The No. 1 Florida State Seminoles learned quickly on Saturday night that being the reigning national champion comes with a few drawbacks, namely that every opponent is extra motivated to knock you off your perch.
FSU struggled to put away Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, after going ahead early, eventually downing the Cowboys 37-31.
Going into Saturday night, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher preached humility to his team, per Tim Linafelt of the Miami Herald:
And to make that point clear, he's adopted a new phrase: "Don't eat the cheese."
He picked this one up from one of FSU's guest speakers. It roughly translates to, "Don’t believe the hype."
"It means don't buy into everything everybody's telling you," Fisher said. "How great you are, how this, how that. Don't eat the cheese.
"Don't be the rat that eats the cheese."
His players didn't appear to heed that advice.
This game was supposed to be easy for Florida State. Oklahoma State lost a ton of talent from last year's team, while the 'Noles lost only a few key pieces from the group that beat Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.
Add to that OK State's history against No. 1-ranked teams, and everything pointed to a comfortable 'Noles triumph, per ESPN Stats and Info:
ESPN Football Power Index gives Florida St a huge edge over Oklahoma St. Oklahoma St is 0-16 all-time vs AP #1 team pic.twitter.com/wBa18IXFLu— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 30, 2014
However, the game went down to the wire.
Rashad Greene's 50-yard touchdown reception with a little less than four minutes remaining in the game gave Florida State enough breathing room to seal the win. Jameis Winston threaded the ball through the tiniest of windows, and no Cowboys defender could track down Greene from there, as the strike put FSU up 37-24, per ESPN College Football:
Cowboys quarterback J.W. Walsh scored on a three-yard run with 1:55 to go, making it a one-score game at 37-31. Oklahoma State couldn't recover the onside kick, however, and the Seminoles killed off the clock.
Many eyes were on the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner, Winston. The Seminoles quarterback played somewhat poorly compared to the sky-high standards he set for himself in 2013, which was one of Florida State's biggest problems.
He completed 25 of his 40 passes for 370 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Greene was huge all game, recording 11 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown.
Early on, the game looked like it would turn into a rout.
Roberto Aguayo broke the scoreless deadlock with a field goal a little less than six minutes into the game, putting Florida State up 3-0. On the very next play from scrimmage, Walsh was intercepted by Nate Andrews, who ran back the pick nine yards to the end zone, as illustrated by College GameDay:
The Seminoles defense, Andrews included, wasn't a stranger to scoring last year:
Florida State led FBS with 8 defensive TDs last season and Nate Andrews led FSU with 4 defensive TDs.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 31, 2014
Things looked dire for Oklahoma State when Mario Pender scampered 11 yards for a touchdown, putting Florida State ahead 17-0 with 8:19 left in the first half. Overcoming a 17-point lead against the reigning champion is no small feat. Not to mention that FSU gave up 17 or more points on only three occasions during 2013.
The Cowboys slowly chipped away the lead, scoring on the very next drive. Desmond Roland punched it in from a yard out to make it a 17-7 game with 3:58 to go in the half.
The two teams exchanged possession on the next two drives, giving Florida State a great opportunity to build upon its 10-point lead, but then it shot itself in the foot with a turnover.
On a 1st-and-10 at his own 29-yard line, Winston threw an interception to OK State's Ashton Lampkin, who was brought down for no gain on the FSU 49-yard line.
Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman felt that play accurately encapsulated how Oklahoma State's defense has often looked suspect in the past but then came up with a few big plays that completely swung momentum:
Amazing how opportunistic, bend-but-don't-break, this #OKstate defense has been over the past few years. Continues there w/ Lampkin pick.— Kyle Fredrickson (@kylefredrickson) August 31, 2014
The Cowboys had 29 seconds to either go 49 yards for the touchdown or at the very least get inside field-goal range.
A 14-yard pass to Jhajuan Seales and a subsequent unsportsmanlike penalty on Florida State moved the ball to the FSU 20-yard line, which allowed Ben Grogan to nail a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Getting to within a touchdown going into the half was a major momentum boost for OK State. As Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde pointed out, what looked like a blowout earlier all of a sudden became a close, competitive game:
Cowboys (aka Tyreek Hill University) have a chance to make this very interesting at halftime.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) August 31, 2014
Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben thought the early pick-six also made things look worse than they were for the Cowboys:
Feels like OSU is getting dominated, but in reality, without that Walsh pick, Pokes are keeping their head above water. Red zone INT helps.— David Ubben (@davidubben) August 31, 2014
As CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd tweeted out, the Seminoles looked listless in the first half, which allowed Oklahoma State to claw its way back into the game:
FSU missing the interest gene at halftime. OSU hanging around, 17-10.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) August 31, 2014
Florida State got the ball to start the second half, and Aguayo added a 27-yard field goal to give the 'Noles a little breathing room, 20-10.
Their tranquility was short-lived, though, as a major breakdown in the Florida State secondary left Dan Glidden wide open, and he went 55 yards to the end zone a little over four minutes into the third quarter:
Florida State had an answer, though.
Up until the third quarter, Winston had been largely silent. The lack of a steady running game in turn hampered Winston and the Seminoles passing game quite a bit. So Winston simply took things into his own hands, tucking the ball and running 28 yards to the end zone, giving the 'Noles a 10-point lead once again, 27-17, with 5:26 left in the third frame:
Sports on Earth's Matt Brown felt it was the first time all game that the Heisman winner truly lived up to his name:
Oh hey there's the best player in the country— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) August 31, 2014
One QB touchdown run begets another, as Walsh answered back with a 24-yard TD run of his own in the fourth quarter, bringing Oklahoma State to within three points, 27-24, with 11:51 to play in the game.
Another Aguayo field goal put Florida State up 30-24 with a little over five minutes left.
The next drive essentially decided the game. On a 2nd-and-5 on his own 49-yard line, Walsh fumbled after being upended by P.J. Williams. Two plays later, Winston hit Greene for the touchdown that all but sealed the victory.
Closing a double-digit gap in such a short amount of time was too big of a task for Oklahoma State.
Florida State will look to take full advantage of what should be a much easier game against The Citadel next week. The Seminoles will need to get themselves mentally prepared for the Clemson Tigers, whom they meet on Sept. 20.
Oklahoma State welcomes in Missouri State next week and takes on UT-San Antonio two weeks from Saturday night. With the way the Cowboys played against FSU, they could be serious contenders in the Big 12.