ATLANTA -- The ending was unreal Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Everett Golson watched in horror from the sidelines, along with the rest of his Florida State teammates. They were so close to a 7-0 start, and then everything went bonkers for the Seminoles, with tens, hundreds, thousands of Georgia Tech folks screaming and running and jumping themselves silly under the moonlit sky.
Somehow, the previously struggling Yellow Jackets were tied 16-16 against Florida State with six seconds left. Somehow, Georgia Tech blocked a field-goal attempt of 56 yards. Somehow, Lance Austin scooped up the thing for the Yellow Jackets, ran 78 yards to the end zone for a 22-16 victory for Georgia Tech and kept his suddenly famous body of 5-foot-10 and 188 pounds from getting crushed from all of those wide-eyed fans storming the field in a dead sprint from everywhere.
This time, Golson couldn't save FSU. Despite the Seminoles' lofty record, they've needed their quarterback in his first season on campus to help them survive near misses against Boston College, Wake Forest, Miami and Louisville, and he did so without throwing an interception before Saturday.
You heard correctly. Not only that, it isn't surprising to Golson historians that he is transitioning from the most-error prone player in college football last season with Notre Dame into whatever he is now after transferring to Florida State.
This Golson is the old Golson, which means he doesn't befriend turnovers anymore. Yes, there was that late-game interception against Georgia Tech. Moments before the world collapsed before Florida State's very eyes, that INT became the only turnover for Golson this season, but it wasn't his fault.
It really wasn't.
With Georgia Tech refusing to budge inside the final eight minutes, Golson fired a pass in a tight window to Travis Rudolph in the end zone on third-and goal from Georgia Tech's 10-yard line. Rudolph bobbled it as a defender helped push it loose, and the ball landed in the hands of Georgia Tech defensive back Jamal Golden for a touchback.
Soon, Georgia Tech was kicking a field goal to tie things at 16-16, and you know the rest.
As for Golson, he was functional along the way, completing 20 of 30 passes for 210 yards. Even beyond Rudolph's gaffe at the end, he was victimized by Florida State receivers dropping a slew of passes. He did throw that interception, and he was flagged for intentional grounding, but this Golson looks much like a version of the old Golson -- not the one who threw 14 interceptions and lost eight fumbles last season.
There also was this: Despite Golson's sloppiness in 2014, he still had Notre Dame within a controversial call in the last seconds against (ahem) Florida State of a 7-0 start. He missed the year before with the Irish due to academic issues, but that was after he took an undefeated Notre Dame team in 2012 to the national championship game as a freshman starter. Then there were his high school days in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he pushed his football team to a 45-5 record and a couple of state championships. During his final two seasons, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 72 to five.
Golson now sits a solid 26th nationally in passer rating, completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 1,659 yards with 11 touchdowns.
Oh, and Golson was flawless with the football before his interception Saturday. That's a seismic change since Florida State ranked among the sloppiest teams in college football last season. Despite Jameis Winston winning the Heisman Trophy his junior year and becoming the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he threw 18 interceptions.
Still, the presence of a more efficient quarterback this season won't push the Seminoles into the College Football Playoff if they lose again. They play beatable Syracuse at home this Saturday. Then they travel to No. 3-ranked Clemson with a possible ACC title on the line. After that, they still have to run the table against North Carolina State and Chattanooga at home before finishing at No. 11-ranked Florida. You know, because the Seminoles flopped against Georgia Tech.
Golson is familiar with brutal losses. Just last year, Northwestern and Louisville shocked the Fighting Irish around the Golden Dome, with much help from Golson's uneven play.
Golson also spent the latter part of his Notre Dame career battling not just the opponents, but Irish coach Brian Kelly screaming in his ear. Kelly entrusted Golson with one of the most cerebral offenses in college football. When the quarterback began pressing last season from the weight of it all, he became a turnover mess in bunches, and he ultimately got benched for the bowl game.
Kelly said Golson had his best spring practice yet, facing competition from Malik Zaire (currently out for the season), DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush. Even so, as is allowed by NCAA rules, Golson grabbed his degree in entrepreneurship from the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame and sought another school to spend his last year of eligibility as a graduate student.
Florida and Georgia were on Golson's wish list, but he chose Florida State, where coach Jimbo Fisher did several things. First, Fisher placed a gag order on his new guy to help his signal caller maintain focus. Second, Fisher gave Golson an offense that was as simple as Notre Dame's was complex: Just give the ball to Dalvin Cook, the best running back in the country not named Leonard Fournette, and take what the defense gives you.
Golson does throw, though. It's just that most of his passes are short and safe these days. When he does heave a deep one, it rarely travels where there are more defenders than Seminoles.
The point is, Golson gets it. He always did. He's giving Florida State a chance to win.
Now, more than ever this season, FSU needs him to get it before the Seminoles' playoff hopes are gone for good.