LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) As bad as Jameis Winston and second-ranked Florida State looked in the first half against Louisville, the second half offered plenty of time to recover.
More impressive than rallying from a 21-0 deficit for a 42-31 victory was the gutsy poise displayed by the Heisman Trophy quarterback and his teammates.
Winston overcame three interceptions with three second-half touchdown passes, including the 35-yard clincher to Freddie Stevenson with 2:11 remaining.
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”I told them, `We’ve been here before,”’ Winston said. ”Being down is nothing when you’ve got heart. Honestly, we play better when we’re down. We do anything to win. We don’t enjoy being down.”
Not only did the Seminoles (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 CFP) extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 24 games, but their national title hopes are fully intact after appearing to be in tatters for the first 28 minutes against the Cardinals (6-3, 4-3, No. 25 CFP).
Having survived successive tough tests against Notre Dame and Louisville, the Seminoles don’t appear to have many challenges left on the schedule against Virginia, Miami, Boston College and in-state rival Florida. Then again, Florida State wasn’t supposed to struggle as much against a Cardinals team that featured the nation’s top defense statistically coming in but has had problems scoring points.
Which is what made this victory all the more critical and special to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
”It’s a very tough win. It’s a tough road win,” Fisher said. ”Any time you win on the road, no matter what, Thursday nights, and in a good environment, it’s a good win.”
Things we learned from the Seminoles-Cardinals thriller:
JAMEIS IS FINE: Winston sustained a right ankle injury in the second half that required treatment on the sideline, but neither he nor Fisher seemed to be too concerned about it. It certainly didn’t seem to bother him as he threw for 278 of his 401 yards in the final 30 minutes. He threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Travis Rudolph and a 47-yarder to Ermon Lane along with one to Stevenson to seal it.
THE CHAMP IS HERE: Muhammad Ali’s presence brought a big cheer when the former heavyweight champion and Louisville native was shown on the video screen following a montage of his most famous moments. And much like the Rumble in the Jungle that Ali won over George Foreman on this night 40 years ago, Florida State got off the ropes to knock out Louisville behind some big blows from Winston.
CARDINALS’ DYNAMIC DUO: A foot injury sidelined Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker for the first seven games while a thigh contusion hampered Michael Dyer for four. Those injuries are distant memories for both as they combined for 348 of the Cardinals’ 488 yards. Parker caught eight passes for a career-high 214 yards while Dyer rushed for three TDs. The former Auburn star has run for 307 yards the past two games.
GOAL-LINE LUCK: Florida State made big plays in the north end zone on both sides of the ball. After a goal-line stand on Louisville’s first drive, the Seminoles got a very fortunate bounce on Karlos Williams’ fumble when Nick O’Leary came up with the ball for their first touchdown just before halftime. That fluky play seemed to shake the `Noles from their funk.
VULNERABLE DEFENSE: Louisville’s once-fierce defense has allowed 351 yards to North Carolina State and 574 to the Seminoles. Things don’t get any easier for the Cardinals, who travel to Notre Dame on Nov. 22 and host improved Kentucky in the season finale. But they know the defense must improve. ”We want to put this behind us as soon as possible because like I say all the time, we can’t go into next week with this mentality,” linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin said.
COOK STEPS UP: Freshman Dalvin Cook found running room against Louisville for TDs of 40 and 38 yards that helped turn the game as much as Winston’s arm. His second TD with 3:46 left put Florida State ahead for good and nobody was shocked by his 110-yard effort on nine carries. ”Young guys have been stepping up every single game,” Winston said. ”They helped us get a critical touchdown. Dalvin had an amazing game.”