Four Downs: Winston bolsters legacy with FSU's title-clinching TD
JAN 07, 2014 12:46a ET
1. Heisman winner Jameis Winston was more clutch than brilliant on Monday ... and that's OK with Seminoles Nation
Prior to Florida State's championship-clinching touchdown drive, Winston had only registered 14 completions and 160 yards passing, middling numbers for college football's biggest star.
But the redshirt freshman responded with a legacy-building drive, completing six of seven passes for 77 yards in just 66 seconds -- highlighted by Rashad Greene's 49-yard reception (breaking two tackles) early on and capped late by Kelvin Benjamin's leaping touchdown catch (two yards).
Greene stole the show among the receivers, catching nine balls for 147 yards and one touchdown. Benjamin only tallied four catches and 54 yards, but two fourth-quarter receptions accounted for 23 yards and helped the Seminoles notch 21 points in the final stanza.
Which brings us to this: The Auburn defense should be commended for keeping Florida State -- which averaged 50 points over its first 13 games (all victories) -- relatively in check, allowing only 13 points in the first 49-plus minutes.
But everything changed late, with Winston (263 total yards, two TDs) hitting Chad Abram and Benjamin for touchdowns, with a kickoff-return TD from Levonte Whitfield sandwiched in between (more on him later).
2. Tre Mason scored too early on his bruising touchdown run with 1:19 left
It was human nature for Mason to cross the goal line unfettered, on the heels of a 37-yard touchdown run, breaking multiple tackles along the way.
But in a parallel universe, it would have been interesting to see Mason intentionally fall down at the 1 with 1:20 or so left on the clock, prompting Auburn to drain another 15 to 30 seconds in pursuit of the go-ahead touchdown.
Simply put, it was a wonderful sight for Auburn fans, watching Mason put the supposed capper on one of the most storied comeback seasons in college-football history. (Auburn didn't win a single conference game last season.)
But in this age of pass-heavy, up-tempo offenses, and the clock stopping at every first down, 79 seconds is enough time for a high-caliber quarterback to close the gap.
Like Jameis Winston.
That aside, Mason was easily the best player on the field, racking up 237 total yards (195 rushing) and two touchdowns -- Auburn's first and last scores of the night. In the first quarter, he converted a short pass from QB Nick Marshall (275 total yards, three total TDs) into a 12-yard TD.
3. Levonte Whitfield's Tallahassee legacy has been secured forever, thanks to his game-changing return TD
Florida State was still riding a sizable momentum wave prior to Whitfield's heroic return.
Down 24-20 with less than five minutes remaining, the Seminoles defense had clamped down just enough to force the Tigers to settle for a chip-shot field goal from 22 yards, giving Auburn only a four-point lead.
That set the stage for the lightning-fast Whitfield, who fielded the kick, made a quick shuffle move to the right and then sprinted through a coverage crease down the left sideline for a 100-yard touchdown.
After the initial wave of Auburn defenders, there was very little drama of whether anyone would catch Whitfield.
He's that fast ... and the Tigers' kick coverage was that erratic.
One last note: After Auburn took the lead with 1:19 left, the Tigers actually had the guile to loft another kick to Whitfield. But that time, they kept the Seminoles' burner in check -- a small consolation to those who witnessed Florida State score regardless on its final drive.
4. It's certainly possible that Florida State and Auburn will be part of next year's College Football Playoff
Cory McCartney, Fox Sports South's big kahuna, will likely debut the Seminoles and Tigers at 1-2 for his offseason rankings -- the product of both schools returning a flood of offensive/defensive stars to campus in 2014.
On paper, it looks a good deal for both teams. But let's take a closer look at what lies ahead:
Auburn has a sneaky-tough slate next season, with the first 11 games yielding some form of headache.
There are road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Mississippi and Georgia, along with home encounters against Arkansas (season opener), San Jose State (don't sleep on 'em), Louisiana Tech, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M (presumably without Johnny Manziel).
And then, let's not forget that Auburn ends the season with a trip to Tuscaloosa, taking on an Alabama team that will likely be ranked in the top 10.
The champion Seminoles, in turn, open the campaign in wonderful fashion, locking horns with Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium in Dallas (aka Jerry World).
In addition to the regular slate of ACC foes, FSU also draws home encounters with Notre Dame (Oct. 18) and Florida (Nov. 29).
One last thing: If the football gods have anything to say about it, Auburn is probably due for one or two unlucky bounces next year ... as a deferred balloon payment for Ricardo Louis's miracle catch against Georgia and Chris Davis's absurd Kick Six against Alabama.