BCS title game report card: Florida State vs. Auburn
Maligned as it was, the BCS gave us one last epic.
Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston rallied to edge Auburn 34-31 in Pasadena in a dramatic conclusion to this postseason system — and bring the ACC its first national title since 1999.
It’s a win that also brought an end to the SEC’s stay atop college football’s mountaintop, ending the conference’s seven-year title streak.
Herewith, position-by-position grades and thoughts on the Seminoles and Tigers’ performances in the Rose Bowl.
Quarterback: Winston got off to a rocky start in his 20th birthday celebration, throwing for just 62 yards and zero touchdowns in the first half. But he finished 20 of 35 for 237 yards and two scores, including hitting six of seven passes for 77 yards on a final drive punctuated by a 2-yard TD strike to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining. Winston became the third QB in the BCS era to follow up his Heisman with a title and the first since Cam Newton in 2010.
Running Back: Devonta Freeman found the end zone on a 3-yard run, rushing for 73 yards in all, and Chad Abram also delivered an 11-yard TD catch. Freeman’s unsportsmanlike penalty could have been costly, but it ultimately didn’t matter.
Receivers: Winston keyed in on Rashad Greene for much of the game, the latter finishing with nine receptions for 147 yards. Kelvin Benjamin was missing in action until he got going with a third-quarter catch and was on the receiving end of the deciding score. They struggled against the Tigers’ corners early, but emerged when it mattered most.
Offensive Line: The Tigers defensive front caused this group all kinds of problems as Winston was sacked four times, but they wound up paving the way for a greater yard per carry average (4.8) than the nation’s top-ranked rushing attack (4.4).
Defensive line: They really had no answer for Auburn’s running game, which torched the Seminoles for a season-high 232 rushing yards and a pair of TDs. They registered just one sack, and the lasting image of tackle Timmy Jernigan was him winded late from trying to keep up with the Tigers’ up-tempo offense.
Linebackers: The problems for this group were a byproduct of the issues up front, needing to lend to the run support. It resulted in Auburn finding success throwing over the middle time and time again. The Telvin Smith-led unit improved as the game wore on, but it was still a step back from what we’ve seen all season.
Secondary: P.J. Williams was named defensive MVP after he picked off Marshall, setting the stage for Abram’s fourth-quarter TD. All-American Lamarcus Joyner should get an assist on the play, picking up Williams’ fumble. Marshall averaged 8.5 yards per pass against the Seminoles DBs, but making the key defensive play made up for it.
Speedster Kermit Whitfield — he of the 4.37 second 40-yard dash — gave the Seminoles their first lead since 3-0 with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score in the fourth quarter. Lou Groza winner Roberto Aguayo connected on field goals of 35 and 41 yards, while Cason Beatty got a workout equaling a season-high with six punts (42.8 average) plus a fake punt that paved the way for a score.
Jimbo Fisher: The bold move of the aforementioned fake punt proved to be critical as it gave the Seminoles confidence going into the locker room and cut the lead to 21-10. Credit Fisher for keeping his team composed facing their largest deficit of the season. The wait for Florida State’s return to prominence is over, and with the core Fisher returns, there’s no question who will open next season at No. 1.
Quarterback: Misjudged as being one-dimensional, Marshall threw for a pair of first-half touchdowns, going 14 of 27 in all for 217 yards. Even though his biggest mistake bit him as he lofted a ball into coverage on the Williams pick, he was sharp overall and also ran for 45 yards and a score.
Running back: Tre Mason may have been the most dominant player on the field piling up 195 yards — the most the Seminoles gave up to a single player all year — and a score on 34 carries. He looked every bit the Heisman finalist and may well be a contender next year should he return.
Receivers: Melvin Ray delivered a 50-yard TD and the group would have had another if Marshall hadn’t underthrown Ricardo Louis on the Tigers’ opening drive. Auburn’s catches kept drives alive, accounting for four of the Tigers’ 10 third-down conversions. In addition, seven non-RBs caught passes. Still, the Auburn group was upstaged by the Seminoles.
Offensive Line: This group set the table for 449 total yards, including 232 on the ground. Marshall was sacked just once. It was a dominant performance against the nation’s third-ranked defense.
Defensive Line: Dee Ford was responsible for two of the four sacks of Winston, and the Tigers D neared double-digits in hits on the Heisman winner. The deep, athletic Auburn front seven did what no one was able to do against Famous Jameis: rattle him.
Linebackers: It was a productive night as Cassanova McKinzy led all Tigers with nine tackles; Kris Frost was second with seven. But the Seminole linebackers seemed to fade late, especially as Winston started going at them with short routes over the middle.
Secondary: Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy looked nothing like the backbone of a 102nd-ranked pass defense as they helped key Winston’s slow start. But on the field for much of the second half, they faded and Davis drew a flag that set up the game-winning score.
Steven Clark was a huge weapon with five punts that set the Seminoles up inside their own 20-yard line, including two inside the 5. But Cody Parkey missed a 33-yard field goal that loomed larger as the game wore on.
Gus Malzahn: As expected, he ran on the Seminoles but he also diverted from his typical playbook, allowing Marshall the chance to do some damage with his arm. The magic ran out, but by getting the Tigers this far — and with the potential to get them back again — Malzahn is arguably the most impressive coach of the season.