Jameis Winston led the Garnet team to a 31-14 win over the Gold team in Florida State's annual spring game Saturday, throwing the ball 56 times—more attempts than he had in any single game during his Heisman campaign in 2013—for 27 completions, 396 yards and two touchdowns.
The pass-heavy attack can be attributed to multiple factors.
First, the team's presumed top four running backs, Karlos Williams, Ryan Green, Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook, all sat out the game for various reasons. But second, the team is auditioning a new cast of young receivers for important offensive roles, and head coach Jimbo Fisher was curious to see what he had in camp before blue-chip freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph arrive this summer.
Despite a sluggish start that saw Winston complete just 13 of his first 31 passes, Fisher was not disappointed with his young-but-merging group of receivers, per Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press:
The more they play together ... the more you're going to know each other. Early, they didn't get open as well, but that's kind of expected. But as the game went on they gradually made more plays and did things and we helped them get open with some formations and different things we did. I'm not disappointed in them.
You relax and you realize the sky's not falling, the world's not coming to an end. Relax and play and play up to your capabilities.
That group was one of the biggest stories going into Saturday's spring game, but elsewhere, a few other players made the day their own.
These were the three brightest stars.
Third Star: LB Matthew Thomas
According to the 247Sports Composite, Matthew Thomas was the eighth-best player and second-best linebacker in the 2013 recruiting class. After a shoulder injury ended his freshman season in October, though, his opportunity to become a meaningful defensive player was delayed for at least one more season.
If Thomas' play in the spring game was any indication, however, the wait won't be much longer than that. He recovered a Jameis Winston fumble, stuck out to Warchant.com after hunting down Freddie Stevenson and impressed Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com with his playmaking instincts throughout the game:
Matthew Thomas blows up a Stevenson run, running him down form behind. He's a little explosive.— Warchant.com (@Warchant) April 12, 2014
Matthew Thomas is making some plays out there. Excited to see what he does in 2014. #Noles— Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor) April 12, 2014
This is precisely what FSU fans wanted (needed?) to see from Thomas, who much is expected from in 2014 and beyond.
The rotations at linebacker are unsettled, with Terrance Smith being the only surefire starter, and Thomas is competing with such players as Ukeme Eligwe, Reggie Northrup and E.J. Levenberry for a chance to start. The whole group played well Saturday, however, so Thomas has not locked up a spot.
One thing that might help him? The addition of even more weight. According to Dustin Tackett of Tomahawk Nation, Thomas said after the game that he is planning on getting to up to 235 pounds next season (after being listed at 224 in 2013):
Also, Matthew Thomas told me he hopes to be at 235 lbs. That is a scary sight for anybody on the opposition.— Dustin Tackett (@dtackett_) April 13, 2014
Already a dangerous combination of height (6'3"), bulk and speed, a good summer of workouts would make Thomas a safe bet at seeing action, a good bet at starting and an intriguing bet at becoming an All-ACC-type player in 2014.
Second Star: WR Rashad Greene
There is nothing loud about Rashad Greene's game; Kelvin Benjamin was the sexy receiver last season and is now likely to become a first-round NFL draft pick, while Greene is known better by FSU fans and ACC coaches than casual observers of the sport.
Because of such things, it is easy to forget that Greene has led the Seminoles in catches and yards in each of the past three seasons, and he stands poised to make it a clean sweep by doing so a fourth time in 2014. Now the undisputed No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, he and Winston might both be in store for All-American years.
That became painfully clear Saturday, when Greene was his normal, dominant self, racking up 11 catches (all from Winston) for 127 yards and a touchdown. Yes, he was wearing a green non-contact jersey for precautionary reasons, but that does not provide an excuse to the secondary for how often he got open.
To boot, Greene was also presented the Matt Schmauch Academic Achievement Award during a break in the game:
Coach Bradley presented the Matt Schmauch Academic Achievement Award to Rashad Greene at the spring game. pic.twitter.com/nPJK8iXoDS— FSU Swimming/Diving (@FSU_Swimming) April 12, 2014
Greene is the type of player championship teams are made of—both on and off the field. He didn't need to prove that to anyone Saturday, but with certain fans uneasy about the losses of Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, it wasn't a bad idea to remind them.
Consider this reminder received.
First Star: DL Ro'Derrick Hoskins
Defensive end might be the keystone position for Florida State in 2014.
Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman are being counted on to reach their potentials on the outside, which should help compensate for the loss of Timmy Jernigan at tackle. Behind them, though, there are questions about depth in the rotation, especially with Chris Casher playing the hybrid DE/LB role vacated by Christian Jones.
On Saturday, redshirt freshman Ro'Derrick Hoskins—himself a converted linebacker—silenced some of those questions and had the best game of anyone on the roster. He finished with two sacks and took an interception off Sean McGuire back 63 yards for a touchdown, sticking out as a breakout star to both Noles247.com and broadcaster Gene Deckerhoff:
Barring injury, Hoskins will almost definitely not start a game next season. Edwards and Goldman have those jobs locked up.
However, if he continues to come on as he did Saturday, Hoskins can earn a progressively bigger role behind that starting duo. If he does, it would benefit not just himself (by virtue of real-time reps) but the team, which would not, as predicted, be relying too heavily on the contributions of its first-team defensive ends.
This could be a nice development for FSU's defense.