Noles roll again amid Winston scrutiny
November, 24, 2013
By David M. Hale | ESPN.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The stands were sparsely populated by the end, a small contingent convinced either by obligation or morbid curiosity to wait out the inevitable.
When Florida State scored its ninth touchdown of the day, Kenny Shaw wondered if it was time to call off the dogs. After the 11th, he wondered if the Seminoles might make a push to score 100.
After it was over, Jimbo Fisher was asked if he'd ever been on a team that scored 80, as Florida State did in an 80-14 win over Idaho on Saturday. Actually, Fisher said, he once quarterbacked a team that scored 82.
"I guess we've got to step our game up a little," FSU QB Jameis Winston responded.
Eighty points and more work to do. That's the elite strata where Florida State resides on the field these days, and Saturday was a crown jewel in a dominant season.
Shaw, Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams all topped 100 yards. The defense picked off four passes and scored twice. As he has in four of the past five games, Winston made just a cameo in the second half, and yet he still threw for four touchdowns, pushing his season total to 32 -- one shy of Chris Weinke's school record.
After Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel struggled in a loss to LSU, Winston's strong outing (14-of-25 for 225 yards and four touchdowns) should've secured him a massive lead in the Heisman race with just two games remaining, too, but that's where life for Florida State stops being so easy. There is a whole set of messy questions still lingering away from the game itself that complicate everything about what's to come.
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDespite the storm brewing off the field, Jameis Winston remained as focused as ever on it.
The investigation into sexual-assault claims leveled against Winston will bleed into a third week, state attorney Willie Meggs told the Associated Press on Saturday, saying he likely wouldn't make a decision on whether the Florida State quarterback would be charged with a crime until after Thanksgiving. But as Meggs bides his time, the rest of Tallahassee buzzes with questions and rumors and innuendo.
Before the game, fans debated the next step in this legal drama as they guzzled beers and grilled burgers. When Winston took the field for Florida State's first offensive series, he earned a massive ovation from the crowd, though Fisher chalked it up as a routine greeting for the Heisman candidate. After it was over, only a small contingent of Florida State's roster was available to media -- a measure instituted by the school to avoid any quotes that might be misconstrued by a horde of reporters parsing every last word. And, as has been the case before each of Winston's public comments since the news of the investigation first broke, FSU staff offered a concise reminder that he would talk only about football, even if the football was a complete afterthought in the wake of yet another blowout win.
On the field, there's little left to discuss. Florida State is as good as any team in the country.
Off the field, the illicit details of an alleged 11-month-old encounter have led to an enigmatic legal battle that is the talk of college football.
"The football field is a sanctuary to me," Winston said. "And it's like that for all my teammates. I can feel it. On that field, everything is zoned out, clear the mechanism, we focus and we're out there to get a victory."
The victory came easily, as so many have this year. Florida State has won each of its games by at least two touchdowns, scored 40 points or more in all 11 contests and outscored its three nonconference opponents by a combined 196-27.
Saturday's game was more about a celebration of the senior class, which took the field in front of the home crowd for the final time. It also was another referendum on Winston's focus, and he continues to show nothing of any private worries during his public appearances.
In that context, the 80-point afternoon was an appropriate conclusion to Florida State's home slate. This was a senior class that arrived amid turbulence, as legendary coach Bobby Bowden was pushed out the door following the 2009 season and Fisher took the reins. It's a group that signed on with Fisher amid one storm, then weathered numerous others along the way.
"We've been through this years in and years out," Shaw said. "You're going to go through what championship teams go through. We're trying to stay upbeat, continue on the same schedule, play like everything's normal."
Things aren't normal, but those distractions haven't altered Florida State's march toward the BCS championship game.
When it was over, Shaw was asked when he might stop to reflect on his four years at Florida State. On a day when so much debate raged among those away from the field, Shaw offered a far more succinct approach.
"Probably after Pasadena," he said.