Orange Bowl

ACC Game of the Week: Week 1

 
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Jameis Winston was 25-27 with 356 yards and 4 TDs in his first game as the signal caller for FSU.
© Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
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Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Jameis Winston era at Florida State began with a completion.

Then another.

Then another.

Then another.

On and on it went this way, Winston playing pitch and catch with his receivers like they were playing seven-on-seven in the sandlot. You thought Winston was the most hyped freshman in college football headed into his first start against Pitt?

The hype has grown tenfold after his nearly perfect performance in the Seminoles’ dominating 41-13 win Monday night, a debut that far overshadowed the Panthers’ first game in the ACC.

“It’s one ball game, guys,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said postgame, trying to temper expectations that continue to mushroom. Fisher, in fact, did not mention Winston once in his opening statement to reporters following the game.

When he was asked about Winston, Fisher did his best to downplay what the entire country just saw: a 19-year-old freshman going a jaw-dropping 25-of-27 for 356 yards with four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Winston set the school’s completion record; and he set the school’s record for passing yards by a freshman in his first start.

Everybody was watching. EJ Manuel -- the first-round pick Winston replaced -- tweeted out during the game, “On the edge of my seat watching J pick em apart.”

Former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell -- whose completion percentage record was broken -- tweeted his belief that Winston has the tools to be the best quarterback to play at Florida State.

On and on it went, the praise coming from just about everywhere. Florida State was not playing Eastern Michigan, mind you. Pitt ranked in the top 20 in total defense last season and returned nine starters. But Winston made Pitt look grossly overmatched from the very start.

Fisher decided to come out throwing, hoping to get his young quarterback some confidence. Winston jogged out to the huddle for the first time with Florida State already trailing 7-0. The Panthers were pumped. The sellout crowd was screaming.

Winston looked at his teammates and smiled. Receiver Rashad Greene turned to him and said, “Let’s go, it’s your debut!”

“Everyone was excited,” Winston said. “It’s 'Monday Night Football,' in a pro stadium. I was so pumped for that.”

Not only did the nation have to wait until Monday night to see what “Famous Jameis” was all about, the Noles had to wait, too, the last team to the Week 1 celebration. Winston made it worth the wait, living up to the advance billing with the type of game most fifth-year seniors can only conjure in their dreams.

He started an incredible 11-of-11. The only incompletion he threw in the first half was actually caught, but the officials ruled Kenny Shaw was out of bounds. Winston kept plays alive with his legs, and made more plays with his athleticism. He wrestled his way out of a sack and ended up with 9 yards.

He fired darts on third-and-long not once, but twice, on a second-quarter scoring drive that put the Seminoles ahead 21-10. So thorough was his performance -- and that of the Seminoles’ retooled defense -- that Winston went to the bench early in the fourth quarter.

On top of all those gaudy stats, the number zero stood out, too. Florida State did not commit one turnover.

“I just call it a prophecy being fulfilled,” cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. “I’ve known since this guy’s freshman year out there on scout team making plays that a fifth-year senior EJ Manuel was making, throws like that, I said to myself, ‘This guy’s going to be special.’ Tonight he did pretty great for it being a first game.”

Folks inside the stadium knew, too. A sign hung from one corner of the end zone in the Florida State section that read, “Here to see Famous Jameis.” Members of the chain gang shook hands with Winston on the Florida State sideline as time expired.

And yet, Winston answered questions like a seasoned veteran when the game ended, praising his teammates often. He never boasted about his performance. Did he envision his game going in this exact way?

“I have a lot of dreams,” Winston said. “The only thing you can do is expect it to be great. Of course I’m not going in the game thinking I’m going to mess up or do something wrong. I’m going out there to compete and ride on my team because we’ve got so many great players.”

What can he work on?

“I can get better every single day,” Winston said. “I had two busts. I got sacked. I don’t like getting sacked. There’s so many things that’s under the table that people don’t see. As an athlete you’ve gotta get better every day if you want to be successful in the sport you do.”

That attitude is what gives Fisher the faith that all the adulation, all the hype will not get to Winston after just one game.

“As long as he keeps the process in mind and keeps working with great habits, everything will be fine,” Fisher said. “It’s not about age. It’s about habits. You have good work habits, you get good results.”

Imagine that: Better results than the near perfection we saw Monday night.

 

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