Just a few hours after junior safety Myron Rolle learned he had won a Rhodes Scholarship, Florida State found itself back on the road to a possible ACC championship game appearance.
Led by an inspired defensive effort and a rejuvenated offense, the Seminoles jumped on No. 22 Maryland early and steamrolled their way to a 37-3 victory. With the road win, FSU improved to 8-3 and 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference – its best win total and conference record since 2005.
Perhaps more importantly, Florida State's victory, coupled with Wake Forest's loss earlier in the day to Boston College, kept the Seminoles' hopes alive for a return to the ACC championship game. If Maryland (7-4, 4-3) wins at Boston College next Saturday, the Seminoles will represent the Atlantic Division in Tampa.
For the Terrapins to help Florida State out, however, they will have to recover quickly from the physical beating they took on Saturday.
Florida State's defense, which struggled in last week's loss to Boston College, delivered its most complete performance of the season.
"We finally put a game together where the offense, defense, and kicking game was all very good," head coach Bobby Bowden said after the game. "We played pretty good."
Led by defensive end Everette Brown, who posted a career-high 3.5 sacks and forced a fumble, the Seminoles left Maryland quarterback Chris Turner bruised and battered. They sacked him six times, hit him hard on play after play, and forced him into two interceptions.
Turner completed just 16 of 30 passes for 149 yards.
The Seminoles also forced and recovered two fumbles. Senior linebacker Derek Nicholson returned one of those fumbles 22 yards for a touchdown and an early 14-0 lead.
"It surprised me," Bowden said of the defensive pressure. "We were very concerned of their offensive line because it was very comparable to Boston College's and we couldn't get by their guys but we were more successful tonight."
Florida State's offense also was back at full strength with the return of key receivers Bert Reed, Corey Surrency and Taiwan Easterling from suspension. That trio combined for five receptions and 60 yards, and Preston Parker added eight catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.
With their full complement of receivers, the Seminoles were able to spread the field and open up the running game. Sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder rushed for 81 yards, senior tailback Antone Smith added 45 more, and the Seminoles finished with 172 as a team.
Ponder also was effective in the passing game – he completed 19 or 24 passes for 143 yards. He passed for one touchdown and ran for another.
"Ponder played well," Bowden said. "As we can attest the last eight or nine years, you simply cannot win without an excellent playing quarterback. Our quarterback was hot tonight, their's was not."
The 34-point margin of victory was Florida State's largest in conference play since the Seminoles scored a 56-7 win at Duke in 2003. It marked Maryland's worst loss this season, as well as the Terrapins' first home loss.
The Seminole football team's win capped off a banner day for Florida State's athletics program.
The FSU women's soccer team advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament by knocking off Boston College, 1-0. The men's basketball team improved to 4-0 with a home win against Coastal Carolina. And Rolle became the second FSU athlete in three years to earn a Rhodes Scholarship – track star Garrett Johnson accomplished the feat in 2005.
Rolle, who went through final interviews earlier Saturday in Birmingham, Ala., boarded a private plane and joined the team late in the first half. When he entered the game, the Seminoles already had a three-touchdown lead.