Florida State got off to the start we all expected Saturday night, racing to a 17-0 lead over a rebuilt Oklahoma State team.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston completed nine of his first 10 passes, and even though he threw an interception toward the start of the second quarter, once Mario Pender lunged into the end zone to put Florida State up by three scores, this season looked like it would be more of the same.
But then something happened, a reaction that was foreign to the Seminoles after 2013. The Cowboys not only didn't collapse after enduring a punch; they got up and started punching back.
The result was one of the most up-and-down games of Winston's career. He threw multiple interceptions for only the third time, and unlike the other two instances (against Miami and Duke), his defense wasn't in peak form to bail him out.
These inconsistencies will hurt Winston in his bid to win a second Heisman Trophy, because—fair or not—there are voters looking for a reason to vote against him. He's contentious off the field, and voter fatigue is a real thing. It's one of many reasons Chris Huston of HeismanPundit.com wrote a whole piece this offseason titled "Jameis Winston Will Not Win a Second Heisman."
Last year, Winston could not be denied because of his efficiency. His quarterback rating of 184.85 was more than ten points higher than anybody else's in the country. He averaged 10.6 yards per attempt and threw four touchdowns to every one interception.
So it hurts for him to start this season with two interceptions to one touchdown, a quarterback rating of 140.95. It's a tangible sign of regression that may or may not actually exist. It is something that will be used against him—and eagerly—in the Heisman discussion.
But as far as Florida State is concerned: Who cares?
Who cares about the politicking and stat-mongering that goes into winning a Heisman Trophy? All the Seminoles care about is winning.
And on that front, as he has so many times before, Winston came up big when it mattered most.
Leading by three late in the third quarter, and struggling to find an offensive rhythm, head coach Jimbo Fisher dialed up a designed quarterback draw from the Oklahoma State 28-yard line. Winston came to FSU with a dual-threat reputation, but he had hitherto rarely been asked to run. It seemed incautious exposing him to unnecessary contact, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
They also call for career-defining plays:
The longest run of Winston's career was also the best, and it came in one of the biggest moments. It was a put-the-team-on-my-back moment on par with Marshawn Lynch in 2010. It was "Beast Mode" through and through.
Later, leading by six with less than five minutes remaining, when all Florida State needed was a first down or two to ice away the game, Winston took it one further, zipping perhaps his best pass of the night into Rashad Greene for a 50-yard touchdown and 37-24 lead:
It's very possible that Oklahoma State is good. More than good. No matter how much talent they lost, the Cowboys have been one of the seven or eight most consistent programs of the past five years. Mike Gundy's teams usually show up to play. Glenn Spencer's defenses always show up to play. That was a good team that FSU beat.
And we shouldn't kill a team for beating someone good.
But, of course, we will, because the Seminoles were three-touchdown favorites, and they're used to beating teams by more than three touchdowns. After 13 consecutive games of looking invulnerable, this was the second consecutive where they looked vulnerable.
Still, 15-0 in the Winston era is 15-0 in the Winston era. He still has never lost a game. Florida State has a few minor things to worry about—the non-existent pass-rush; the not-as-dominant-as-expected offensive line; the lack of receiving options outside of Greene—but its quarterback is not one of them.
In fact, he's the main reason those worries are only minor.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT