You can criticize Jameis Winston for many things as a player and person, but the one thing that remains intact is his ability to win. The quarterback’s perfect 26-0 college record is in elite company among college football’s best.
His Florida State Seminoles are the only undefeated team in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Maybe that can be explained by playing a cupcake ACC conference schedule, a controversial call against Notre Dame that wiped a go-ahead Fighting Irish touchdown off the board, or any of the other favorable breaks that a national champion is often on the receiving end of.
But to its credit, Florida State, particularly on the Winston-led offensive side of the ball, has always come through when it matters most. It came back to win in the fourth quarters of five games it trailed in, and narrowly defeated Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship to finish the regular season unbeaten.
The Ducks must understand, as they prepare for their semifinal matchup against the Seminoles, that Winston and the rest of Florida State aren’t fazed whatsoever by playing from behind. They’ve done it all season. The Ducks can’t get too comfortable if they have a lead on Florida State, because the Seminoles are arguably the most clutch team in college football.
Their games are often ugly to watch, but in the last two seasons, the Seminoles have found a way to win every single game. And it all starts with Winston.
From a statistical standpoint, Winston’s sophomore season has been less than stellar in comparison to his Heisman-winning, national champion freshman season. In the five games prior to the ACC Championship, Winston threw eight touchdowns to 11 interceptions. His 17 interceptions this season are the most of any quarterback in a power-five conference. Perhaps most telling of his 17 interceptions, only one has come in the fourth quarter.
For the Ducks to win, they have to put together a complete game, start to finish. Past opponents played just good enough against Florida State for three quarters to believe they were going to win, only for Winston and the ‘Noles to break their hearts with late-game heroics. It’s gotten to a point where people are more surprised if the Seminoles don’t come back to win.
A complete game for the Ducks has to start on the defensive side of the ball. The loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is huge because he was easily the team’s best (and most experienced) cover corner. Florida State is most dangerous when its passing game is humming, so the Ducks now have an even bigger challenge at hand. Winston’s ability to stand tall in the pocket greatly helps the ‘Noles offense. Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum is not known to blitz often, but he may have to take a few more risks than usual in order to increase pressure on Winston.
Florida State knows that the Ducks run defense has been particularly stout as of late, but they see the Ducks secondary as an easy group to pick on, especially without Ekpre-Olomu. As a result, the Ducks should expect a pass-heavy game plan from Florida State. The front seven will do everything they can to put pressure on Winston in passing situations, but it will ultimately be up to cornerbacks Troy Hill, Dior Mathis and Chris Seisay to lock down Seminoles pass-catchers, particularly Rashad Greene.
The Ducks should feel confident in their offense that seems to be improving on a weekly basis. Combining that with a Florida State defense that looks increasingly beatable as of late, the Ducks should score a decent amount of points.
But if the Ducks’ defense can’t figure out Winston, it could turn out to be a shoot-out, which would mean the score is most likely close. This is exactly the kind of situation Winston thrives in.
For the first time ever, the Ducks will play a postseason game at the Rose Bowl with more than just a BCS bowl victory at stake. The stage is set for a game that could be remembered in Oregon history for a long time.
Can the Ducks be the first team to defeat Winston and the ‘Noles? It’s certainly possible, although defeating a quarterback that has never lost a game in college will challenge the Ducks like no other team has. Fortunately for the Ducks, they may be one of the few teams that can beat the Seminoles by out-hustling them on offense.
See you in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Top photo from video