TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The cover page of the defense’s installation booklet Monday featured a hauntingly familiar image for Florida State. It was a screen capture of NC State’s final offensive play last year with the score scrawled across the bottom: Florida State 16, NC State 10. Fourth down, goal to go.
Christian Jones looked down at the photo then looked away, shaking his head. There was no need for reminders of what came next.
“Seeing that right now,” Jones said, “I’m like, ‘Dang, one play away.’"
That play ended with a pass from Mike Glennon to Bryan Underwood for the game-winning touchdown. Terrence Brooks might have batted it away if he’d left his man. Tyler Hunter nearly tipped it away, too. Telvin Smith went for the pick, but he came up short.
Up and down the roster, the memories linger, and that’s a good thing, Jimbo Fisher said. He wants his team to remember the pain.
“It’s just like yesterday that it happened,” Smith said. “I know what it felt like. I was on the field, I saw him catch it, I saw Terrence try to knock it out, I saw [Underwood] jump up yelling and everyone going crazy. It’s not something I need to re-watch. I vividly remember that.”
Florida State went on to win an ACC championship last season and followed that with a victory in the Orange Bowl, but for all of 2012’s success, the loss to NC State is perhaps what is remembered most by a sizable contingent of both fans and players.
As Florida State looks to build on last season's accomplishments in 2013, however, that loss might prove to be an asset.
The Seminoles are coming off an emotional victory over Clemson last week. Next week, they have a date with undefeated Miami. Normally, this week’s game would be a classic trap scenario, but the opponent offers too many reminders of what can happen when FSU lets its guard down.
“Every time someone even says [NC State] it kind of makes my stomach turn a little bit,” Brooks said.
But the growth of this season's team, in many ways, began with last season's loss.
There’s a learning curve to success, Smith said. After Florida State lost to Oklahoma in 2011, it learned a valuable lesson about carrying the weight of a tough defeat into the next game, dropping two more before righting the ship.
After last year’s NC State loss, the team learned that the exploits of success can’t linger either. FSU was riding high when it arrived in Raleigh, N.C., and players admit they probably didn’t take the Wolfpack seriously enough.
As the momentum shifted in the second half last year, and Florida State’s once-commanding 16-0 lead dwindled, heads hung and focus waned. Jameis Winston, then a redshirting freshman, was one of the few voices to speak up, trudging up and down the sideline, cheering and pushing his teammates to regroup. It didn’t go over well.
“Everybody was down, and you have this one freshman that’s all turned up,” receiver Kenny Shaw said. “We were like, ‘We don’t need that right now. Nothing can pick us back up.’ But it seemed like he wanted to win more than us. It was sad thing for us.”
A year later, players understand. Winston isn’t the outspoken freshman who doesn’t know his place. He’s the unquestioned leader of the offense, and his competitive drive has changed the mindset of the entire team.
So this year’s game is about both the past and the future. EJ Manuel called Winston this week to remind him how last year’s game ended, imploring him not to let it happen again. Brooks said he’s playing this week for the seniors on that team who won’t have a chance at redemption. FSU is No. 2 in the BCS right now, but unlike last season, the Seminoles aren’t paying much attention to their ranking. One game at a time is a mantra they’re actually living by.
And that’s where perhaps the most growth has come since that devastating loss last season. Yes, Florida State’s players want a win to ease that sick feeling in their stomachs, but that’s not entirely what Saturday's game is about.
“I wouldn’t call it a revenge because this is a totally different team,” Rashad Greene said. “It’s just a lesson learned.”