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November 4, 2013

Column: FSU shows it's not a one-trick pony

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For the second time in three weeks the Seminoles manhandled a top-10, undefeated team on national television. Considering that Jameis Winston had some uncharacteristic struggles in the first half, FSU's 41-14 victory on Saturday night might be more impressive than last month's blowout victory at Clemson.

Even with FSU's all-world quarterback playing his worst half of football, Jimbo Fisher's team simply adjusted and still rolled to a 27-point win against a huge in-state rival. But what gets lost in all the Winston hype is that the game became a laugher not so much because of Winston but because of his supporting cast.

Florida State proved that it much more than just a one-trick pony.

There's no denying that FSU's phenom freshman is an amazing quarterback and possibly the top player in college football. Nevertheless, Winston wouldn't be nearly as prolific if not for an experienced and physical offensive line that is excelling at both run and pass blocking and a bevy of talented skill players on offense that are all capable of taking over a game. Those other 10 players on offense came up big against 'Canes when Winston wasn't at his best.

Let's start with the offensive line. Prior to this season, the unit was very much maligned - and rightfully so - for underachieving. Some recruiting gaffs and attrition decimated Rick Trickett's squad and as a result run and pass blocking were severely lacking, especially against better defenses. That began to change last season when several players from the 2011 class who saw playing time as true freshmen began to emerge. With a season of experience under their belt, and another offseason to work together and get stronger, the 2013 Seminole line has emerged as a team strength.

On Saturday night the offensive line really shined in protecting Winston. The 'Noles' freshman quarterback had plenty of time to find his receivers and was only sacked once all night against a defense that was averaging more than three a game. And the OL simply overpowered Miami's defensive front and opened several holes allowing the running game to rack up nearly 200 yards on the ground.

The outcome of last Saturday's game really turned in the third quarter when Winston stepped aside and let his teammates take over the reins. Instead of launching long passes down the middle of the field, which got him in trouble in the first half, he opted instead to drop the ball off underneath the coverage and allow his receivers and running backs to make plays. In fact, of Winston's 13 second half pass attempts, only one went beyond 20 yards (a 26-yard completion to Kenny Shaw in the third quarter).

"I just made a promise to my team that there wouldn't be any more turnovers," said Winston of what he told his teammates at halftime. "I just had to keep that chip back on my shoulder. I was freelancing. I was calm, I was cool, but I was high on emotions. Sometimes when emotions get into it too much you've got to just settle down."

In addition to a short passing game, the running game, especially Devonta Freeman, carried the load down the stretch. All in all the trio of Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams combined for 160 rushing yards and four touchdowns. And unlike past seasons when FSU couldn't buy a conversion on a third-and-short, it's been nearly automatic this season and that continued on Saturday. The Seminole offense faced four third-and-two or third-and-one situations versus Miami and converted all four on running plays.

As for the receivers it was just another day at the office. Even with Winston dialing down the long passes, five different players provided a significant contribution catching passes. While Freeman led the way catching the ball out of the backfield, Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Nick O'Leary all had key receptions during the game to extend scoring drives.

Top FSU recruiting targets react to the 'Noles' win over Miami

So what does it mean when your best player has an off night but you still beat a top 10 team and a huge rival by 27 points?

"It shows that we have a great team, it shows that we are a complete team and I think that's the thing," said Fisher. "Quarterbacks get all the glory and all the blame but this is a very balanced football team. I think the offensive line, I think the running backs, the receivers and the tight end, and the defense, I think we have a very good football team and that's what it (Winston not playing his best) shows."

Also somewhat lost in the shuffle is that the defense came through again with flying colors.

Other than giving up the two scores following Winston's first-half interceptions, Jeremy Pruitt's squad completely shut Miami down in the second half. Other than Miami's final meaningless drive with less than a minute left and the outcome already decided, the Hurricanes managed just 71 total yards of offense, went 0-for-4 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth down tries over the final two quarters. That was against an offense that was averaging 40 points a game coming into Saturday's contest.

Hopefully if the top three teams in the BCS Standings continue to win out the voters in the Coaches' and Harris polls will keep in mind that there is a lot more to the 2013 Seminole team than just Famous Jameis.

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