Florida State Seminoles: Cameron Erving
In all, the Seminoles had 17 players chosen to the first, second and third teams as voted on by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association and announced Monday. Eleven players were selected from Coastal Division champion Duke, including four on the first team.
Boston College back Andre Williams, who leads the nation and set an ACC single-season record with 2,102 yards rushing, was the only unanimous selection to the All-ACC team. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins received 63 votes, while Winston received 61. Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who leads the ACC in receptions with 88 and has returned two punts for touchdowns this season, was the only player selected at multiple positions. Crowder was voted to the first team at receiver made the second team as a specialist.
QB – Jameis Winston, Florida State
RB – Andre Williams, Boston College
RB – Devonta Freeman, Florida State
WR – Sammy Watkins, Clemson
WR - Jamison Crowder, Duke
WR – Rashad Greene, Florida State
TE - Eric Ebron, North Carolina
T- Cameron Erving, Florida State
T- James Hurst, North Carolina
G- Tre’ Jackson, Florida State
G-Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech
C- Bryan Stork, Florida State
DE - Vic Beasley, Clemson
DE - Kareem Martin, North Carolina
DT - Aaron Donald, Pitt
DT – Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
LB - Kelby Brown, Duke
LB – Denzel Perryman, Miami
LB – Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College
CB – Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
CB – Ross Cockrell, Duke
S – Anthony Harris, Virginia
S – Jeremy Cash, Duke
PK - Nate Freese, Boston College
P - Pat O’Donnell, Miami
SP - Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
From the release:
The Jacobs Blocking Trophy has been awarded annually since 1953 to the player voted the most outstanding blocker in the ACC by a poll of the league’s head coaches and defensive coordinators. The trophy is given in memory of William P. Jacobs, who served as president of Presbyterian College from 1935 to 1945. The trophy will be presented at the ACC’s Night of Legends event, which will be held this Friday (6 p.m.) at the Charlotte Convention Center as part of festivities held around the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game.
Erving, a 6-6, 320-pound redshirt junior from Moultrie, Ga., earned the honor in only his second season playing on the offensive line. Erving was on the defensive line in 2011 before switching to the offensive side of the ball last season. Erving amassed 16 total points in the coaches’ voting, edging out teammate Bryan Stork (13), Virginia’s Morgan Moses (10) and North Carolina’s James Hurst (8) to capture the 60th ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy. No trophy was given in 1996. In all, 14 different ACC offensive linemen received votes in the balloting.
“I’m very happy for Cam,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’s really developed into a fine offensive lineman. He’s put in a lot of hard work and is a true team player. He has a bright future playing there, and I’m very proud of him for what he’s contributed to our success.”
It was a good speech, Telvin Smith admits, but it wasn’t the only one delivered before that game. Lots of players stood up, said their peace. It’s just that Winston’s the star, so the media gave him all the love.
Winston's star power has driven the FSU storyline. He’s a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, and his gregarious personality has endeared him to fans and media alike. The past few weeks, however, the narrative has begun to change just a bit.
While Florida State cruised to another dominant win last week at Wake Forest, Winston and the rest of the offense spent the bulk of the game standing on the sideline, huddling for warmth rather than scripting the next play.
“It was cold,” tackle Cameron Erving said. “It got cold. We started sweating then just sat on the sideline.”
The game belonged to Florida State’s defense, which has quietly become one of the most dominant units in college football.
Down two senior safeties, FSU still racked up seven turnovers, held Wake to just a field goal, and, in what was perhaps the most impressive feat of the day, completely overshadowed Winston.
In the locker room, the balance of power never tilted too far toward Winston, a fact he has always been quick to point out to anyone pressing him for details on his own performance. On the practice field during the week, Florida State’s defense has provided the star QB with his biggest tests, and Smith’s crew has won more than its share of those battles.
But when the season began, Winston proved a quick study, lighting up Pitt in his debut performance and riding a wave of popularity from there. The defense, on the other hand, took a little longer to coalesce.
“It took us a little bit before we understood how the defense was supposed to operate,” defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said.
When former coordinator Mark Stoops left at the end of last season -- followed by seven defensive starters in the NFL draft -- Florida State began a rebuilding job. Jeremy Pruitt was brought in to revamp the scheme, installing a defense that more closely resembled the one he helped run at Alabama.
The scheme required a group effort, though, and not everyone was on the same page.
“Early in the year, we played a little selfish,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We were trying to force the game, trying to make a play and there’d be a gap there.”
That started to change after Boston College piled up 200 yards and 34 points, a tally that still represents nearly half the points FSU's first-team defense has allowed all season.
In fairness, it wasn’t a good measure of how far the Seminoles had come. This was still the infancy stages of Pruitt’s new defense. Edwards was out for that game after surgery on his hand. Christian Jones was still working as a hybrid linebacker/pass rusher, his role still vague. Terrance Smith was in a supporting role, Jalen Ramsey was in his first game as a starting safety and the defensive line was rotating routinely.
The product looked shaky, but it also helped to uncover what needed to be fixed.
“We watched film and it just started clicking,” Edwards said. “It’s one of those things where you had to be a visual learner, see what your mistake was.”
Almost overnight, things began to change. Edwards got healthy, and he has been exceptional. Jones moved to defensive end permanently, and his athleticism has helped seal the edge of the line. Terrance Smith became a fixture at linebacker, and he’s now Florida State’s third-leading tackler. Ramsey and fellow freshman Nate Andrews have acquitted themselves nicely in the secondary.
The early season was trial-and-error. The past five games have been pure success.
“They just got the puzzle, and they put all the pieces together," Telvin Smith said. "Now we’re making the perfect picture out there.”
The numbers are eye-popping. In five games since Boston College, Florida State’s first-team defense has surrendered just 21 points. It has also scored 21 points on two interception returns and a fumble recovery. It’s allowing nearly a yard less per carry and has racked up a whopping 17 takeaways in its last five games.
Against Wake Forest on Saturday, that meant Winston barely saw the field for three quarters of the game -- first because of a plethora of defensive touchdowns and short fields, later because Florida State was well on its way to another blowout win.
And after it was over, the tables had turned, with Winston quizzed on how well his defense had played.
“From the beginning of the season I’ve said we were the silent killers,” Smith said. “We can give them all the credit. That’s them. They’re going to make big plays, score the touchdowns, bring the fans. But hey, we’re making noise even though we’re being quiet out there.”
But no matter how often the claims of tunnel vision are repeated, the college football slate this week shapes up perfectly to pique the Seminoles’ curiosity, and with No. 3 Oregon playing tonight and No. 1 Alabama playing long after FSU wraps up its own game Saturday, many Florida State players admit they’re eager to get a look at the other teams vying for supremacy in the BCS rankings.
Oregon and Florida State have flip-flopped in each of the past two releases of the BCS standings, while Alabama has been a steady No. 1 all season. Both the Ducks and the Crimson Tide get top-15 opponents this week -- No. 5 Stanford for Oregon and No. 13 LSU for Alabama -- and with undefeated No. 6 Baylor also playing No. 10 Oklahoma on Thursday, the chaotic BCS picture figures to be cleared up a bit by the time the next set of BCS standings arrives.
At least, that’s the hope for Florida State, which likely needs either Oregon or Alabama to lose at least one game to get a shot to make the BCS National Championship Game. And yet, for all their interest in getting an up-close look at their competition in the polls, the Seminoles insist they’re not playing favorites.
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said he’ll likely tune in to see Oregon and Stanford play tonight, but won’t be celebrating in his room if the Ducks get upended. It was a sentiment echoed by most of his teammates.
“I try to not get caught up in ‘I’m a Stanford fan this week, I’m an LSU fan this week,’” tackle Cameron Erving said. “We have to worry about Florida State.”
That was the company line throughout the roster, but if players wouldn’t confess to a rooting interest, they admitted there would at least be a little early scouting going on in case they end up seeing Alabama or Oregon during bowl season.
“It’s football, and I’m a natural competitor,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “When I see somebody doing great on the opposite team, I say, ‘Yeah, I’d cover them, I’d shut them down.’ But we’re just trying to take it one game at a time and stay focused. That’s our biggest thing. And the less we try to look outside this team, the further we’re going to go.”
But even Jimbo Fisher said it’s tough to completely block out those other big games, especially when the kickoff times fit so perfectly around Florida State’s own schedule.
Fisher, who has a vote in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, said he’s tried to make a point of seeing each of the top teams, and when he does watch, it’s tough to view the games as a fan.
“You do that as a coach watching a high school game. You say, how would I stop that or how would I go against that. That’s the way a coach looks at every game. Unfortunately, we can’t ever enjoy them.”
For the most part, though, Florida State’s players say that the enjoyment of watching a big game is the biggest reason they want to tune in.
“I’m going to watch because it should be a good game,” Winston said.
And whether Oregon and Alabama stay undefeated or the door opens for Florida State to secure one of the top two spots in the standings, Fisher keeps telling his team not to worry about how the story ends just yet. FSU still has four games and, likely, an ACC championship to win first, and he’s confident that the rest of the puzzle will work itself out.
For now, at least, the Seminoles agree. And after this weekend, the whole discussion could be moot anyway.
“We can have a perfect season and not go to a national championship, but that’s not our decision,” Erving said. “We have to leave that up to everybody else, but know that we’ve played a good season if we come out 12-0, 13-0. You can be upset, but at the same time, you have to deal with it.”
Still, when Monday’s practice wrapped up -- a tough, physical day of drills when nearly everyone looked sharp -- Smith couldn’t help but be encouraged. After three weeks of emotional games for Florida State, there was every reason to wonder if the wind might have left the Seminoles’ sails. Monday’s practice provided a resounding answer.
“It’s definitely easier to stay focused when you’re having the success we’re having,” Smith said. “But how long can we do it? That’s the biggest thing.”
Wake Forest is 4-5, coming off a shutout loss to Syracuse and down its best player, receiver Michael Campanaro, who suffered a broken collarbone in last week’s game. After that, Florida State gets a mediocre Syracuse team and lackluster Idaho before finishing the regular season against struggling Florida. It’s hardly a schedule that inspires much enthusiasm following two top-10 matchups in the past three weeks.
So the mantra this week at Florida State is all about maintaining the status quo.
“Just staying calm, even-keeled,” center Bryan Stork said. “You don’t have to be so high, be so low. You just have to find the in-between, no matter what happens. It gets easier as it goes on.”
The routine gets more familiar, certainly, but the external distractions -- the clutter, as coach Jimbo Fisher likes to call it -- only increase with each impressive win.
In years past, that would’ve been a concern. It was just two years ago that Florida State traveled to Wake Forest, still carrying the baggage of losses to Oklahoma and Clemson, and played one of its worst games of Fisher’s tenure.
But this team is different, the Seminoles insist. There’s a focus on the short-term as a building block to the big-picture goals.
“We don’t look at the week any differently because we’re here to play football, here to win games, here to do what we plan to do,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “Our weekly plan is to be the same every week and get better. It’s not lowering down our intensity. We don’t do that for anybody.”
It’s the attitude Fisher has hoped for from this team, but this week’s trip to Wake Forest remains the first real test of those convictions. The BCS standings, the Heisman Trophy, an undefeated season and immense hype -- those distractions loom ever larger, and Wake Forest looks increasingly like an easy win.
But if the Seminoles are really as good as the pundits believe, tackle Cameron Erving said, then Wake Forest is actually a season-defining opponent.
“In games like this, this is what really measures what you are as a team,” Erving said. “You have to be mature, you have to know how to handle situations and just be able to focus, and be able to put the same amount of preparation you did for the other games. You respect every opponent, because I’ve seen in my years here, us be better than teams and still lose. That’s not really the thought process, you can’t look over any team.”
1. QB Jameis Winston (Previous rank: No. 1): If the worst game of Winston’s career is a 27-point win in which he throws for 325 yards, Florida State fans won’t be too concerned.
3. RB Devonta Freeman (6): Yes, Freeman racked up an impressive 176 yards of offense and three TDs, but here’s another area his impact was felt: Winston was 10-of-11 for 183 yards on play-action against Miami.
4. WR Rashad Greene (3): One of just six ACC receivers averaging more than 90 receiving yards per game this year.
5. LB Telvin Smith (4): Four tackles, including one for a loss, in the win over Miami.
6. DT Timmy Jerngian (5): Four tackles and he sat on a guy vs. the Hurricanes. Jernigan has been an absolute beast in the middle all season for Florida State.
7. S Terrence Brooks (7): He left early with concussion symptoms, but coach Jimbo Fisher said Brooks appeared fine in the locker room after the game. He made his impact early anyway, finishing with six tackles, including a big sack, in the early going.
8. LT Cameron Erving (9): Thoroughly dominated Anthony Chickillo throughout and helped open running lanes against a stout front seven for Miami.
9. DE Christian Jones (7): Continues to look like a strong addition in his new role coming off the edge.
10. DE Mario Edwards Jr. (NR): The biggest difference for FSU’s defensive line the past few weeks has been a healthy Edwards, who finished Saturday with four tackles, including two for a loss.
Honorable mentions: TE Nick O’Leary, WR Kenny Shaw, WR Kelvin Benjamin, LB Terrance Smith, DT Eddie Goldman
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.
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.”
1. QB Jameis Winston (1): The back-and-forth scoring decision on a throw to Kelvin Benjamin was finally ruled an interception. That kept Winston from topping three touchdowns and 300 yards for his fifth straight game against an ACC foe. He finished with 292.
2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Four tackles, a TFL, a pass breakup and a QB hurry. Not bad for 30 minutes of work.
3. WR Rashad Greene (4): Greene has now scored in six of seven games this year and 10 of Florida State’s last 13 overall.
4. LB Telvin Smith (3): Six tackles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a QB hurry. Also not bad for 30 minutes of work.
5. DT Timmy Jernigan (5): Three tackles, including one for a loss against NC State. Jernigan continues to eat up interior linemen, opening things up for FSU’s linebackers.
6. RB Devonta Freeman (6): 12 carries, 92 yards and two touchdowns, and Freeman is well on his way to snapping that ridiculous 17-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher.
7. S Terrence Brooks (NR): Brooks is quietly becoming one of FSU’s premier defenders. He racked up the defensive hat trick Saturday, picking off a pass, forcing a fumble and recording a TFL.
8. LB Christian Jones (7): His new role rushing off the edge has made all the difference. Jones had four tackles, a sack and a QB hurry against NC State. He has 3.5 TFLs in the last two games after just one in his first four games.
9. LT Cameron Erving (8): Easy day for Winston means a big day for the O line, and Erving was exceptional once again.
10. WR Kenny Shaw (9): Shaw had just three catches for 44 yards against NC State, both season lows, but he’s still on pace to top 1,000 yards for the year.
Honorable mentions: TE Nick O’Leary, WR Kelvin Benjamin, DT Eddie Goldman, RB Karlos Williams, CB Ronald Darby
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With just a few seconds left in the third quarter, Jameis Winston emerged from the scrum huddled around Florida State’s bench, popped on his helmet and started tossing a football back and forth to get his arm loose.
Winston played just five snaps in the second half, but as Florida State watched NC State slowly chip away at a likely insurmountable lead, he wanted desperately to deliver a final blow.
For Florida State, Saturday’s game was personal. It was billed as a classic trap game, sandwiched between an emotional victory over Clemson and next week’s top-10 showdown against rival Miami, but the players didn’t see it that way.
A year ago, it was NC State that provided the painful asterisk to FSU’s ACC championship season. A 16-0 halftime lead disappeared, a second-half swoon enveloped the Seminoles, and NC State celebrated a 17-16 win. The lingering memories fueled a week of practice this time around, and Florida State’s players weren’t thrilled to watch another slow, second-half regression, regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard.
“On the sideline, you’d see some people like, ‘Why did they put [the backups] in so early?’” tackle Cameron Erving said.
The obvious answer was the score. Florida State matched a school record with 35 first-quarter points, utterly overwhelming the Wolfpack from the start. For the second straight game, the Seminoles forced an early turnover to set up a touchdown and never looked back. When the opening quarter ended, FSU had three more points than NC State had yards.
By halftime, Jimbo Fisher had seen enough of his starters. The offense played one series in the third quarter, which ended with an interception. The defense didn’t play at all after the break.
NC State didn’t follow suit.
The Wolfpack left their starters on the field, chipped away with 10 points in the third quarter, and Fisher got nervous. He told Winston to warm up, instructed his defense to get loose.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Fisher said. “I wasn’t going to be that guy on SportsCenter.”
The starters never took the field again, but NC State's second-half success soured the celebration a bit.
It was an odd dynamic after the game. Fisher split time praising the hot start and critiquing the slow finish. Winston summed up his performance as “OK” but said he allowed the early success to sway his focus. The starting defense didn’t allow a point, and yet they weren’t satisfied.
“We hated seeing them run the ball,” safety Terrence Brooks said. “It was definitely personal.”
It was also potentially significant for Florida State’s national championship hopes. With a handful of undefeated teams jockeying for position in the BCS standings, style points loom large. In the initial BCS rankings, Florida State held a minuscule .0028-point lead over Oregon for the No. 2 spot.
That’s something Fisher said he considered, but it’s also a game he doesn’t want to play.
“I’m not going to go out there and embarrass this game and the integrity of how you’ve got to play,” Fisher said. “If that’s the way they’re going to do it, they need to re-evaluate. If they can’t tell we dominated that game early and put it away -- I just think that’s bad for college football, in my opinion.”
Fisher’s decision may work out for the best.
It was the somber second half in last year’s loss that drove Florida State this year, but just 13 minutes into this year’s game, it was clear vengeance had been delivered. And then Florida State took its foot off the gas, slinked into the half and emerged from the locker room with the reserves leading the charge. All that emotion had disappeared.
How the NC State game ended, Winston said, is worth remembering again this year.
“We started so fast and were doing so well, and we’ve got to finish that, keep pouring it on,” Winston said. “We got took out early in the third quarter, and we left with that taste in our mouth. We’re going to have a rough [week of] practice.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There were plenty of leaders who spoke up in the locker room before Florida State's resounding 51-14 win over Clemson on Saturday, but it was, unsurprisingly, Jameis Winston whom the cameras captured for posterity.
At this point, the Seminoles have come to expect Winston to hog a bit of the spotlight.
"They happened to show Jameis, but we love it," linebacker Telvin Smith said. "Put the camera on him and keep it going. If he can embrace it, we can, too."
It's a sign of the stature Winston has achieved inside Florida State's locker room. Six games ago, he was a redshirt freshman. Now, he's a savvy veteran who can command a locker room and gobble up the national spotlight without teammates batting an eye.
But Winston hasn't grabbed the leadership mantle by making pregame speeches. He's done it by proving he's a veteran on the field.
In the two weeks leading up to Saturday's showdown in Death Valley, Winston heard his share of talk about Clemson's vaunted defensive front. The Tigers led the nation in sacks per game, and Vic Beasley was going to be tough to block.
As usual, Winston wasn't worried.
"Everyone was saying how they lead the nation in sacks, but I always feel like if someone sacks me, it's my fault," Winston said. "My offensive line is tremendous."
That was Winston's message to his troops before the game, when the lone talking point was simple: Do your jobs, Winston told his linemen, and Clemson won't have a chance.
Sure enough, the Tigers brought the pressure, and Winston made them pay. For the game, he finished with 293 yards against the blitz, the most by any quarterback in the past three years, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Florida State responded again and again to Clemson's aggressive style by holding blocks just long enough for Winston to get off a quick pass to an open receiver, who then tacked on more yards after the catch.
The formula simply asked the line to block and the receivers to be in the right spot, and Winston took care of the rest.
"He's just a really smart guy," said left tackle Cameron Erving, who helped hold Beasley to just two tackles -- and no sacks -- in Saturday's win. "He's a film junky, a football junky. He knows what he's doing. He knows what's coming before they do it. He reads defenses as well as the veterans."
It has been Winston's calling card thus far, Jimbo Fisher said. When the defense makes its move, it can be a disaster or a celebration. Winston has routinely enjoyed the latter.
On the practice field and even in the huddle, Winston will goof around with teammates and crack jokes. But when he steps to the line and surveys a defense, he does it with such unique precision that even his veteran teammates are in awe.
"You know what's crazy? He knows football like a veteran. Sometimes he sees things I don't," fifth-year senior Bryan Stork said. "He's reading coverages, knows what's coming from the blitz, and I'm like, 'OK.' "
Even amid the deafening roar of the Clemson crowd, Winston was in complete control. He'd read the defense, communicate to his line, make sure his receivers knew the call, and almost without exception, the whole plan came together seamlessly.
For the season, Winston is completing 71 percent of his throws against the blitz, including nine touchdowns and just three sacks. In each of his last two games, he has completed eight first-down throws in the face of a blitz.
Put Winston in a position of pressure, and he thrives. On third downs this season, when the offense needs at least 10 yards to convert, Winston is a perfect 10-of-10 throwing. Nine of those throws have gone for first downs. No other quarterback in the country is converting more than half his throws in those situations.
"His ability to process information is tremendous, and it allows us to get the ball out," Fisher said.
The numbers are astonishing, but Florida State's players aren't amazed. It's Winston doing his job, Erving said, and the rest of the team has followed suit.
"It shows his maturity," Smith said. "He just has total confidence in his line and himself, and he produces."
After Saturday, Winston's ability and maturity are no longer a question. He has proven he can handle the biggest stage.
Instead, a new challenge arises. Florida State is in position to make a run at a national title. Winston is a household name and a top contender for the Heisman. Through six games, he has been a master at turning chaos into precision, potential disaster into the sublime. Now that everything is going Florida State's way, he'll need to manage success just as flawlessly.
From what he has seen so far, Fisher isn't worried.
"He keeps a great head on his shoulders, keeps learning," Fisher said, "and he prioritizes extremely well."
Florida State is 6-0 and has played as well as any team in the country.
1. QB Jameis Winston (1): We're running out of adjectives to describe how great he's been, but here's a stat that helps: Winston has accounted for 23 touchdowns in six games so far. E.J. Manuel, the first QB taken in this past April's NFL draft, recorded his 23rd touchdown for FSU last season ... in Game No. 12.
2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (5): It's fair to say the new defensive scheme agrees with Joyner. He recorded eight tackles, a sack and forced three take-aways, including a tempo-setter on Clemson's first offensive play. He's on pace for 77 tackles and seven sacks this season.
3. LB Telvin Smith (6): It's possible there were three or four guys wearing No. 22 jerseys on the field Saturday. That's about the only way to explain how Smith managed to be in on virtually every play. He finished with 11 tackles, including one for a loss.
4. WR Rashad Greene (4): In three career games vs. Clemson, Greene has 20 catches, 280 yards and four touchdowns.
5. DT Timmy Jernigan (3): His sack Saturday was his lone tackle, but Jernigan flat out ate up Clemson's interior line, opening up room for Smith and the other linebackers to have a field day.
6. RB Devonta Freeman (2): Quiet day for the FSU running game, as Freeman finished with 84 yards on 21 carries. The bulk of his production came on a handful of long runs, but there was little room the bulk of the time. That's a slight concern for FSU, which is averaging just 4.1 ypc against ACC teams. Take away Freeman's 17-yarder and Winston's 18-yarder Saturday, and the Noles managed just 3.3 ypc (not counting sacks).
7. LB Christian Jones (NR): This was the breakthrough game Jones was looking for in FSU's new defensive scheme. The 3-5-3 FSU ran much of Saturday is perfectly suited to his skill set, and Jones responded with eight tackles, including two for a loss and one QB hurry.
9. WR Kenny Shaw (7): He was overshadowed by his fellow receivers Saturday, but Shaw's body of work this season is still exceptional.
10. TE Nick O'Leary (NR): Five catches, 161 yards. That's not a line you'll see from tight ends at FSU often. It included a 94-yard reception and one of the biggest hits an FSU offensive player has delivered in a long time.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The last Florida State quarterback to win a game at Clemson was a freshman.
It happened in 2001, and Chris Rix didn't realize he was supposed to be intimidated. He was from California, and the chaos of Death Valley was completely foreign to him. Ignorance, it turned out, was a luxury.
When Rix returned two seasons later, the noise and the energy and the crowd made for an overwhelming obstacle. James Robert Kennedy, the inspiration for the movie "Radio," led the Tigers down the hill and onto the field. The game hadn't begun, and Rix knew Florida State was in trouble.
The No. 3-ranked Seminoles, fresh off a 37-0 thumping of Notre Dame, were stunned by Clemson, beginning a run of five straight losses in Death Valley -- a streak that looms over them in Saturday's matchup like a black cloud.
In four of the five losses during this streak, Florida State was the higher-ranked team when it arrived in Clemson. The players have changed -- from the veteran Rix in 2003 to Clint Trickett making his first start in relief of an injured EJ Manuel in 2011 -- and the results have been the same. There have been close losses (a 35-30 final in 2011) and ugly ones (35-14 in 2005, part of a three-game overall losing streak to end the regular season).
For all of its success under coach Jimbo Fisher, all of the rebuilding the program has done in the past four seasons, this remains a towering obstacle, and the Seminoles are making it a point of emphasis this week.
"Twelve years? That's crazy," senior linebacker Telvin Smith said. "I know I haven't won there, and that's a goal of mine. That's what this team is about -- overcoming obstacles and being defiant."
And yet, Death Valley has a history of swallowing up the defiant and overwhelming the unprepared.
Few ACC venues provide the same unwaveringly intimidating atmosphere, from the crazed crowd to the deafening noise to the frenetic entrance Clemson's players make, charging down the hill and onto the field, ready for battle.
"It's a crazy atmosphere, especially at the beginning of the game," Smith said. "If you're not a strong-minded person, you can definitely get intimidated in there."
Fisher said the atmosphere at Clemson compares favorably to the most intense SEC stadiums, and he said he'll wear two sets of headphones just to tune out the crowd noise and ignore the claustrophobic confines. James Wilder Jr. said tailbacks can't hear a quarterback standing just a few feet away. Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden said Clemson and LSU were easily the loudest stadiums in which he ever coached. It's an environment tailback Karlos Williams said can't be replicated in practice, though he said Fisher tries to rattle his players by pumping in "terrible" music over loudspeakers during the week.
Still, as Fisher said, it's not the atmosphere that has stymied Florida State for the past 12 years -- it's the players on the field.
"Does the atmosphere make the players, or do the players make the stadium?" Fisher said. "First off, they have good players. Secondly, they're coached extremely well. And then third, to have a great environment of 80,000 folks that love football and are very passionate, I think all three of those things make it very tough to win in Death Valley."
When Florida State takes the field this season, again there will be a freshman at quarterback, and Jameis Winston insists he's not the type to be overwhelmed by his surroundings. Instead, he said, he's eager for the opportunity.
Many of Winston's teammates know exactly what to expect, however, and the memories of that 2011 loss remain fresh in their minds.
"We left with a nasty taste in our mouths last time," left tackle Cameron Erving said. "We were there, knowing we should've won that game. We're going up there now, knowing it's going to be a loud, hostile environment. It's setting up for a great game."
Looking back on that win in 2001, Rix said his naiveté was a weapon on the field but admitted he never would have imagined that 12 years later, Florida State would still be looking for its next win in Death Valley.
When Clemson and Florida State take the field Saturday, however, the magnitude of the game and the environment won't be lost on anyone. With 12 years of frustration behind them, and a national championship potentially on the horizon, the Seminoles know what's at stake.
"I'm ready," safety Terrence Brooks said. "They know the expectations for this game. It's going to be a good one, and I can't wait."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was perhaps the signature play of running back James Wilder Jr.'s career, and he's gotten to watch it over and over this week.
Florida State clung to a four-point lead as the fourth quarter began in last season's game against Clemson, and Wilder had carried the ball just twice. His third run, however, changed the entire dynamic of the game.
In the week leading up to this season's game, friends and fans have reminded Wilder of that run repeatedly, sending pictures and videos to his phone along with a message.
"'Do this again,'" Wilder said. "Everybody tells me every day, 'Stiff-arm them like last year.'"
As Florida State preps for this week's top-five showdown against Clemson, Wilder is finally feeling like that might be a possibility. Through the first five games of the season, his longest run is 24 yards -- 11 shy of his highlight against the Tigers in 2012 -- and he has been hampered by a sore shoulder since the opener.
But after a lighter workload early in the season and an off week to heal up, Wilder said he's finally feeling ready to run with that same bruising power he displayed last season.
"My shoulder is OK, full and back again," he said. "I feel more comfortable running the ball, not holding my arm up or nothing like that, using it like I’m supposed to. No hesitation."
That's good news for a Florida State running game that has flashed plenty of potential in the early part of the season but still hasn't clicked on all cylinders.
Against two overmatched nonconference opponents, FSU averaged a stellar 8.4 yards per carry, scoring 10 times on the ground. But in its three ACC games, Florida State is moving the ball at a far more pedestrian rate of 4.4 yards per rush with just six touchdowns. That's more than a yard per carry less than the Seminoles averaged in ACC games last season.
"There is definitely room for improvement," left tackle Cameron Erving said. "We feel we've left a lot out there every week."
If Florida State plans to improve those numbers this week, Clemson figures to provide an interesting challenge.
The Tigers rank in the middle of the pack in the ACC in rushing defense, allowing an average of 3.9 yards per carry this season. That's actually a solid improvement from a year ago, when FSU ran for 287 yards against them. What's more, Clemson leads the country in tackles for loss with 61, with its defensive line making a slew of big plays behind the line of scrimmage.
But break down the numbers a bit more, and there does seem to be room for optimism for Florida State. Against FBS teams, Clemson is 12th in the ACC, allowing 4.43 yards per rush. Factor out yardage lost on sacks and examine only running plays, and opponents are averaging 5.62 yards per rush, 19th-most in the nation. And on all plays in which a runner makes it across the line of scrimmage, Clemson's defense has been gouged for 6.6 yards per rush.
"It seemed like they were kind of struggling to stop the run [against Georgia and Syracuse]," Wilder said, "but they're at home, and you can't really look at that."
Rather than worry about Clemson's stats, Florida State is focused on improving its own fundamentals. Erving said the tailbacks have worked to be a bit more patient, and Devonta Freeman, who didn't have a touch in last year's win, said a few new wrinkles were worked into the ground attack.
Freeman thinks the two weeks FSU has had to prepare against its own defense in practice should have the Seminoles ready.
"They're a very aggressive team. Their D-linemen and linebackers play as a whole unit," Freeman said. "But I feel like we see that every day in practice with our defense. It's going to be great competition to be out there."
Wilder has had plenty of reminders of what's expected, and he has passed along that motivation to his teammates in the Florida State backfield.
Last season's game showed the potential, but this season has shown there's still more work to be done.
"We’re definitely nowhere near satisfied, nowhere near our expectations running the ball," Wilder said. "We definitely are trying to pick it up this week.”
O'Leary scored three times in Florida State's opener against Pitt, matching his career total. Since then, he's showed similar poise, with nine of his 11 grabs going for first downs or touchdowns. His five trips to the end zone are tied for the most by any tight end in the nation, and head coach Jimbo Fisher said most of what O'Leary does best flies under the radar.
"He's blocking well, we move him like a fullback out of the backfield, catching balls down the field," Fisher said. "He's a very productive guy, understands the game, and he's one of those guys [who] does everything. Some of his better games, he doesn't have to catch two or three touchdowns."
Meanwhile, Erving has been a leader on Florida State's veteran offensive line and appears poised for an NFL future. After moving from the defensive line in the spring of 2012, Erving has made significant strides on offense. This season, he's protected quarterback Jameis Winston's blind side and helped FSU's running game to a 6-yard-per-carry average, the ninth-best mark in the nation.
Check out the entirety of ESPN's midseason All-America list here.
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.
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."