TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With Florida State’s perfect record still intact and a second-half rally against Notre Dame complete, Jameis Winston and coach Jimbo Fisher shared a hug as the crowd exploded in celebration.
Winston had done it again.
"He has a drive to win," Fisher said. "He has a drive for greatness."
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No. 2 Florida State bounced back from a 17-10 halftime deficit and won its 23rd consecutive game by holding off No. 5 Notre Dame 31-27 on Saturday night.
The win came after another week of controversy for Winston, who has been the subject of a sexual assault allegation and a student conduct code inquiry over the past two years. This week, the school said it was investigating whether Winston received benefits for autographs being sold online.
But on Saturday night, Winston’s mission was to dig the Seminoles out of trouble.
And he did.
Florida State had protection issues in the first half and Winston never seemed completely comfortable. Fisher said those were cleaned up at halftime and suddenly Winston had room to operate.
The reigning Heisman winner drove the Seminoles to touchdowns on three of their first four drives, each taking a minimum of seven plays. He spread the ball around and hit big plays to receivers Rashad Greene, Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson. Even running back Karlos Williams caught a 21-yarder.
Williams called Winston’s work "poetry in motion."
This wasn’t the first time Winston had to shine in the second half. Oklahoma State pushed the Seminoles in the season opener, but lost by six. He outplayed an on-fire Jacoby Brissett to hang 56 points on N.C. State. Winston missed just six passes and threw for 317 yards against Syracuse last week.
"One thing that people need to realize about this Seminoles team is when we have our backs against the wall, we always rise and we start playing harder," Winston said. "This was a big game. We’re playing Notre Dame. We’re not playing a high school team."
The Irish nearly pulled off the upset, moving to the 2-yard line in the game’s final moments. Everett Golson threw a touchdown pass to Corey Robinson with 13 seconds remaining.
But Notre Dame was called for pass interference when a receiver blocked the defender responsible for Robinson, and the touchdown was erased.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was not happy with the call.
"We execute that play every day," Kelly said. "And we do it legally and that’s the way we coach it. We don’t coach illegal plays."
The Irish moved back to fourth and goal from the 18-yard line. Linebacker Jacob Pugh picked off the desperation pass in the back of the end zone.
"We fight for each other, it’s a brotherhood," FSU linebacker Terrance Smith said. "We fight for the guys next to us and we’re not going to let the guys next to us down."
Golson threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns, but Winston won the duel in the second half as he completed his first 13 passes against a defense that had Florida State flustered for the first 30 minutes. Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston ran for 120 yards on 21 carries.
The Seminoles (7-0, 5-0 ACC) had their season on the line. Notre Dame (6-1) is the last ranked team on FSU’s schedule and the win may be its last chance to make a decisive impression on the College Football Playoff selection committee.
"I ain’t worried about the doubters," FSU cornerback P.J. Williams said. "We just know we will do whatever we have to do to win games. We’re not going down."