After winning the toss, the Cougars deferred to the second half and immediately sparked a three and out for the Seminoles thanks to some aggressive blitzes that had Cougar defenders in the backfield. The Cougars' opening drive was not fruitful however they were able to flip the field and pin the Seminoles inside their own ten year line.
With their backs against their own end zone, FSU immediately took a deep shot through the air as Sean McGuire found Travis Rudolph 51 yards down field. The Third Ward defense would then latch down, swarming on Dalvin Cook and bringing pressure to the face of McGuire. A 51 yard field goal attempt for the Noles would fall two yards short.
Houston was able to win the battle up front as they orchestrated a strong drive through Seminole territory behind the rushing of running back Ryan Jackson and Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Ward would slip through FSU's red zone defense untouched on a quarterback sweep to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead.
Sean McGuire led FSU's best drive of the game down to the Houston goal line but he was forced to exit to the locker room in severe pain after sustaining a very strong hit. Redshirt freshman JJ Cosentino was the next man up for the Seminoles on third and goal. He completed a short pass but was unable to find the end zone. A Roberto Aguayo field goal brought the score to 7-3 in favor of the Cougars.
Florida State began to take the momentum back in the contest after Josh Sweat deflected a Greg Ward third down pass that was picked off by DeMarcus Walker. Despite the turnover, FSU was unable to capitalize as Cosentino was sacked on consecutive passing attempts. After Cosentino lost his helmet, Jimbo Fisher was forced to burn a timeout to keep a scholarship quarterback on the field. Cosentino's third attempt of the drive fell short, forcing a FSU punt.
A quick three and out and short punt gave Cosentino and the FSU offense advantageous field position. Instead of riding star running back Dalvin Cook, FSU continued to let Cosentino air it out to little effect. A three and out would give Houston the ball back, squandering terrific field position.
After a hapless drive from Houston, Sean McGuire returned to the game with his ankle heavily taped. As expected, McGuire wasn't able to do much upon his return. On third and 19, McGuire delivered a nicely-placed ball to his receiver but the Cougar defender was able to knock the ball away from the receiver to force a punt.
Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite showed his ability as a play caller by setting up a great drive that ended in a Cougar touchdown on a wide receiver reverse pass from DeMarcus Ayers to Chance Allen to give Houston a comfortable 14-3 lead.
Jimbo Fisher finally remembered he had Dalvin Cook on his roster as the Seminoles attempted to run straight at the Cougars on their next drive. With FSU showing no ability to throw the ball, the Cougars were able to swarm the box, preventing Cook from even crossing the line of scrimmage. A third down fumble from Cook was recovered by the Cougars within the FSU red zone and suddenly it started to look like we were in for a blow out.
With another QB sweep, Greg Ward Jr. put the Cougars up 21-3 with 4:30 left in the first half.
Sean McGuire would then turn around and hand the ball back to the Cougars after under throwing a pass by a good five yards. An uneventful end to the second quarter would leave Houston in great position to secure the win over Florida State as the Seminoles rushed for -6 yards in the first half.
Houston started the second half with a series of very conservative play calls as they would quickly give possession back to Florida State and Sean McGuire. Still hobbled by his ankle injury, McGuire was able to find some open receivers as the Seminoles marched the ball through the air to the Cougar goal line. Dalvin Cook punched it in from the one to bring the score to 21-10.
The Cougars offense picked it up on their next drive as Greg Ward was able to extend plays and move the ball down the field. Stuck just outside of field goal range, the Cougars elected to go for it on fourth and short. Ward was sacked, putting FSU in great position to potentially score again.
In continuing the theme for the evening, Sean McGuire was shaky on the next drive as he threw a pass terribly off the mark that was intercepted by Houston. These squandered opportunities prevented Florida State from breaking out of the early deficit.
Florida State appeared to have finally been gifted a break as Houston quarterback Greg Ward was forced to leave the big after sustaining a big hit. Following a Houston punt, Florida State was unable to advance the ball due to yet another interception from Sean McGuire on the Seminoles' fourth turnover of the game. The two teams would exchange punts to end the third quarter with a 21-10 score.
Houston's drive was stopped short after Florida State rushed six on third and nine for the Cougars. Ward was able to loft a pass that fell just long of the receiver's fingertips. The Cougars weren't left empty handed as Ty Cumming's 39 yard field goal attempt brought the score to 24-10 with just 13 minutes left in the game.
As the Cougars' pass rush began to slow down, the Seminoles struck quickly on a 65 yard bomb to a wide open Travis Rudolph to bring the game to within one score at 24-17.
While the Seminoles wouldn't go down without a fight, the day belonged to Greg Ward Jr. After a long completion on a corner route, Ward identified a corner blitz from FSU on third down and quickly slung the ball out to an uncovered Chance Allen for a touchdown to bring the score to 31-17 in favor of the Underdog with six minutes remaining.
Florida State was able to keep things interesting after rapidly marching down the field. McGuire needed just five plays and a little over a minute to get the Seminoles back into the end zone as he found Jesus Wilson for a nice 14 yard pass and catch to make the score 31-24.
Not content with simply running the clock down, Houston came out aggressive on the ensuing series. Ward was hit hard on a keeper but back up quarterback Kyle Postma stepped right in and took the Cougs to the goal line after escaping a blitz through the front of the pocket and rushing 29 yards. Running back Ryan Jackson would rumble in for a touchdown to give Houston a 38-24 lead as the clock read 1:59.
Sean McGuire was not able to lead the Seminoles very far down the field before he was picked off yet again, this time by Kermit Whitfield.
The Cougars would take a knee to cement the program's largest win in recent history and secure a Peach Bowl victory as the Houston players mobbed beloved head coach Tom Herman. Houston's offense was spectacular as they were able to put 38 points up on a defense that had not allowed more than 24 points to an opponent before today. While Houston's offense won the game for them, it could not have done so without the efforts of a Houston defense that held Dalvin Cook to just 33 yards on 18 attempts.
With Tom Herman having agreed to a new contract and a top recruiting class in the pipeline, it feels like this Peach Bowl win is just the beginning of the Herman era at the University of Houston.