CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With a grin on his face and nearly a month’s worth of pent-up feelings flowing out of him, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston accepted his ACC Championship MVP honors with the kind of emotion he doesn’t always show. At least, not to everyone.
“God is good, everybody!” he shouted.
And then he took Florida State fans, everyone watching on television and everyone that was left in the stadium to church by going into full preacher-style voice: “I love this man right here!” Winston shouted, pointing to his coach, Jimbo Fisher. “Hey, I love all y’all!” He pointed to the remaining (mostly pro-Seminole) crowd, which roared wildly after their team moving to 13-0 on the season by beating No. 20 Duke (10-3) 45-7, a trip to Pasadena for the BCS national title game a virtual certainty.
“See when you’ve got a good team, you can do anything. Anything is possible,” Winston said. “It (doesn’t) matter about adversity. We don’t care about adversity.”
Winston has spent the last month in relative silence. He’s always been candid and, at times, even funny with the media. But after sexual assault allegations against him came to light nearly a month ago, he was a bit more muted. He didn’t say as much. And he wasn’t as jokey as he had been. But he still played well. Maybe even raised his game a level or two.
His Seminoles team has been a juggernaut. The final tally: FSU 689, Opponents 139. That’s an average of 53.0-10.7. Except Florida State didn’t look like that Florida State in the ACC title game, not at first — not against a game Duke team that had won eight straight games and played like it early on.
Florida State had punted 32 times entering the game. On Saturday night, FSU was forced to punt twice in its first three drives (the other was a turnover).
But it was more than that. Duke — particularly Duke’s defense — did not back down. For a time, it seemed that Duke’s defense was just as physical, bruising and intimidating as Florida State’s, a unit that’s allowing 271 yards per game and is nearly as good against the run as it is against the pass. In the first quarter alone, there were almost as many Florida State receivers getting blown up by Duke defenders than there were FSU first downs. And certainly more than FSU had points.
Because the Seminoles scored zero first-quarter points. That’s right, for the first time in over a year, Florida State’s offense failed to score in the first quarter. Winston looked human for perhaps the first time ever, completing just one of his first six passes for 22 yards.
Then, the second quarter happened. Winston completed 9-of-13 passes in that quarter alone, and the Florida State offense scored 17 points after struggling to move the ball consistently before that. As odd as the first quarter score read, the second quarter action followed the season’s trend. As of the most recent NCAA.com stats update, eight FBS teams have not scored as many total points as FSU has in the second quarter alone (207) this season.
Despite a great start for Duke, it wasn’t enough. It hasn’t been enough for almost any opponent that has faced FSU this season. It’s hardly a strike against the Blue Devils. Before Florida State pulled its first-string defense — the Blue Devils went on to avoid the shutout with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with one minute remaining — the Seminoles had out-gained the Blue Devils 562-164 for the game.
These are all just numbers, though.
Numbers, like 13-0, or like the offensive records shattered, don’t do the Seminoles — or Winston, for that matter — justice. They have to be seen to be believed.
Physically, they’re far superior to almost any other team in the country. But the reason they’re headed to Pasadena is their laser-like mental focus. Fisher has been telling his team all season long to avoid “clutter”, as he calls it. That’s any and all outside distractions. Put them to the side in pursuit of the ultimate team goal, which is to get to Pasadena.
It would be insulting to anyone’s intelligence to refer to the allegations as merely “clutter” for Winston and the Seminoles. That was a very real issue.
But on the field after the game, Fisher seemed as clutter-free as you could possibly be.
Even though his team isn’t quite done yet.
“We’re not champs!” Fisher chanted repeatedly, as his team echoed it back to him, referring to winning the ACC title game.
“They know,” he added, finally letting himself smile.