TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State’s defense answered the wake-up call.
And the offense? The Seminoles fired away on all cylinders again, too.
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 393 yards and had a career-high five touchdown passes — Kelvin Benjamin (two), Nick O’Leary (two) and Kenny Shaw — as No. 8 Florida State ripped No. 25 Maryland 63-0 on Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Seminoles’ rout tied the largest margin of victory ever by one team over another top-25 program.
Winston, a redshirt freshman, now has three 300-yard passing games in just five games this season. He also has 17 TD passes, putting him more than halfway to Chris Weinke’s FSU record of 33 from the 2000 season (a season in which he won a Heisman Trophy). And there are anywhere from 7-9 games left in the season.
The scary thing? He seems to be learning from his few mistakes with each game. And he turned in another highlight reel play in the third quarter, eluding a would-be sacker, Maryland linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil at the 20, rolled right, stepped up and found tight end Nick O’Leary in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown.
It was the third straight game that Winston had broken free from the grasp of what could have been a sack only to find breathing room and hit an open receiver for a touchdown.
On Saturday, he completed 23 of 32 passes and is completing 74 percent of his passes in 2013.
“With the team that I have, it’s always been easy,” Winston said. “It’s probably slowing down because I’m getting used to the speed. I have so many weapons.”
Winston indeed spread the ball around, finding Shaw and Benjamin for five receptions apiece, Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary for four catches and tailback Devonta Freeman three times.
On Saturday, Winston helped Florida State score more points than Maryland had given up in its previous four games combined (41) this season. It was the fifth straight game that FSU surpassed the 40-point mark. The last time that happened? The 1999 national championship season.
Here are five observations about Florida State’s win:
1. There may not be a defense on the schedule that can slow down FSU.
The Seminoles had 614 offensive yards — 431 in the air. Florida State scored on eight straight drives at one point.
Florida State didn’t put up a bunch of rushing yards on Saturday. But it didn’t have to do it.
Clemson and Miami are improved on defense. But Florida State is going to be tough to slow down.
2. Florida State’s offensive line is its weak link at the moment.
Center Bryan Stork left the game in the first half with a concussion. And at times the offensive line was shaky in pass protection.
The Seminoles ran for “just” 183 yards on 43 carries. And three rushing touchdowns. But the running game has struggled to pick up the short-yardage plays, and that’s partially due to the offensive line.
3. Florida State’s defense got its mojo back.
The Seminoles received a wake-up call when Boston College put up 34 points (albeit in a loss) last week. So Florida State responded with its first shutout of the season.
Florida State forced 10 punts. Maryland had punted just eight times all season going into the game. The Seminoles held Maryland in check all day, and they knocked QB C.J. Brown out of the game in the second quarter.
“The defense played outstanding from the start to the finish,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “As good as we played on offense, we played better on defense.”
4. Punter Cason Beatty showed improvement.
Beatty has had some rough early games for Florida State, but he had a 48-yard punt against Maryland and averaged 42 yards per punt on the day.
Florida State may not need him often, but Beatty needs to be more consistent. And perhaps Saturday was a sign of that.
5. All eyes in college football will be on Florida State-Clemson on Oct. 19.
In the summer, we figured that the game could be a top-10 matchup of unbeaten teams.
Florida State at Clemson could be one of the best matchups in college football this season, especially with two talented, mobile quarterbacks, high-powered defenses, an intense SEC-like crowd and (potentially) national championship hopes on the line.
“We have to turn the page today,” Florida State defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel said. “It’s Florida State-Clemson. This game is over with. We know it’s going to be a crazy one.”