Jameis Winston’s heroic second-half play and continued excellence is a major reason Florida State is unbeaten. Some have even questioned Florida State as a team, suggesting that Winston’s excellence had hidden a flawed team that could not win without transcendent play from the 2013 Heisman Trophy Winner.
In Saturday’s 24-19 victory over Florida, however, it was the rest of the FSU team that bailed out its star quarterback, who had his worst performance as a Seminole, going 12-24 for 125 yards, 2 TDs, and a career-high 4 INTs, several of which gave Florida the football deep in scoring position.
Make no mistake: this was a defensive win. The Florida State defense held their archrivals to 282 total yards on 4.3 yards per play, limiting the physical Florida rushing attack to 113 yards on 3.4 yards per carry.
Thanks to Winston’s four interceptions and a quasi-blocked punt, Florida’s average starting field position was their own 46 yard line (by contrast, FSU averaged its own 21), but the Gators could only muster 19 points against a stingy Florida State outfit that dominated the line of scrimmage all afternoon.
Florida got the football on the FSU 39, 9, 15, and 33 and came away with one touchdown on those four drives—and the FSU defense scored a touchdown of its own on the drive that started on the FSU 9 with linebacker Terrance Smith’s 94-yard interception return for a score. (It’s worth watching that play again if only to see Ronald Darby streak down the sideline to block for Smith—that speed is a big reason NFL scouts are so high on the junior CB.)
The FSU running game also helped compensate for Winston’s rough outing, as both Dalvin Cook (6.0) and Karlos Williams (6.3) averaged over six yards per rush, with Cook shouldering the load for a career-high 150 yards on the ground after Williams was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Cook’s late 15-yard run was especially critical, setting up Roberto Aguayo’s 37-yard field goal to give the Seminoles breathing room late in the fourth quarter.
Tight end Nick O’Leary also had a solid day, with two Rob Gronkowski-style touchdowns in the second quarter and four total catches for 52 yards.
Winston never looked comfortable in this game, and one has to wonder whether his upcoming code of conduct meeting (scheduled for December 2) had something to do with his poor outing. Florida’s underneath coverage also did an excellent job reading FSU’s routes and getting their hands on the football.
The Florida defense was able to get pressure on Winston early in the game with different blitz packages, with FSU finally able to alter that balance somewhat after establishing the run and getting better blitz pickup in the second quarter.
It was another relatively short game, as the FSU offense only had four full possessions in the second half (not including the final drive in which the Seminoles were running out the clock). Those drives ended Punt, INT, Downs (fake FG), and FG.
Those on this site regularly know that I tend not to criticize playcalling a great deal, but I did think Jimbo Fisher called a poor third and early fourth quarter, as the FSU rushing attack was beginning to gash the UF defensive front at that point.
The most notable gaffes were on back-to-back plays, as Fisher called a slow-developing pass play on 3rd and 2 that resulted in a quarterback sack and then followed that up with a bizarre fake field goal call that involved a direct snap to 295 pound defensive end Mario Edwards on 4th and 10. The play predictably fell well short, again giving UF good field position on their own 38-yard line.
In fairness, Fisher’s decision to give Cook the football on 3rd and 18 late in the fourth turned out to be a good one, setting up Aguayo’s key field goal.
At any rate, just like it has all season, this team was just good enough—and lucky enough—to overcome its self-created obstacles and emerge with a 28th consecutive win. Might as well enjoy the ride, Seminole fans, because you’re unlikely to see a run like this again anytime soon.