first scoring drive of the game.
“What hurt us early on the first possession, defensively we had a chance to get a stop there,” Hopson said. “We were up 6 and had a couple of offsides penalties that moved the chains.”