January 3, 2014

Insider Report: Auburn dialing up pressure? Winston talks rivalry game

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF - Florida and Florida State is all well and good as far as rivalries go, but for Jameis Winston, an Alabama native, The BCS national title game holds a little extra spice.

"This is a rivalry game for me," Winston said. "I'm playing the home state team."

Winston is from Bessemer, Alabama, is just minutes from Birmingham and about two hours northwest of Auburn. His mother grew up an Auburn fan. He grew up enmeshed in the history of that program and he remains connected to the school in a number of ways. Winston repeatedly references Cam Newton as a player he looks up to and has tried to model himself after.

"Those guys influenced me to be better. I want to be better than those guys. I want to keep getting better so I'm the one that those guys talk about. Cam went to Auburn. Made me think about Auburn."

Winston's spent plenty of time thinking about and hearing about Auburn. Auburn's coaching staff under Gene Chizick, recruited Winston along with Alabama and Florida State and spent plenty of time in the Winstons' house. Winston also knows a number of players on the Auburn roster.

Tight end Spencer Smith went to school at Vestavia Hills, while sophomore Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is from just up the road at Woodlawn and had several playoff battles. Jameis's Heytown team twice beat McKinzy's Woodlawn team in the playoffs and Winston has mentioned McKinzy as a player he's familiar with.

But what's more for Winston, Auburn assistant coach Dameyune Craig and Winston had a strong relationship when Craig was at Florida State. Craig was a lynchpin in Winston's recruitment to Florida State, and Winston said it was difficult when Craig left for Auburn. Winston said Friday that he'd deleted Craig's number from his phone as part of his preparation for Monday's national title game.

"I'm not talking to him this week," Winston said. "I deleted him on the phone this week so I wouldn't call him. I called him and talked to him about everything. Our relationship was great. … Craig is still one of the mentors in my life, like a father figure to me. Through the whole recruiting process, we always had maintained a great relationship."

Auburn planning to bring the heat?

Auburn's defense hasn't exactly been stout based on the numbers this year - that's no surprise. But the Tigers do have a deep and talented defensive line, and it's possible that Florida State will see a team dial up the pressure on Winston for the first time in a number of weeks. Florida State was quick to point out that Auburn's defensive line has talent.

"They're a great defense, I think," FSU center Bryan Stork said. "Their strength is definitely their defensive front. I think they all play together, they all hustle, and there's a reason why they're in the National Championship."

Auburn does get after the quarterback, namely with senior defensive lineman Dee Ford who has 8.5 sacks. Tigers defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said pressure would remain an important part of Auburn's defensive scheme on Monday.

"What the key is going to be is can we get pressure, and we need to get pressure before, we need to get pressure with pressure," Johnson said. "It's going to be a big factor. The play in the box, they have tremendous skill out on the edges, but the pressure in the box is going to be one of the biggest keys to any defensive success that we have."

That's going to be a marked change for Florida State from recent weeks. Once Jameis Winston's absurd statistics against the blitz and on third and long became public knowledge, teams elected to play conservative and drop players into coverage, forcing Winston to take check-down throws. Most of Winston's highlight-reel throws came early in the season against blitzing teams - a manifestation of Winston's highly touted ability to break down coverages and react quickly.

Auburn's defensive backs said they're not afraid of matching up man to man with FSU's wideouts.
"I mean, it's all about just having leverage and keeping tight coverage," Auburn defensive back Robinson Thereie said. "We face big receivers just as big as (Kelvin) Benjamin, but it's not new to us. We're going to do what we do that got us here, just compete."

Freeman not thinking about 1,000-yard mark

FSU running back Devonta Freeman doesn't know how close he is to history.

Fifty-seven yards is all that Freeman needs to become the first FSU back to clear 1,000 yards rushing since Warrick Dunn in 1996. But Freeman, when asked, said he didn't know how close he was to the mark. All that stuff went out of Freeman's head, he said, the moment he saw the National Championship trophy when last night, sitting in front of him on stage at the Lawry's Beef Bowl while he ate nearby.

"I've just been so focused," Freeman said. "Yesterday when I seen that crystal ball, I want that bad. I haven't been looking at my stats at all."

That focus is a big part of the reason Freeman has gotten this far in a crowded FSU backfield, making the most of limited touches. Freeman isn't the most exciting weapon on Florida State's offense, and he usually isn't the name that comes up first when talking about the Seminole offense. He said he likes it that way.

"I like not being the big target," Freeman said. "We got so many weapons on the team, we could do anything at any moment. To me, anybody can make the play. So that's how I feel about it."

But Freeman wouldn't mind clearing the barrier, as he appears on pace to do with 72.5 yards per game on the ground.

"It would be great to get it. But if I don't get it, and we win the national championship, that's great, too. It means a lot, especially to do something that hasn't been done."

  • FSU passing game coordinator Lawrence Dawsey occupies a special place in FSU lore as a member of the Fab Four, FSU's dominant receiving corps in the late 80s and early 90s and a former All-American. But Dawsey said on Friday that he thinks Florida State's current crop of wideouts is better.

    "They've got more speed, they're bigger," Dawsey said. "The whole game we didn't come close to what they're doing right now."

  • Nick O'Leary's improvement as a blocker and a pass catcher has been impressive this season - as he stands to have one of the best seasons by a tight end in school history. He's also gained the respect of the offensive line at FSU. Bryan Stork said the offensive line looks at O'Leary as an honorary member because of his blocking prowess.

    "His blocking has came a long way," Stork said. "I'm not going to tell him that."

  • Jameis Winston had a bit of fun with the rumors about Jimbo Fisher in the running for the head coach at Texas job on Friday. When asked about his relationship with Fisher, Winston joked that if Fisher left for Texas, he'd try to transfer - a comment sure to stir up a firestorm on message boards and social media. Winston reiterated that he was joking after the comment. Winston did add in a jab at the Longhorns, saying he wanted to be recruited by Texas but couldn't get Mack Brown on the phone.

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