It wasn't their prettiest win of the season, but Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles are headed to Pasadena.
Winston scored four total touchdowns and had nearly 400 total yards, and the Seminoles defense held Duke to just 239 total yards as Florida State finished off its undefeated regular season with a 45-7 win in the 2013 ACC Championship Game.
This is the Seminoles' first time heading into their bowl without a loss since winning the 1999 BCS National Championship Game. That season was the second in a string of three straight appearances in the season's final game.
If Saturday night was any indication, Jimbo Fisher's squad has all the makings of a similar dynasty. Tim Linafelt of The Osceola passes along this quote from Fisher, who speaks about Florida State's upcoming BCS National Championship matchup:
Fisher on potential BCSCG opponent: "I didn't care who it was. I'm just glad Florida State's there."— Tim Linafelt (@Osceola_Tim) December 8, 2013
Winston, who is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, didn't have his best game despite the gaudy final line. The freshman signal-caller scuffled throughout the first half, as Duke held Florida State scoreless in the first quarter and tensions spiked for the garnet and gold faithful.
Winston and Co. quickly eliminated all thoughts of an upset after those initial scuffles. Kelvin Benjamin caught his first of two touchdown receptions to start the Seminoles' rout, putting FSU up 7-0 with 12:36 remaining in the first half. Florida State's scoring went quiet for nearly another nine minutes—a time frame that included Winston's first interception—before Karlos Williams put his team up two touchdowns with a 12-yard score.
By the time Roberto Aguayo sent the Seminoles into the halftime break with a 17-0 lead, you could get the sense at Bank of America Stadium that Duke had let its chances slip away. While Florida State's high-octane offense kept giving the Blue Devils chances, David Cutcliffe's squad proved unable to take advantage.
Duke had nine first-half possessions. All but one lasted three plays or fewer, as the Seminoles forced three-and-outs and costly turnovers, holding Duke to well under 100 yards. The only sustained drive the Blue Devils had in the first half came in the first quarter and resulted in a short missed field goal from kicker Ross Martin.
They never had a chance to take a lead again.
Taking control of the second half, Winston and Co. made sure they made a statement to the rest of the country. After an Anthony Boone interception set the Seminoles up at the Duke 26-yard line, Winston only needed three plays to hit Kenny Shaw from 11 yards out to make it 24-0 with 9:52 remaining in the third.
That started a streak of three straight Winston scoring drives. He hit Benjamin from 54 yards out, then scampered in on his own from 17 yards out, and suddenly the Seminoles were ahead 38-0. Despite having a five-score lead and being in no danger of losing, Fisher kept Winston throwing well into the fourth quarter—leading to some chippiness from both sides.
FSU up 38-0 with 8 min left in game. Surprised Jameis Winston is still in the game and throwing downfield.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) December 8, 2013
Winston finished the game completing 19 of 32 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns against two picks en route to winning the game's MVP award.
After the game, ESPN caught up with Winston and spoke about the upcoming national-championship game and how the past month has been for him:
Devonta Freeman's seven-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter capped off the scoring for the Seminoles. Freeman received the most carries of the FSU three-headed running back attack, finishing with 91 yards on 17 carries.
On the other side, the stats weren't as pretty. Boone threw for only 138 yards on 20-of-40 passing, tossing two picks and even being benched for Brandon Connette for a stretch. Josh Snead (17 yards, seven carries) kept Duke from being shut out by scoring from five yards out with 1:01 remaining.
Although they were disappointed, the loss caps off a great regular season for the Blue Devils. They had the first 10-win season in school history and will play in one of the BCS' most prodigious bowls.
Florida State, which came into conference championship week as the No. 1 team in the country, will increase its stranglehold on the pollsters on Sunday. The Seminoles will now look to win their first national title of the century on Jan. 6.
Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State): B
If Winston's goal was to do just enough to lock up the Heisman, mission accomplished. For much of the game, he looked like a freshman for the first time this season. He threw two interceptions but could have had a few more. He never really looked comfortable in the pocket.
The first half was spent mostly treading water, with Winston avoiding making the big mistake while just trying to get into a rhythm.
Florida State's offense never quite hit its peak on Saturday, but the second half was a far better showcase for what Winston can offer. His 54-yard strike to Kelvin Benjamin was the highlight of his night, hitting his receiver in stride and watching him scamper past the Blue Devils defense for a score.
This wasn't the type of performance that could stand against an elite opponent. But when your "not great" results in a 45-7 victory, odds are you're doing something right.
Anthony Boone (QB, Duke): D
After battling injuries all season, the ACC Championship Game could have been a showcase for Boone. Instead, the Blue Devils quarterback looked overwhelmed against the swarming Florida State secondary.
When Duke was hanging in the game, Boone was unable to take advantage of Seminoles mistakes. He was inaccurate with his ball placement, completed only check-down throws and turned the ball over three times in a game where his team couldn't afford to lose the turnover battle.
It's hard to get too upset with Boone or anyone on the Blue Devils roster. They were nearly 30-point underdogs for a reason. But in those fleeting moments where an upset seemed possible, Boone was unable to come through.
Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke): C
The Blue Devils just needed Crowder to break one. He's been their most dangerous weapon after the catch for two straight seasons now, a 5'9" jitterbug who only needs the slightest space to shift a game's dynamic.
Unfortunately, the Seminoles barely gave him an inch. Crowder finished with eight receptions for just 66 yards. Duke attempted to run short screens or quick-hit underneath routes to get Crowder going, but there were two or three defenders in the area almost instantly.
Florida State Defense: A
Since none of the Seminoles' skill-position players stood out all that much, it's only appropriate to honor the most under-discussed part of this team. For every rightfully glowing column about Winston, there should be another about Jeremy Pruitt's stellar job as the defensive coordinator.
Florida State has given up more than 20 points just once all season. That game came on Sept. 28 against Boston College. Since then, the Seminoles have held their opponents to single-digit scoring totals five times, including four of their past five contests.
Pruitt's secondary, his specialty, completely shut down the Duke passing attack and will prove a formidable foe for whomever it plays in the national championship game. It's impossible to single out just one player, because it works as a unit, but there are 11 guys who deserve just as much credit as Winston for this 2013 season.
Florida State, barring something unforeseen, will play in the BCS National Championship Game. Depending on how the selection process shakes out, Duke will either play in the Sun Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
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