Rose Bowl: Florida State’s own errors finally doom national title shot

PASADENA, Calif. — For the fifth time this season defending national champion Florida State trailed at halftime, but this time Jameis Winston couldn’t lead the Noles to a comeback victory. His offense committed four turnovers in a nightmarish third quarter as the Ducks routed FSU, snapping the Noles’ 29-game winning streak. Florida State added a fifth turnover on its first possession of the fourth quarter, and that one, too, resulted in an Oregon touchdown as UO ran off six in a row.

Winston, after returning to the FSU locker room about an hour after his team had gotten blown out by Oregon in the Rose Bowl 59-20, was one of the last Noles in the room. The rest had already exited. He stood by his locker in his shorts and just shook his head. One of the team’s police officers was nearby, and Winston patted him on the shoulder and smiled.

"You ain’t felt this way in a long time man, huh?" Winston said.

No one around the Noles program had. They had gotten used to frenetic rallies. After all, they had rallied from trailing in eight different games coming into Pasadena. 

But none of those opponents were Oregon, which put up 639 yards on the Noles and turned every turnover the Noles had into a touchdown. FSU fumbled seven times and lost four of them. Two of those fumbles were by the Noles’ superb freshman tailback, Dalvin Cook, who admitted after the game he was just trying to do a little too much, fighting for extra yardage when a Ducks player stripped him of the ball.

Winston was also picked off in the third quarter after one of his receivers couldn’t hang onto a pass. Winston added a disastrous fumble of his own late in the third quarter after evading rushers on a fourth-and-five while trying to buy more time to find an open receiver — he ended up slipping and coughing up the ball, and Oregon’s Tony Washington scooped it up and went 58 yards for a touchdown.

"It hurts badder than whatever you can imagine, but the good thing is we live to fight another day," Winston said in the postgame press conference. "We’ve got tons of great futures. No one likes to lose, man. I mean, losing is not really in my vocabulary to be honest with you, but we fell short today. Got to man up and go ahead and just get better every day.

"I just hope that we can learn from this, because I ain’t felt this way in a long time."

Even though Winston is only a redshirt sophomore with two seasons of eligibility remaining, it is widely expected he will enter the 2015 NFL Draft. However, when asked about his plans, Winston said he’s not focused on any of that at all. If this was his last college game, he would go out on a 29-of-45 night with 348 yards and only one TD pass. However, his stats also don’t reflect some of the struggles his teammates had.

There were costly dropped passes by Ermon Lane and star Rashad Greene. All-American tight end Nick O’Leary also was hobbled by a hamstring injury that he sustained in pregame warm-ups. O’Leary, a go-to guy for FSU, struggled to accelerate and often stumbled coming out of his breaks. Still, Winston showed graduate level passing skills, firing pro-style throws deep down the middle and later on a deep out to Bobo Wilson for a 23-yard gain on a third-and-21 after another FSU drop. 

Winston’s performance couldn’t help the Noles make it to the national title game again, but it figured to have impressed NFL scouts.

"It’s gonna come off as crazy because his team got killed, but this was one of his more impressive games," said former NFL scout Bucky Brooks, a draft analyst for NFL Network who was at the Rose Bowl. "What you’re trying to see is how they handle the pressure. They had a game plan with a higher degree of difficulty in the throws he’s asked to make.

"He made a lot of big-time throws. He was delivering throws in traffic, between the hashes. Those are the hardest throws for a young quarterback to make because you have to get rid of the ball before you know the receiver’s open, so it’s big on anticipation and trust. Most young quarterbacks want to wait till they see their receiver come open and by then it’s too late. His anticipation and timing are very good."

Brooks noted that while Winston threw a pick, it was on a ball his receiver had bounce off his hands. The scout didn’t like to see the fumble, but that did come on a fourth-down play where "you have to make a play."

The Noles ended up gaining 528 yards but still managed only two touchdowns.

"Their defense couldn’t stop us," said O’Leary. "We just had critical turnovers."

The turnovers had been a theme for FSU all season. The Noles finish the season with a minus-six in turnover differential. The opposition scored 127 points off Seminoles turnovers this season. Those 127 points allowed off giveaways are the most surrendered by a Power 5 conference team this season.

"What’s so hard to swallow is that these were self-inflicted wounds," said Greene.

After the game, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher gathered his players in the locker room and told them how honored he was to be able to coach a group of guys like this, according to Greene. 

"We have no reason to hang our heads," Fisher told them.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.