PASADENA, CALIF - On Monday night, Jameis Winston's was somehow able to be both more human than he'd been all season and more of a superhero, all in the same 60 minutes of football.
For three quarters, the magic that Winston rode to the Heisman and the most prolific season in college football history was nowhere to be found. Yet with the national championship on the line and on the biggest stage in college football, Winston kept the stadium spellbound.
"It's the best football game he's played all year," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And I'll tell you why: because for three quarters he was up and down and he fought. Just like any great players, some nights you don't have it."
It's an odd contradiction for Winston to find greatness by struggling. Even Winston seemed somewhat confused by the answer. But Fisher had a point.
Winston got all the way to Pasadena with hardly a hiccup on the field. The redshirt freshman steamrolled through the regular season as the youngest winner of the Heisman Trophy and, coming in to Monday's game, owned the second-best passer rating in college football history. From August to Jan. 5, Winston was unflappable.
Yet against an Auburn defense notoriously porous against the pass and on the grand stage of the BCS national title game, Winston came out looking pedestrian.
Passes that ordinarily were sure things went high or wide. Receivers went open unnoticed. And FSU's offense, so lethal on third down this season, sputtered repeatedly. Florida State went just 2-8 on third down in the first half and Winston finished the first half just 6-15 passing with a paltry 62 yards through the air. Auburn's defensive line was in Winston's face all night, but Winston said the pressure of the situation had a greater effect on him.
"The whole game I was uncomfortable," Winston said. "But Auburn wasn't the cause of that. It was myself. It was me wanting to do too much instead of doing what I needed to do."
Winston said the light went on for him not after a touchdown pass or FSU's fake punt or even any of the stops the defense got in the second half. Instead, it was Winston's mistake in the second quarter - an attempt at scrambling that resulted in a fumble. Watching the ball squirt away and into the hands of Auburn defenders finally broke the pressure bubble over Winston.
"When I fumbled, I was like, 'I can't mess up anymore,'" Winston said. "Turnovers are in the column by me. I fumbled the football. There's nothing to lose now, I already messed up."
With that confidence on hand, Winston went back to work, throwing short dump-off routes to receivers and leading FSU down the field for consecutive late-game touchdown scores.
"We went to some shorter throws," Fisher said. "Getting the ball out of his hands so he didn't have to hold it, didn't have to protect as long, get him in a rhythm."
The shorter throws worked well - and Winston let his receivers work. Instead of scrambling in the pocket, Winston spent the fourth quarter letting his receivers do work, and Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin obliged. Benjamin said the FSU offense never doubted that Winston would find his groove, and said Winston continued to stay loose and joking in the huddle as the game went on.
"We weren't frustrated at all," Benjamin said. "We were ready for that situation. We were ready to get beat in the first quarter and get beat in the second quarter. We knew it was coming. We just had to stay steady as a team and fight back."
In the final two drives of the game, Winston was 9-10 passing with two touchdown throws. FSU's offense averaged 11.3 yards per play on the final two drives. Winston took FSU 80 yards on the final drive in 58 seconds. And Winston's final throw to Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown was right on the money, placed perfectly in Auburn's coverage where only Benjamin could grab it.
"Anybody can do it when it's their 'A game' night," Fisher said. "A lot of guys can do that. Very few can do it when it's not their night. And to pull it out in the atmosphere and environment and with what was on the line tonight, to me if that's not a great player, I don't know what is."
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!