FSU's easy wins limit Winston's workload

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There was little to dissect of another easy win for Florida State, so the topic at Jimbo Fisher's weekly news conference Monday quickly turned to his handling of a blowout.

With a big lead, a reporter suggested, there was little sense leaving quarterback Jameis Winston in for the fourth quarter.

"Or the third quarter," Fisher interjected.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesBecause FSU has been winning easily, Jameis Winston has spent a lot of time on the sidelines.
Indeed, Winston's recent outings have been brief, and in two of his last three games, he took a seat on the bench after just one drive in the third quarter. It's a light workload for the current Heisman frontrunner, and while the easy wins allow for some second-half relaxation, those margins present their own set of concerns.

Start with Winston's Heisman campaign. The postseason award fits firmly in the category of "clutter," and Fisher warns about such distractions daily. But it's also true that a Heisman Trophy brings a certain amount of prestige, and even the regimented coach understands it's a rare opportunity.

"It's clutter," Fisher said, "but it's good clutter."

Winston's numbers through nine games more than warrant his status as favorite for the honor, but his workload doesn't exactly provide opportunities to pad his stats. In Florida State's 59-3 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, Winston threw for a career-low 159 yards, and he didn't complete a pass for more than 18 yards.

"I think we got the ball two times in the second quarter, so you can't judge how we were playing," Winston said.

Therein lies the problem. For one 10-minute stretch of action, Florida State's offense ran just four plays, but thanks to a stellar defensive effort, the Seminoles added 28 points to the scoreboard.

It's the paradox of success for Winston: He's too good to be playing in the fourth quarter, which might hurt his chances of being rewarded for his success with a Heisman.

Winston's top competition for the Heisman is last year's winner, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. With one additional game under his belt, Manziel has accounted for nearly 4,000 yards of offense and 39 touchdowns -- both numbers far outpacing Winston's totals. But opportunity has played a big part of Manziel's resume, with the Texas A&M quarterback accounting for a far greater percentage of his team's plays in the second half this season than Winston has.

Winston's abridged appearances late in games haven't helped his stats, but Fisher said voters should understand the context.

"I think they see who's in control, and it's how you play when you play -- the quality of your play," Fisher said.

How Florida State has played with a big lead lately also is something of a concern. When Winston has settled into a rhythm, he has been excellent, but too often in recent weeks, consistency has been tough to find.

Winston helmed just five drives against Wake Forest that started on the Seminoles' half of the field. Those drives ended with two touchdowns, a punt, a fumble and an interception. After Winston's final throw -- a pick on a pass forced into tight coverage because the quarterback wanted his reserve tight end to get his first catch of the year -- Fisher was livid.

"We had some times we've got to be a little smarter," Fisher said after the game. "As soon as you start to press this game, it bites you. Whatever is there, read it take it. That's it."

Knowing his time on the field was limited, Winston tried to do too much. His receivers didn't help. There were three crucial drops, and Christian Green fumbled away what would have been a big catch. Focus was wavering, and that won't be tolerated.

"When [the defense] is getting turnovers and scoring touchdowns like that, sometimes it's hard," Winston said. "But I've got to do a better job of commanding the team and leading us down there on those drives."

Fisher breathed fire on the sideline and after the game, but really, it's hard to be too upset with a 56-point margin of victory.

"I acted like I was unhappy," Fisher said. "I want to keep them on edge."

That's the balance going forward. Florida State is a heavy favorite again this week, and that figures to continue through the end of the regular season. Winston's fourth-quarter work likely will remain limited, even with backup Jacob Coker now out with a knee injury. The offense will have to learn to adjust to a haphazard workload, and the Heisman voters might need to dig a little deeper to appreciate Winston's place in the box score.

That's all fine for now, Fisher said, just as long as his offense is prepared for a tight second half when it finally comes.

"There are some things we can improve on," Fisher said. "From a focus concentration point you've got to be able to do that. We're learning."

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