If one game is any indication, the Florida State Seminoles aren't going to have to look very far for their next superstar quarterback.
Freshman Jameis Winston put together one of the finest first starts in recent college football history Monday night, helping lead the 11th-ranked Seminoles to a dominant 41-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field.
Winston, who also plays outfield for the Florida State baseball team, finished his first college football game completing 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. The dual-threat quarterback also scampered for 25 yards, becoming the driving force on a night where the Seminoles gained 533 yards on the road.
Winston was particularly strong in the first half. The 18-year-old Alabama native completed all but one of his 18 first-half passes, good for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with tight end Nick O'Leary twice in about a six-minute span and looked comfortable beyond-his-years in the pocket.
Winston also rushed for a five-yard touchdown in the second quarter and completed his first-half onslaught with a 23-yard pass to Rashad Greene. ESPN Stats & Info noted that Winston became the only quarterback this decade to have three touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown in his first collegiate half:
The entirety of Florida State's onslaught came after a promising start to the contest for Pittsburgh. The Panthers, playing in their first game as an ACC member school, started off the game by exciting the Heinz Field crows with a beautifully orchestrated drive.
Quarterback Tom Savage completed two passes to Devin Street totaling 47 yards, and handed the ball off to Isaac Bennett and Tyler Boyd five times on the nine-play, 80-yard march. After completing the second of the passes to Street, Savage finished off the drive by connecting with Manasseh Garner on a four-yard score.
The Panthers defense forced a quick punt on Florida State's opening possession. But just as soon as the momentum was shifting heavily in the direction of the underdogs, poor decisions from Savage started turning the tide.
The senior signal-caller threw a bad interception to Jalen Ramsey on a forced pass up the seam, one that the freshman cornerback returned to just outside the Pitt red zone. Winston needed all of two plays to hit O'Leary on a 24-yard score, tying the game up at 7-7 and beginning a drubbing that wouldn't stop until the final whistle.
That score started a 28-3 run to end the first half, with Pitt having only one drive the remainder of the half last longer than three plays—which (of course) resulted in the lone field goal.
Meanwhile, Florida State combined sustained drives with easy scoring opportunities to pull ahead for good. Winston engineered two drives in the second quarter that averaged nearly 80 yards, silencing the once-raucous crowd.
A second interception from Savage helped set up the half's final touchdown for the 'Noles, who went into the break ahead 28-10.
With the game mostly in hand from the outset of the second half, Florida State focused on churning the clock and getting out of the Steel City unscathed. Though Winston was still throwing early into the fourth quarter, the passes mostly consisted of check-downs meant to keep a drive going forward.
Running backs James Wilder and Devonta Freeman then took over the attack. The duo combined for 110 yards on 19 carries, though Wilder left the game after being nicked up with a shoulder injury.
The toned down style led to the Seminoles scoring only 13 points in the second half, with their final touchdown coming on a third Winston-to-O'Leary strike early in the fourth quarter. O'Leary only had three touchdowns all of last season.
Pittsburgh meanwhile just tried to keep the contest respectable on a night where Panther alum Larry Fitzgerald saw his jersey retired.
Although the opening minutes gave the Panthers some level of hope, it was tough to expect a result different than what Monday night's outcome brought forth. Pittsburgh is coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time this century, compiling a 6-7 record in 2011 and 2012 while playing in the less-difficult Big East. Paul Chryst is finally bringing stability to what was a topsy-turvy coaching situation, but it'll likely be some time before the Panthers compete with the ACC elite.
On the other side of the field, the Seminoles have to feel great about where they're at. A major reason this team wasn't inside the Top 10 in the preseason was questions about whether Winston could live up to the hype and adequately replace EJ Manuel under center.
Placing too much stock into one game is a fool's errand, but suffice it to say Florida State is off to a good start.
Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State): A
If I believed in the concept of the A+ grade—we're not in kindergarten anymore, folks—this would be just about the only appropriate place to give it.
Winston wasn't just great Monday night. He was "everyone gets on social media and acts irrational" transcendent. Seriously. Just go and shuffle through the Jameis Winston Twitter search and awash yourself in the somewhat deserved hyperbole.
While Pitt isn't exactly a national power, Winston's numbers would have been impressive even if he were playing an FCS school. Playing in your first collegiate game is a stressful endeavor for any young kid. But to put up those numbers on the road in an electric atmosphere like Heinz Field was something special.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to exclude the phrase "Jameis Winston Heisman" from my Google alerts.
Rashad Greene (WR, Florida State): A
You'll likely be spending the next few days hearing folks heap praise upon O'Leary in Tallahassee. Three touchdowns will do that for a kid.
That said, if there's anyone Winston showed a great connection with on Monday night, it was Greene. The junior wideout may have only caught one of his quarterback's scores, but he added an additional seven catches en route to an eight-grab, 126-yard performance.
The yardage total for Greene was the second-highest of his career behind only a 12-catch, 163-yard evening against Wake Forest as a freshman. While that performance was supposed to mark the impetus of a breakout for the highly-touted recruit, perhaps Greene's time has finally come.
Either way, he and Winston at least had it going for one night.
It might have been Savage's interceptions that provided the ignition to Winston Mania, but it's impossible to fault two mistakes for a 28-point thrashing. Had Savage continued the drive where he threw his first pick and led the Panthers to a score, perhaps it would have been a different game.
Outside of two mistakes, however, this wasn't a bad outing from the less-famous quarterback also making his collegiate debut Monday night. Savage finished the game 15-of-28 passing for 201 yards and a touchdown against those two picks, and showed some moxie in the second half to keep the offense driving despite an impossible situation.
He also showed some nice arm strength, connecting on a deep bomb to Street in the fourth quarter.
There aren't many positives to losing by four touchdowns. Nevertheless, the Panthers just faced perhaps their toughest test of the year in Week 1. Not a terrible start from their quarterback.
Devin Street (WR, Pittsburgh): A
Let's stick in the positive realm here for a bit. On a night where possibly the greatest wide receiver in Pitt history saw his number go up in the upper deck of Heinz Field, Street continued staking his claim as one of the best since Fitz's departure.
The senior from Bethlehem, Pa., grabbed six passes for 141 yards, including the aforementioned 51-yard pitch and catch with Savage. He exposed a couple holes in Florida State's coverage throughout the contest and was really the only Pitt skill-position player who showed up and competed against one of the nation's best squads.
Things might not have gone well on the scoreboard, but Street may have piqued the interest of scouts.
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