Sep 3, 2013
By: Brandon Mellor,
Seminoles.com Managing Editor
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — He’d thrown fastballs in the 90s and runners out at third base from right field. He’d thrown a touchdown on his first toss of the 2013 spring game and he’d thrown a football up and over a fraternity house. He’d even joked with reporters and debuted a flawless MC Hammer impersonation.
But there was one thing Jameis Winston hadn’t done in a whirlwind, hype-producing eight months: Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback hadn’t played a single snap of college football. So when the nation turned its collective gaze to ESPN’s Labor Day broadcast of No. 11/12 FSU’s season-opening game at Pittsburgh Monday night, the game’s central theme was crystal clear.
Can the player they call “Jaboo” live up to the hype?
If the box score from the Seminoles’ (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) 41-13 thrashing of new league member Pitt (0-1, 0-1) is any indication, Winston appears than capable of handling the pressures of his growing fame and expectations.
In what may be the single greatest debut by a ‘Noles quarterback ever, Winston went 25-of-27 for 356 yards with four passing touchdowns and one rushing score. His 92.6-percent completion percentage was enough to set the school record, breaking the 87.5-percent mark that Danny Kanell unleashed on NC State back in 1995.
“It’s one ballgame guys,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He played one game. That’s it. But he did a great job. As long as he keeps the process in mind and keeps working with great habits, everything’s going to be fine, and that’s what he has to do. It’s not about age. It’s about habits. If you have good work habits, you get results if you have ability.”
Not to be overlooked was an FSU offense that saw Nick O’Leary match his 2012 full-season total with three touchdown receptions and become the first Seminoles tight end to haul in more than one score in a single game since Marvin Pearsall in 1994.
Rashad Greene grabbed eight catches for 126 yards and one score and Kelvin Benjamin added 73 yards on five catches. Kenny Shaw nearly hit triple digits with his 94 yards on four catches and tailbacks James Wilder, Jr. and Devonta Freeman combined for 110 yards on 19 carries.
The Seminoles racked up 533 yards of total offense on 8.5 yards per play. With Winston effortlessly running Fisher’s pro-style offense, the ‘Noles were 7-of-11 on third down.
“I’ve got a veteran offensive line and I’ve got receivers that are going to get open, and I’ve got ‘backs that are going to block,” Winston told ESPN’s Samantha Ponder moments after his first win. “… I am not even thinking about [the hype] right now. It’s a process and we’ve got to keep doing it and keep winning.
“That’s the most important thing and I’m just happy to celebrate this with my dad and my family and the FSU ‘Noles.”
Defensively, the Jeremy Pruitt-led new-look ‘Noles bent early but they didn’t break. Despite a handful of losses in personnel to the NFL Draft and an off-season overhaul in defensive schemes, FSU allowed just 297 yards and forced Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage into two turnovers — one by true freshman starting cornerback Jalen Ramsey and another by senior safety Terrence Brooks.
The Seminoles allowed an 80-yard drive and score to start the game, but gave up just 217 yards and six points over the next 49:10 of game action — and 52 of those yards came on a garbage-time bomb from Savage to star receiver Devin Street. Savage finished 15-of-28 for 201 yards and Street posted 141 yards on six catches.
Lamarcus Joyner had a role in the pressure Savage faced all night, as the senior registered two sacks off the cornerback blitz and led the team with nine tackles. Linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones each had eight tackles and Tyler Hunter had five. Brooks, Ramsey and Timmy Jernigan notched four tackles of their own.
Pitt wasted little time introducing itself to the ACC as Savage orchestrated that nine-play drive on the first series that concluded with a four-yard touchdown pass to Manasseh Garner and sent the 65,000-fans sellout crowd at Heinz Field into a frenzy.
The Winston era then officially began with back-to-back completions to Benjamin and Shaw for a combined 33 yards. But the drive stalled after Benjamin’s toss sweep failed to convert on 3rd-and-1.
After Cason Beatty’s first punt of the season, Pittsburgh’s ensuing drive fared much worse. With ‘Noles defensive line pressure in his face, Savage threw a pass right into Ramsey’s waiting hands. Two plays later, Winston tossed the first touchdown of his career on a beautifully thrown 24-yard pass to O’Leary in the endzone.
Florida State led the nation in forced three-and-outs a season ago and on the next drive registered its first of the young 2013 campaign. Winston was again sharp on FSU’s resulting drive, connecting on long passes to Shaw and Benjamin before a 15-yard Wilder, Jr. run to the Panthers’ four yard-line.
A perfectly executed play-action pass with defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel in as a lead blocker then resulted in another Winston-O’Leary touchdown connection — this time a two-yard score for a 14-7 FSU lead with 13:41 left in the second quarter.
Pittsburgh then trimmed that one-touchdown deficit to 14-10 on a short field goal moments after Brooks’ nearly snared an endzone interception.
But a 14-play, 78-yard drive by the Winston-led offense halted any sort of potential Panthers comeback. The drive concluded with WInston’s first career rushing touchdown, a five-yard scamper with 2:13 remaining in the first half. And the ‘Noles wanted more.
|Jameis Winston Interview|
Brooks made up for his dropped interception earlier by making a diving takeaway for Savage’s second interception on the night. Wasting little time, Winston led the ‘Noles to pay dirt once again. Highlighted by a 36-yard Greene catch on 1st-and-30, the three-play, 41-yard drive ended with Greene’s own 23-yard reception.
It won’t get the same publicity as Winston’s Monday-might performance, but fellow redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo then saved a potential Pittsburgh score on the resulting kickoff a few moments later. His tackle halted what would have likely been a long kickoff return by Tyler Boyd — instead, the ‘Noles took a 28-10 lead into the break.
Aguayo then hit 22- and 28-yard field goals in the third quarter and Winston capped off the night with a 10-yard touchdown toss to O’Leary with 9:32 left in the game.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Joyner said about Winston’s performance. “I told him pregame you go against the best every day … and the way you rip us apart sometimes in scrimmages, we know you can do it against anyone in the nation.”
Winston was later replaced by redshirt Jacob Coker, who finished 2-0f-2 for 21 yards.
FSU won’t return to action until Sept. 14 when Nevada comes to Tallahassee for the first game at Doak Campbell Stadium of the 2013 season. To purchase tickets, click the graphic below: