Jameis Winston needs to make smart decisions to put Miami away early.
College Gameday came to Tallahassee for the third year in a row. Seminoles fans are brimming with confidence, as they should be. The Seminoles enter November undefeated for the first time since 1999—the year of Florida State's last national championship.
In prior years, I would have said Jimbo Fisher's team would have beat Miami because of the home-field advantage. Even then, they almost lost a close match to a subpar Hurricanes squad in 2011. While playing the game at Doak Campbell Stadium will be a huge factor in the Seminoles favor, it will no longer be a deciding factor between a victory and an upset.
Unlike the previous two years, Florida State's offensive line is strong blocking. Not perfect, but much better than the 2011 and 2012 editions. In addition, receivers such as Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Nick O'Leary can make clutch catches from Winston's sometimes risky but calculated throws. Running backs Devonta Freeman, Mario Williams Jr. and James Wilder Jr. (when he's healthy), make the Seminoles' running game formidable.
Essentially, the Seminoles are fantastic in all aspects of the game, having elite talent executing in all three phases. But it will come down to the player who gets the ball right after the snap that can make this game a blowout, a close victory or may one dare say—a loss?
People will say quarterback Jameis Winston's ability to thrive under pressure can be a key factor, but he doesn't deserve all the glory. Famous Jameis is a Heisman contender and perhaps will be first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, but FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher will need to keep this freshman level-headed. Winston, like any quarterback, needs to rely on his strengths to beat the Hurricanes.
According to ESPN's Todd McShay (subscription required), there are a couple of decisions that will help Winston lead the Seminoles to victory. Jameis is particularly accurate when he rolls to the right; he will need to be careful from the Canes attempts to blitz him during the game. Miami coach Al Golden might try some dangerous and risky packages (light loading more of his players to Jameis' right) and use his better players on Jameis' left to maybe get a pick. It might not sound smart for Miami to do, but Jameis needs to be prepared to run in case the pocket breaks down.
McShay also says that Winston needs to target wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Nick O'Leary. Benjamin's height advantage makes him preferable in one-on-one matchups, while O'Leary has the most touchdown receptions on the team. Translation—both are reliable. Rashad Greene is a trusted and true weapon, as well.
Lastly, in this writer's opinion, FSU needs to score early. Until the Clemson game, the Seminoles did not produce stellar first halves. Winston's passes will need to be as accurate as the game at Pittsburgh if the Seminoles want to shut down the Canes early and make another case for the BCS National Championship.
Jameis Winston will have a ton of fun tonight. He just doesn't need to give the opposition a chance to join in the fun.