MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Midway through Florida State’s game at No. 17 Miami on Saturday, one of the Seminoles’ best punt returners of all time gave a small piece of advice to the program’s newest young star at the position.
Just be patient, Peter Warrick told D.J. Matthews, and you’ll break a big return.
Maybe even today.
Go ahead and add “fortune-teller” to Warrick’s lengthy resume, because early in the third quarter, with the Seminoles holding a 13-point lead over the Hurricanes, Matthews patiently waited for a punt to bounce his way, picked up a little speed before fielding it and then took off through the heart of the Miami coverage unit and down the left sideline on the way to a 74-yard touchdown.
He then went back to the Seminoles’ sideline, found Warrick and said, “You were right.”
“It felt good to score that touchdown,” said Matthews, a sophomore receiver from Jacksonville. “My teammates have been telling I was going to break one soon, that it was coming. So, it felt great to finally break out and get away from people. I had a huge smile on my face.”
That smile didn’t last. Despite Matthews’ heroics, the Hurricanes rallied for a 28-27 victory which dropped the Seminoles to 3-3 heading into their bye week.
There was no hiding the disappointment in FSU’s locker room, but there were also bright spots. And Matthews might have been the biggest.
With Florida State’s defense holding Miami in check for much of the afternoon, Matthews returned five punts for 145 yards – the second-most of any player in the country this season, and within shouting distance of Willie Reid’s school record of 180.
Through six games, Matthews leads the country with 35.3 return yards per game, and his 17.7 yards per return ranks sixth.
“We’re seeing how dangerous he is when he gets the ball,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said.
While he’s been rubbing shoulders with Warrick, Matthews has also drawn inspiration from one of FSU’s all-time greats.
“I watched Deion Sanders a lot,” Matthews said. “(Friday) night, I just had a vision that I was going to have a good game. I watched a lot of film on their punt unit and saw things they didn’t do well. I was able to take advantage and my team helped me out tremendously.”
Matthews wasn’t the only one seeing visions of Prime Time:
That return was Deion like ….
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) October 6, 2018
And had things gone a little differently, Matthews’ return might have been only his second-most important play of the afternoon.
With the Seminoles clinging to a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Matthews, a former-high school quarterback, showed off his arm with a downfield throw to Keith Gavin after catching what looked like a lateral from Deondre Francois.
Matthews’ pass hit the wide-open Gavin in stride, and Gavin easily made it to the end zone for what should have been an easy touchdown.
Officials, however, ruled that Francois’ first pass traveled forward, which made Matthews’ throw illegal. Rules prohibit two forward passes on the same play.
“I’m pretty sure I stepped backward,” Matthews said. “It’s just something we’ll have to go over in film and work on.”
That last sentiment applies to the Seminoles in all aspects as they look to keep making progress in the second half of the regular season.
FSU next hosts Wake Forest on Oct. 20.
“We just can’t look at the negatives, but the positives,” Matthews said. “We have to respect the positives and just play hard and understand how to win.”