- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Jameis Winston show takes center stage at Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time today. Here's what we'll be watching for when Florida State opens its home slate against Nevada.
Winston's encore: The expectations for Florida State's redshirt freshman quarterback seemed overly high before he ever took the field, but that didn't matter much. He still torched Pittsburgh's defense to the tune of nearly 400 yards of offense and five touchdowns. The performance made Winston a star, not just in Tallahassee, but on a national stage. So how can he possibly follow up a game that bordered on perfection? For his part, Winston said he's put Pitt in his rearview mirror, but the already enormous expectations have only gotten bigger since his dominant debut.
Stopping the run: Nevada averaged 271 yards on the ground per game last season, good for seventh nationally. The Wolfpack are a run-first, run-often team, which might be a good matchup for a Florida State defensive front still trying to establish its identity. Against Pitt in the opener, FSU found defenders out of position early, and the result was a handful of big plays -- particularly off the edge. Add the mobility of Nevada QB Cody Fajardo and the task of slowing Nevada's ground game gets even tougher.
Tempo, tempo, tempo: Through the first two weeks of the season, only three teams have run more plays than Nevada, which has averaged a snap every 23 seconds of possession time. In the balmy heat in Tallahassee on Saturday, that figures to be a real test for FSU's defense. Substituting mid-series will be difficult, which makes getting off the field on third down a key for the Seminoles' D. Three-and-outs mean a breather on the sideline. Sustained drives mean defenders will be gasping for breath.
Wild and Free and Karlos: Before Winston stole the show against Pittsburgh, it was the Florida State running game that most fans figured would win the day. Instead, James Wilder Jr and Devonta Freeman had ho-hum performances in the win, with Wilder leaving early with a bum shoulder. Both players are poised to regroup against Nevada, but now it's the third member of the backfield -- newly converted safety Karlos Williams -- who offers the most intrigue. Williams was a five-star recruit who split time on both sides of the ball in high school, but he's been working with the tailbacks for just more than a week. Still, Jimbo Fisher said Williams will be a regular part of the rotation, and if FSU can open a big lead, he should see plenty of work in the second half against Nevada.
Easy win or close game: Florida State is a 35-point favorite, but the Seminoles certainly aren't expecting Nevada to make life easy. Fisher pointed out that the Wolfpack played No. 16 UCLA close through the first half of their season opener before the Bruins pulled away late, and he called Fajardo one of the better QBs FSU will face all year. A close game might certainly temper some of the early enthusiasm of FSU fans, while a blowout would provide some valuable snaps for FSU's younger players.
9hDavid M. Hale
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