Freeman sparks emotional win for FSU

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
1:50
AM ET

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Devonta Freeman's voice is usually quiet, subdued. But when he speaks, his teammates listen.

Freeman provided a voiceover for a video Florida State watched in advance of its showdown Saturday against No. 7 Miami. He told his teammates he loved them, that he’d fight for them, that he’d carry them.

The message resonated with quarterback Jameis Winston, who pulled Freeman aside before the game to exchange an emotional embrace.

“From then,” Winston said, “I knew he was ready.”

Winston struggled early, throwing two first-half interceptions, but just as he’d suspected, Freeman picked up the slack. Freeman, a Miami native, finished with 176 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, carrying the load in Florida State’s 41-14 win against the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman, Giorgio Newberry, Bryan Stork
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State running back Devonta Freeman (8) celebrates with tight end Giorgio Newberry (4) and offensive linesman Bryan Stork (52) after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
It’s the second win over a top-10 team in the past three weeks for No. 3 Florida State. The two victories have come by a combined score of 92-28, but they played out in far different fashion.

Against Clemson on Oct. 19, Winston was the star, throwing for 444 yards and accounting for four touchdowns. Against Miami, however, Winston stumbled early, misfiring on a handful of first-half throws, including two deep balls down the middle that the Hurricanes picked off, then turned into points.

“I was very high emotionally and sometimes you can’t let the emotions affect the way you play,” said Winston, who admitted he was eager to complete the deep ball rather than settling for shorter routes in the early going. “I was in the game emotionally and mentally, but the emotions took over the mental part of it.”

But if the emotions rattled Winston, they fueled Freeman.

The junior tailback grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, but he wasn’t heavily recruited by the Hurricanes until late in his senior season of high school. He never wavered in his commitment to Florida State, but he’s always held a grudge.

“Every time I get a chance,” Freeman said, “I want to destroy them.”

Freeman did plenty of damage Saturday.

His 5-yard touchdown run capped Florida State’s first drive. His 48-yard reception -- a dump-off pass followed by a long run -- provided the game’s biggest play, swinging momentum back in Florida State’s direction after Miami held tough early. But it was his powerful, punishing runs throughout the game that drained time off the clock and set the standard for how Florida State enforced its will against the overmatched Hurricanes.

“I wanted to let people know we’re hard-nosed,” Freeman said. “We’re coming.”

Freeman scored again late in the third quarter, effectively ending any comeback hopes for Miami. His 29 touches were a career high, and his punishing hits on Miami defenders provided a spark for his teammates.

"He's one of those guys, he's got the heart of a lion," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "We feed off him."

After each big run or physical hit, Freeman celebrated. He flashed the Miami “U” with his hands, signaled a “305” as a nod to Miami’s area code.

For Freeman, each play was personal, a message he wanted to send.

In three career games against the Hurricanes, Freeman has 343 total yards and five touchdowns.

“This game, I had more of a chip on my shoulder,” Freeman said. “Just to let everybody know, I’m from Miami -- including the kids in my neighborhood, to show them you don’t have to be in Miami to do something special. You can go anywhere and do something special and still rep your hometown. That’s kind of what it was.”

Freeman kept Florida State chugging along early, but Winston responded late.

At halftime, Winston promised his teammates he wouldn’t turn the ball over again. In the second half, he threw just two incompletions.

The turning point, however, may have been an on-field skirmish between FSU tackle Bobby Hart and Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter, Winston completed a pass to Kenny Shaw for 26 yards to the Miami 5. On the play, FSU tackle Cameron Erving blocked Chickillo to the ground. Hart then pounced on Chickillo, who ended up underneath the Florida State lineman. Chickillo grabbed Hart’s face mask without letting go, and as officials tossed flags, the two players argued. Eventually both teams were posturing on the field before coaches intervened.

Before Florida State lined up for its next play, Winston shouted at each of his teammates, pounding his fists in the air and slapping hands with his linemen.

“That’s me telling the guys, 'It’s on,'” Winston said. “We’re not taking no prisoners. We don’t care about those guys anymore. At first, we respected them because they’re a great team with great players. But after that skirmish, it was over. All that nice stuff, all the game day and that stuff of them being compared to us, it was over. We know we had one goal, and that was to beat them bad.”

Winston proved his point. What began as a close game ended as a 27-point victory. Miami’s only points came off turnovers, and Florida State dominated at virtually every level, nearly doubling the Hurricanes’ total yardage.

It was exactly what Freeman had predicted before the game. It was, Freeman said, a message delivered.

“I told them, [the Hurricanes] aren’t like us,” Freeman said. “We’re different. We grind different.”

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