Florida State 34, Auburn 31: Takeaways & observations

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) pretends to drop the Coaches Trophy after the 2014 BCS National Championship game against the Auburn Tigers at the Rose Bowl.

Kirby Lee/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

PASADENA, Calif. — Florida State players were more happy that they won the national title, but three of them also celebrated 1,000-yard seasons Monday night.

Running back Devonta Freeman had 73 rushing yards to give him 1,016 in his junior season. He is Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996. Freeman is just the eighth 1,000-yard rusher in school history.

Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin became the first duo to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season since E.G. Green and Andre Cooper in 1995. Greene finished with 1,128 yards and Benjamin had 1,011 yards.

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Here are five observations from Florida State’s 34-31 win:

1. Jimbo Fisher showed confidence by using the fake punt.

With Florida State trailing 21-3 in the second quarter, coach Jimbo Fisher made perhaps a game-defining call. On fourth-and-4 from the Seminoles’ 40, the team lined up to punt but instead Karlos Williams ran the trick play to the left and gained 7 yards.

It was a play that sparked Florida State, leading to Devonta Freeman’s 3-yard touchdown just a few minutes later. But it also spoke volumes about his players’ ability to convert the trick play and gave Florida State a little momentum heading into halftime.

2. Kermit Whitfield’s return was a huge lift.

Whitfield is just 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, but he has a bright future for Florida State as a lightning-quick receiver and return man who can score any time he touches the ball.

Just a true freshman, Whitfield showed his sprinter speed when he took a 100-yard kickoff all the way back for a touchdown with 4:31 left in the game. It’s tough for a true freshman to make a contribution, but Whitfield did it on special teams this year with his second kickoff return for a touchdown.

3. Auburn kept Florida State on the ropes by excelling on third down.

Late to the party

The key to the game would be how well Auburn could run the ball but also if it could sustain drives and convert on third down.

Auburn did very well in the first half, converting 8-of-12 third-down opportunities. But Florida State’s defense made adjustments at halftime, and the Seminoles held the Tigers to 2-of-6 in the second half.

4. Florida State’s defense was strong in the third quarter.

After Auburn put up 21 first-half points, Florida State’s defense was at its best in the third quarter. The Tigers went punt-punt-punt-interception to open the second half.

Auburn managed just 43 yards on those four drives, and it allowed Florida State to claw back into the game.

5. Florida State didn’t let Nick Marshall beat them.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had 1,023 rushing yards this season, but he managed just 45 yards on 16 carries Monday. Marshall couldn’t run up the middle, as defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan and Eddie Goldman controlled the interior.

Marshall was able to take a few runs outside the tackles, and he did have a 13-yard run late in the game. But Marshall was hit-and-miss in the air, completing 14 of 27 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.