Florida State running back James Wilder (32) tumbles over Pittsburgh linebacker Anthony Gonzalez (28) as linebacker Todd Thomas (8) pursues in the second quarter of the NCAA college football game, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
by Will Graves
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — One thing is for certain after Jameis Winston’s electric debut for No. 11 Florida State, his blocking could use some work.
Other than that, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher is going to have a tough time critiquing his freshman quarterback’s performance in Monday night’s 41-13 romp over Pittsburgh.
He’s also going to have a tough time tamping down the hype after Winston turned Pitt’s ACC debut into his own coming out party. Winston completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns while adding another on the ground and sending a message he’s every bit as good as advertised.
“It’s one ballgame, guys,” Fisher said. “He played one game, but he did a great job.”
That’s putting it mildly. When Winston wasn’t picking apart the Panthers, he was running in between the tackles, converting the usual first-and-28 or running interference for running back Devonta Freeman. Winston found himself lead blocking for Freeman during a second quarter run but whiffed, a rare miscue on an otherwise sublime night.
“I wasn’t surprised,” cornerback LaMarcus Joyner said. “I told him pregame you go against the best every day … and the way you rip us apart sometimes in scrimmages, we know you can do it against anyone in the nation.”
You won’t find Pitt arguing.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (5) smiles on the sidlines as time winds down in the fourth quarter against Pitt on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
The Panthers had been pointing to their ACC opener from the moment the program announced it was leaving the decaying Big East nearly two years ago. Instead, it served as the backdrop for a coming out party that will certainly fuel comparisons to Johnny Manziel’s unlikely rise to folk hero and Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M last fall.
“I was certainly impressed with him,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “He did a good job of making plays and extending plays.”
Rashad Greene caught eight passes for 126 yards and a score and Nick O’Leary hauled in three touchdown passes for Florida State, but the night belonged to the athletic 6-foot-4, 227-pound kid from Hueytown, Ala., that certainly looked at home in front of a national audience in a stadium that also houses the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s Monday Night Football,” Winston said. “We come in and play Monday Night Football in a pro stadium? I was so pumped for that.”
Looked like it.
Winston won the starting job during training camp, edging out Jacob Coker to become just the third freshman to start a season opener for the Seminoles.
Don’t plan on him giving up the gig anytime soon.
A star outfielder on the school baseball team, Winston is considered the latest in a line of two-sport threats at Florida State, a list that includes Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.
Ward, however, didn’t become a star until he finally cracked the starting lineup as a junior. Winston appears to already be there one game into his career. He connected on his first 11 passes, missing on his 12th when wide receiver Kenny Shaw couldn’t quite get his right foot all the way inbounds.
“I was confident I got it in,” Shaw said with a laugh. “I’m used to the refs not being on our side.”
Winston’s only other incompletion came while he escaped pressure late in the third quarter. By then the Seminoles were in command 31-13 after Winston spent three quarters serving up what the Seminoles hope is an appetizer of things to come as they battle Clemson for ACC supremacy.
It’s a spot the Panthers hope to be in one day. Just not quite yet.
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage passed for 201 yards and a touchdown for Pitt but also threw two interceptions.
Or, as many interceptions as Winston had incompletions.
Pitt’s defense, which ranked 17th in the country last season, appeared unsure on how to stop him. Wary of the speed of Florida State’s wide receivers, the Panthers gave Greene and company plenty of room to maneuver.
Too much, as it turned out. Way too much. For all of Winston’s precision, often he was throwing to teammates who didn’t have anybody in dressed in blue within arm’s reach.
“We never made them uncomfortable,” Chryst said. “Give them credit. We’ve got to tackle better, but they ran through our tackles.”
And right into the conversation of national title contender behind a quarterback who will not be satisfied even after putting on a memorable show.
“He’s very critical of himself,” Fisher said of Winston. “He’s very tough on himself. When you get on him he responds in a positive way like ‘I’m going to show you.’ That’s why he had success tonight.”
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