Thursday, October 10, 2013
Winston's escape acts leave Noles in awe
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Cameron Erving was entrenched in the chaos, and even he isn't sure what happened.
He knows his man came wide on a bull rush. He remembers the Maryland defender going airborne, leaping over Erving's outstretched arms and onto Jameis Winston. He remembers his quarterback tucking the football, ready to run for whatever yards he could muster. He remembers seeing the ball in the air, and suddenly the crowd erupting as Nick O'Leary clutched Winston's fourth touchdown throw of the game.
On the sideline afterward, Erving sauntered up behind his quarterback and, shaking his head in amazement, asked what had just happened.
"He couldn't even answer," Erving said.
FSU QB Jameis Winston just has a skill for getting out of harm's way to make a big play.
Through five games, the scenario has become routine, and yet it remains no less astonishing.
Against Bethune-Cookman, there was the scramble away from a trio of defenders in which Winston zipped a touchdown throw to Kelvin Benjamin. Against Boston College, Winston shimmied out of trouble, rolled to his right and unleashed a 55-yard bomb to Kenny Shaw for a score as time expired in the first half. Then there was the miracle touchdown against Maryland last week, when Winston disappeared under one Terrapin, darted past a few more, then delivered the inexplicable touchdown to O'Leary.
It's something more than just athleticism or arm strength or an acute awareness of his surroundings in the pocket. It's the Jameis Winston magic.
"I can't say it enough," Erving said. "It amazes me some of the things he does."
While fans have drooled over each new Winston highlight this season, his teammates have largely shrugged off the bulk of his work as commonplace. They'd seen so much of it in practice for months that they'd come to expect it. But the Houdini-like escape acts -- that's something new.
In practice, Winston's green, non-contact jersey is like Clark Kent's glasses and tie. It's only once he slips out of the buttoned-up wardrobe that his super powers are on display.
"You don't see those plays when he breaks tackles and scrambles in practice, so when you see it in a game, it's great feeling," receiver Rashad Greene said. "He has the ability to keep his eyes upfield while he's scrambling and just give us a chance to make plays."
It's actually something Florida State practices routinely. Plays break down, receivers work their scramble drills, and Winston eludes trouble and tosses a spiral downfield. He'd show off a few moves even then, but nothing quite as impressive as his game-day theatrics.
"He'll always be shaking," Benjamin said, "but it'll be ugly shakes."
What Winston has done on Saturdays, however, has been downright gorgeous.
The conventional wisdom says defenses should pressure a young quarterback, forcing him into mistakes. Winston thrives on that mind-set.
Just two of his eight sacks this season have come against the blitz, but seven of his 17 touchdown passes were thrown when the opposition rushed at least one extra defender.
Inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Winston is deadly, completing 73 percent of his passes with 13 TDs. But when forced to scramble, he's been even better. Again, he connects on 73 percent of his throws, but his yards per attempt jumps from 11 to 17 and he's thrown four touchdown passes without an interception.
Part of the magic belongs to Winston, of course. But FSU defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said he's amazed that defenders keep underestimating just how strong the Seminoles' quarterback is -- aiming high on tackles rather than trying to bring him down by his legs.
The results thus far have been backbreaking for Florida State's opposition, and Winston loves every second of it.
"We love killing the momentum of a defense," he said. "We want to make them quit. If we can make a defense quit, we've done our job."
The irony of Winston's ever-expanding highlight reel, however, is that his first thought after each dazzling play is whether he'll get a lecture from his coach.
If a play breaks down, Winston said, there's a good chance it's because he should've gotten rid of the football sooner. So when he watches the tape of any of his throws from outside the pocket, he's careful to decipher whether Jimbo Fisher will have an obvious critique.
"One thing in the film room, Coach Fisher doesn't care about those fantastic plays," Winston said. "He's going to tell me what I did wrong, how I did it wrong, and tell me what I should've done."
After Saturday's touchdown throw to O'Leary, however, even Fisher couldn't find fault. It was a play that underscored everything Winston does well, and the end result was six points and a begrudging smile from the head coach.
"It was a tremendous play," Fisher said. "It really was."
Winston's artistry under duress may be a necessity in next week's showdown against No. 3 Clemson. The Tigers lead the nation with 19 sacks, including eight by defensive end Vic Beasley.
Still, Erving downplayed Florida State's concerns. Yes, Clemson's pass rush is good, but the Seminoles have their own secret weapon.
"When the bullets are flying, we really harp on that," Winston said. "When I'm getting pressure, somebody's going to be one-on-one, and with the guys we have, a big play is about to happen."