Florida State Seminoles: Rashad Greene
Lamarcus Joyner, all 5-foot-8 of him, has battled Benjamin for jump balls in practice, but how many corners can combat a 6-foot-5 frame?
Terrence Brooks plays with a unique blend of speed and physicality, but mixing it up with Benjamin isn’t exactly fun. A receiver with size and quickness that still likes to hit, to block downfield -- how many players in the country do that?
“It’s like it’s easy for him,” Brooks said. “I don’t think they make him anymore in the factories.”
This is how it’s been since Benjamin arrived at Florida State in 2011, a physical freak of nature who performed such astonishing feats of athleticism and strength on the practice field that the accounts from teammates were often met with skepticism from those who hadn’t seen it firsthand. But making it look easy was actually what made life hard for Benjamin.
His first year was a waste. He was overweight, unprepared and redshirted.
The 2012 season represented a big step forward, but still a disappointment. His focus wandered, and his production waned. He caught 30 balls, but he had just 52 receiving yards in the final five games of the season.
This season, however, Benjamin is blossoming into the player his teammates always knew he could be -- a monster few defensive backs are capable of taming.
“Anybody can make mistakes and have a season like  and throw excuses out there,” Benjamin said. “I felt like the season just improved me as a player.”
Benjamin’s improvements began in the weight room. He shed some excess pounds and got into the best shape of his life. He hit the film room, studying the playbook with renewed vigor, knowing a new quarterback was taking the reins of the offense, and he’d have a fresh start and a bigger role. He talked with Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, the veterans of the receiving corps, about finally showing the rest of the world what had so often been confined to the practice field.
“He’s a lot more focused mentally than anything,” Greene said. “He’s always had the ability, the skill, the talent. But the way he’s been locked in and just been all in for the team -- he can tell you, he’s really focused compared to what he was last year. And it’s showing all around.”
It’s helped, too, that Benjamin’s role has increased dramatically.
A year ago, the receiving corps was deep -- a solid mix of veterans and younger players all eager for their share of throws. For Benjamin, however, there simply weren’t enough footballs to go around. He’d be on the sideline for long stretches, then his head wasn’t in the game when he took the field.
But this offseason, Florida State lost three seniors for the season before fall camp concluded, and that’s meant a tight rotation on game days and plenty of throws for Greene, Shaw and Benjamin, who are now all within reach of 1,000 yards.
“A receiver wants to touch the ball as many times as you touch it in practice, and my first season, I wasn’t doing that,” Benjamin said. “I let that get to me, wanting the ball more and the rotation. This year, we stay on the field until we finish the game. It’s just staying in there and having that feeling that consistently you’re in the game and you’re warm and can go out there and do it.”
In last week’s win over Florida, Benjamin was constantly in quarterback Jameis Winston’s sights. He had a career-high nine catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time a Florida State receiver topped the 200-yard mark in 11 years. It was the eighth-best single-game total in school history, and Winston had predicted it earlier in the week.
"I said, 'KB, you are an unstoppable force. If you go out there and do what you're supposed to do, no one can cover you,'" Winston recalled after the win.
None of it comes as a surprise, of course. Just look at Benjamin, and it’s always been obvious he would become a star. There simply aren’t other receivers who do what he can do.
Duke corner Ross Cockrell said the key is to challenge Benjamin at the line of scrimmage, play physical with him. But really, Cockrell is grasping at straws. Benjamin has five inches and 50 pounds on the Duke corner.
“We'll be working all week on that answer,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of defending Benjamin. “We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with him. He's just a monster and with great skills.”
Benjamin has always been a monster, but after three years, Jimbo Fisher has finally convinced him to prepare as if he were a mere mortal. Now those skills are well refined, and Benjamin presents a matchup as perplexing for defenders as any in college football.
And that’s when Florida State’s own defensive backs can break character and admit, covering the monster can’t be done. They know. They’ve tried.
“Seeing him go against other guys,” Brooks said, “we sit there and laugh about it.”
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
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The team had just arrived home, fresh off another dominant win, its 14th straight. Florida State had secured a perfect regular season, set a date with Duke in the ACC championship game, and coach Jimbo Fisher flipped on the radio in his pickup to listen to the final moments of the Auburn-Alabama game on his ride home.
Perhaps he shouted or cheered or pumped his fist when Auburn’s Chris Davis dashed into the end zone on the game’s final play, unseating Alabama atop the BCS standings and effectively installing Fisher’s Seminoles as the nation’s new top dog. But if he did, Fisher certainly wouldn’t admit to it now.
When pressed Sunday about whether things have changed for Florida State now that it’s No. 1, Fisher offered the same stoic assurance he’s preached all season.
“Not one bit,” he said.
Since then, everything has changed, but the transformation has come through unwavering consistency.
Florida State’s 37-7 win Saturday over Florida was as emphatic as each of the 11 others this season. The Seminoles have won every game by at least two touchdowns, and a reserved approach in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday proved the only impediment to reaching 40 points, a mark they achieved every previous game this fall.
Before the season, critics wondered what middling opponent would stifle Fisher’s plans this time, but it turned out, this really was a different Florida State team.
“We've been able to focus, not pay attention to the outside things and worry about anything,” Fisher said. “We can't worry about where we're ranked and what goes on. We've just got to worry about preparing and playing, and that's all we tell our guys, and hopefully we can do that at least one more week right here.”
This week is the conference championship game against Duke, a team that has never beaten Florida State -- never even come within 19 points of a win -- in 18 tries. But where past teams would have chalked up the game as an easy win, this season's Seminoles haven’t fallen into that trap.
It has been six weeks since Florida State was favored by fewer than three touchdowns in a game, and it has won each one by at least 27.
“It never left their head,” Fisher said of his one-week-at-a-time mantra. “It doesn’t worry about the results. It doesn’t worry about the outcome. It doesn’t worry about what we have in front of us. It’s a very mature group.”
It’s a group that knows Fisher’s process well, not just as coachspeak that’s been regurgitated, but as a sincere belief in what it takes to win.
When Fisher took over as coach four years ago, he came with a five-year plan to revitalize the program. He stocked a roster with so much talent, it could lose 11 players to the NFL draft and get better the following season. He installed a system so thoroughly self-sufficient that FSU could lose six assistant coaches in one offseason and not miss a beat.
He has preached his process so intensely for four seasons that he can now watch silently as Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith and Rashad Greene command the locker room with the same rhetoric.
It was a plan that took time to implement, but Fisher never wavered in his belief that it would succeed.
“It’s exactly where we want to be and hoping we’d be at,” Fisher said Sunday, just before Florida State officially rose to No. 1 in the BCS standings.
At 12-0, Fisher can say that his team hasn’t been sheltered from the ongoing legal drama surrounding star quarterback Jameis Winston, but also why it hasn’t been shaken by it.
As a four-touchdown favorite this week, Fisher still preaches the same thing he has all year, and his players will believe.
At No. 1 in the BCS, Fisher could shrug off Florida State’s status as front-runners, ignoring a finish line that seems so easily within reach.
His program has come a long way, but Fisher is not interested in looking back any more than he wants to look ahead.
“We play next week, then we get a break to see what bowl game we want to play in,” Fisher said. “I’m really proud of the way they approach everything, the way we practice, the way we handle things.”
(Last week’s rankings in parentheses)
1. Jameis Winston (1): With Johnny Manziel and Bryce Petty both losing Saturday, the Heisman race is pretty much over, as long as Winston’s legal difficulties don’t scare voters away.
3. Timmy Jernigan (3): If Jernigan was the only player on the field for FSU’s defense, he still would have won a majority of the battles. He dominated Idaho’s O-line, racking up six tackles, 4.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks in less than a half of action.
4. Devonta Freeman (4): His chase for 1,000 yards is back on after a stellar 11-carry, 129-yard day against the Vandals.
5. Telvin Smith (6): Four tackles and a pick-six. A fitting send off in front of the home crowd for one of FSU’s most vocal leaders.
6. Rashad Greene (5): Another quiet day for Greene, who had just two catches for 29 yards. But while teams focus on him, his counterparts are racking up a myriad of big plays.
7. Jalen Ramsey (8): If you ranked the five biggest hits delivered by FSU defenders Saturday, Ramsey would’ve had at least three of them.
8. Kenny Shaw (NR): Finally hit the 100-yard mark, catching five passes for 107 yards and two scores. Shaw, like Greene, is on pace to top 1,000 receiving yards this year, but he’s already over 1,000 all-purpose yards.
9. Christian Jones (7): Relatively quiet day for Jones, but that’s to be expected given how little time the first-team D spent on the field.
10. Nick O’Leary (9): Just one catch for 13 yards, but O’Leary continues to be a huge weapon over the middle.
Honorable mentions: S Terrence Brooks, WR Kelvin Benjamin, RB Karlos Williams
Warrick Dunn breezed to 1,180 rushing yards his senior season in 1996, and while few Seminoles fans expected to see another back quite as dynamic as Dunn, it wasn’t hard to envision a slew of runners following in his footsteps and marching well past 1,000.
Of course, this year was supposed to be different. Sure, 2000 and 2002 and 2004 and, heck, even 2012 were supposed to be different, too, but they weren’t. But everything about this season has felt different for Florida State, felt like the good old days when Dunn roamed the sideline, and really, it would’ve taken a catastrophe to keep Devonta Freeman from finally, mercifully putting the streak to an end. Right?
Three weeks ago, Freeman was the workhorse against Miami, carrying a career-high 23 times for 78 yards, bringing his season rushing total to 639. With six more games to play -- including predicted blowouts against Wake Forest, Syracuse and, this week’s opponent, Idaho -- 1,000 was well within reach.
The former prediction has lived up to its billing. Florida State beat Wake and Syracuse by a combined 118-6, and is a 56-point favorite against Idaho on Saturday. The latter, on the other hand, is proving more elusive.
Florida State has won its last two games by such a massive margin that Freeman’s role all but disappeared. He carried the ball just 10 times in the two games, for a total of just 40 yards. After the Miami win, he needed to average just 60 yards per game to reach 1,000 -- a total he’d topped six times already this year. Now, he'll have to average 75.
“I think Free’s gonna get it, man,” said fellow tailback James Wilder Jr., who’d entered the season dreaming of 1,000 yards himself, only to see injuries wreak havoc on the quest. “I’m rooting for him the whole way.”
Wilder is healthy now, and he's gotten some short-yardage carries that might’ve gone to Freeman earlier in the season. Karlos Williams has taken the bulk of the second-half carries in the recent blowout wins. For the year, Freeman has just 12 carries (for 29 yards) in the fourth quarter -- a third of which came in the Miami game.
Last year, Freeman averaged 5.9 yards per carry -- a rate that would’ve gotten him to 1,000 with just 13 carries per game. This season, his average has dipped just a tad, to 5.7 yards per rush. He’s been far more explosive in the passing game (218 yards) and he’s already topped his career high in touchdowns (11 total, 10 on the ground), but it’s those 13 carries a game have proven problematic. So far this year, he’s averaged 12 per game, and in the past two blowouts, he’s averaged just five.
“The last couple games, it’s just been the way it’s fallen out,” Jimbo Fisher said. “But we’ve still got four ballgames left, a lot of ball left to play.”
Freeman isn’t Florida State’s only star in search of a record, though. He’s just in search of the most high-profile one.
Jameis Winston is on pace for 39 touchdown passes, which would dwarf FSU’s previous season high of 33, set by Chris Weinke in 2000. Of course, like Freeman, Winston’s workload has been limited by success. He's thrown just 18 fourth-quarter passes this year.
“If that can go within our team goals, and we can reach everything, I think it’s great,” Fisher said. “I have a lot of respect for [Greene] and I’m hoping for it.”
But hope doesn’t put the ball in a receiver’s hands or earn a tailback a few extra carries. The statistical goals are about opportunity, and during FSU’s run of blowouts this year, those opportunities have been a bit too rare.
Shaw, who is on pace for 1,009 receiving yards, is a fine example. The senior has topped 89 yards receiving in a game six times this season, but he’s never gone past 100. Last week against Syracuse, Shaw was stuck on 99 when one final pass came his way. He was tackled at the line of scrimmage, though, and 99 is where he stayed. There's a strange bit of luck involved too, and that's been the great variable for Florida State over the years.
Yes, this season is different -- and maybe too different. Florida State is the only team in the country to win all its games by at least 14 points. If the streaks continues for another year, the ultimate irony might be that it did so because Freeman and Co. were simply too good.
(Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. QB Jameis Winston (1): Here’s the list of quarterbacks since 2000 to have two games in the same season with at least 15 completions in which they completed at least 90 percent of their throws: Winston. That’s it. That’s the list.
2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Four more tackles, 1.5 more sacks. Joyner is making a strong case to be named the ACC’s defensive player of the year.
3. DT Timmy Jernigan (5): Of course, if Joyner’s not the ACC’s top defender, maybe Jernigan deserves the honor. He had six tackles (one for a loss) all in the first half, and he now has 37 tackles on the season. While he was in the game, Syracuse had five yards rushing on 18 carries.
4. RB Devonta Freeman (3): A few weeks ago, Freeman’s quest for 1,000 yards looked like a sure thing. After two blowouts in which he’s carried just 10 times, he now needs to average 75 yards a game to make 1,000.
5. WR Rashad Greene (4): He’s suffering a similar fate as Freeman. He’s had just 87 receiving yards in his last two games -- a total he’s topped in a single game five times this season. Still, Greene is just 140 yards shy of 1,000 for the year.
6. LB Telvin Smith (6): Four tackles, one for a loss, and a pass break-up -- Smith’s draft stock is rising by the week.
7. DE Christian Jones (10): His move to the line has been huge, and he finished with four tackles (one for a loss) against Syracuse.
8. S Jalen Ramsey (7): Three tackles, a QB hurry, and another terrific performance from one of the country’s most consistent true freshmen.
9. TE Nick O’Leary (NR): His third-quarter touchdown reception from Sean Maguire made O’Leary Florida State’s record holder for career TDs by a tight end.
10. S Terrence Brooks (9): He returned from a concussion with four tackles as FSU’s secondary was once again dominant.
Honorable mentions: DB Nate Andrews, WR Kermit Whitfield, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, RB Karlos Williams, DT Eddie Goldman
1. QB Jameis Winston (1): It wasn’t Winston’s sharpest performance, but who could blame him? The offense barely saw the field in the second quarter, and it was incredibly difficult to get in a rhythm. The question is, given the remaining opponents, when will it be easy to get into a rhythm?
2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Four tackles, including assisting on a TFL. Another solid performance from Joyner, who somehow managed to finish without a pick in a game when FSU defenders had six of them.
3. RB Devonta Freeman (3): Slow going for Freeman, who found little running room. He had just 11 yards on six carries -- a long of 3 -- but did score for the ninth time this season.
4. WR Rashad Greene (4): He was FSU’s leading receiver (5 for 47 yards) but it wasn’t a big day for any of usual the offensive stars, and Greene did have a key drop.
5. DT Timmy Jernigan (6): Six tackles by halftime, dominating the line of scrimmage, and utterly stuffing Wake’s run game up the middle.
6. LB Telvin Smith (5): Three tackles, but like most of the starters, he didn’t need to do much.
7. S Jalen Ramsey (NR): For the most part this season, Ramsey has been so good he’s gone unnoticed. His scoop and score on a fumble Saturday was a highlight, but really, Wake didn’t test him much. It’s saying something that a true freshman is earning real respect from the opposition.
8. DE Mario Edwards Jr. (10): Since he returned to the lineup following hand surgery in Week 6, FSU’s first-team defense has allowed 21 points in five games. Edwards picked off a pass against Wake to go with a TFL.
9. S Terrence Brooks (7): Brooks missed Saturday’s game with a concussion, but that may have actually been a nice contribution. Brooks’ replacement, Nate Andrews, created three turnovers and scored on one.
10. DE Christian Jones (9): His impact at rush end has been big, and he was in the backfield often Saturday, despite finishing with just one tackle.
Honorable mentions: Andrews, TE Nick O’Leary, RBs Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr., LB Terrance Smith, WRs Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin
“He was so bad,” Fisher joked before escaping the media throng.
Indeed, Saturday’s performance -- 21-of-29 for 325 yards, one TD and two interceptions -- is what constitutes a struggle for Winston, the Heisman hopeful whose season has offered few opportunities for skepticism. He’s set the bar high enough that eventually, he was bound to fall short.
“I keep forgetting he’s a freshman, too,” said Fisher, who has rarely referred to his quarterback by his class designation this season. “I’m not used to him making many mistakes either. But he didn’t make many.”
It’s parsing an otherwise strong performance -- Winston’s adjusted QBR for the game was a sterling 94.6, the sixth-best performance of the week -- but there were those two noticeable mistakes.
Both interceptions came on similar throws -- deep balls down the middle of the field, where Winston had neglected to consider a safety coming over the top. On the first, it appeared receiver Rashad Greene got tangled with the corner. On the second, there looked to be an obvious miscommunication with tight end Nick O’Leary. And yet, both throws were clearly poor decisions by Winston.
For Miami, that was the idea.
The conventional wisdom from the outset of the season was to blitz Winston, forcing the inexperienced quarterback into a mistake. But Winston has made defenses pay for such an unimaginative approach. Entering Saturday’s game, he was exceptional against the blitz, completing 70 percent of his passes for an average of 12.4 yards per attempt with 11 touchdowns and just two INTs, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
(*For the season, Winston has faced five or more pass rushers on 36 percent of his attempts.)
By the time Miami arrived in Tallahassee, the secret was out.
“They blitzed a little bit, but they did it more like fire zone, slanting the line,” tackle Cameron Erving said. “They were coached well.”
Miami still blitzed on roughly one-third of Winston’s attempts, but the Hurricanes prioritized coverage over the top, hoping to lull the aggressive Winston into a mistake downfield. In the first half, the plan mostly worked.
On both interceptions, Fisher said there was a better option underneath that Winston should have looked to, but it’s hard to ask a quarterback having so much success downfield to change his stripes in an instant.
“He’s just aggressive,” Fisher said. “If you say ‘whoa’ and you’re hesitant, you can’t play. He’s made so many plays. We’ll live with a few of those [mistakes], and he’ll grow from them. He loves throwing the ball in the middle of the field, and we’re going to continue to be aggressive in there.”
Fisher was correct on both counts.
Winston did learn from his mistakes. At halftime, he promised his teammates there wouldn’t be another turnover. He was true to his word, with just two second-half passes falling incomplete. Winston adjusted to the game plan, checking down to his backs and tight end more often. For the game, they accounted for 10 of his 21 completions and 152 of his 325 passing yards.
Florida State also ran the ball more than it had all season. Sixty percent of the Seminoles’ plays were runs, the highest of the season against an FBS foe. The ground game’s effectiveness paid off for Winston, too. He was a stellar 10-of-11 for 183 yards off play-action passes against Miami.
But Winston remains aggressive, and the fact that three of the six interceptions he’s thrown this season were balls deep over the middle hasn’t altered that philosophy a bit.
“Most of my completions are on the deep ball in the middle, too,” Winston said. “I just made mistakes forcing the ball, and I can’t do that. I’ve got to check the ball down and just move on.”
Chalk it up to a learning experience, Fisher said.
Teams will continue to adjust, hoping to find an answer to Winston’s offensive exploits. Winston must adjust, too, and Saturday’s win provided a template for how that can happen while Florida State still marches to an easy win.
“I don’t know if I learned a lot about myself, but I learned a lot about this team,” Winston said afterward. “They really put me on their shoulders and carried me the whole way.”
WHY FLORIDA STATE WILL WIN
2. The rejuvenated defense. It took the Seminoles a while to adjust to new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s scheme, but they seem to have things pointed in the right direction now. They ended September by allowing 200 yards rushing to Boston College, and for the month, they coughed up an average of 152 yards per game on the ground. In October, however, they’ve trimmed that average by nearly 40 yards (against better teams). Moving Christian Jones to defensive end and getting Mario Edwards Jr. healthy has been a big part of the improvement, but much of the difference is simply experience in the new system. Add in FSU’s aggressive blitzing strategy against a quarterback who’s battled an ankle injury all season, and there’s a good chance the Seminoles’ D could have a big day.
3. The intangibles. The numbers already suggest a pretty clear advantage on the field for Florida State, which enters the game as a three-touchdown favorite. But more than that, all the off-the-field markers are tipped in FSU’s favor, too. Seniors like Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Telvin Smith are eager to wrap up a 4-0 career against their archrivals. Florida State is expecting a sellout crowd at Doak Campbell for the first time this season. It’s a big-game environment, but FSU already knows that feeling, having played two prime-time games already, including one against Clemson just two weeks ago.
WHY MIAMI WILL WIN
1. Duke Johnson and the run game. The Hurricanes have relied heavily on their run game all season, specifically to pull out comeback wins in the fourth quarter of their past two games. Miami is averaging 214.7 yards per game on the ground this season -- its highest total going back to 1960. In fact, Miami has averaged more than 200 yards rushing just twice in that time span. Johnson leads the way with a league-high 6.7 yards per rush. Dallas Crawford runs hard, too, and he won the North Carolina game for the Canes. Do not overlook this offensive line, either. Miami only has one underclassman in its starting lineup and presents the best line the Seminoles have seen to date.
2. Stephen Morris is finally healthy. Morris is the healthiest he has been since the start of the season after playing through a lingering ankle injury in the past five games. That injury forced him to change his footwork and mechanics, and it did not allow him to take snaps under center as much as Miami wanted. The Canes are hoping a healthy Morris means fewer mistakes and better decisions. "Definitely need to be better on first-down efficiency, making the right decision on first down," Morris said. "Setting up an easy second and third down is huge for us, and when we get into our third down, our money downs, we have to stay on the field. I need to make better decisions, I need to see the field better, and especially in the red zone, converting touchdowns instead of field goals."
3. Improved pass defense. As was mentioned above, Miami is much better defensively this season than last. One of the biggest keys to slowing down Winston is not so much flustering him or blitzing him, because he does well under pressure. Rather, the Hurricanes need to take away the guys who make plays for him. In this instance, Miami must do an excellent job covering receivers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, along with tight end Nick O'Leary. That means tackling well and not allow those guys to get behind them for a big play. Miami has forced 19 turnovers in 2013, second-highest in the ACC and better than Florida State. Of those, 12 are interceptions, which is tied for No. 12 in the nation.
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
WR Rashad Greene: The junior from Albany, Ga., continues to slide under the radar, but Jimbo Fisher said Greene is playing as well as anyone on Florida State’s roster. On Saturday, Greene caught eight passes for 132 yards, including a 42-yard TD. It was Greene’s fourth 100-yard game of the season and his eighth touchdown. Seven of his eight catches Saturday went for first downs.
S Terrence Brooks: For the second straight game, Florida State’s defense set the tone early by forcing a turnover on the opposition’s first drive. This time it was Brooks, who picked off Brandon Mitchell’s first throw, setting up an FSU touchdown. On NC State’s fourth drive, Brooks was back at it, forcing a fumble -- the second of Florida State’s three takeaways. He added two tackles -- one for a loss -- for good measure.
RB Devonta Freeman: Like Greene, Freeman hasn’t basked in the spotlight much this season, but he’s delivering significant results. He carried 12 times Saturday for 92 yards and two touchdowns, pacing an FSU ground game that averaged nearly 8 yards per carry (not counting sacks) and scored four times. Freeman is on pace to become Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1996.
Hat tips to: Ronald Darby appears fully healthy and picked off a pass for the second straight game; Jameis Winston wasn’t at his best, but he threw for 292 yards and three TDs, Levonte Whitfield racked up 99 all-purpose yards in the second half, including a nifty 31-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the fourth quarter.
Miami running back Duke Johnson: Twice on Saturday the Hurricanes' undefeated season appeared doomed, and twice Johnson responded with a game-saving run. The sophomore finished with 168 yards on 30 carries -- eight more than his previous career high -- and scored twice in the fourth quarter to help Miami sneak past Wake Forest. The Hurricanes took their first lead of the game with 5:36 left on a 51-yard TD drive in which Johnson carried six times for 44 yards. Wake responded with a score of its own, but Johnson clinched the win by carrying seven times for 42 yards, including the 1-yard go-ahead TD.
Duke linebacker David Helton: On a day when the Blue Devils' offense struggled mightily, it was Helton and the defense that came up with one big play after another. Helton finished with a game-high 19 tackles -- he was one of three Duke defenders with double-digit tackles -- and deflected a Logan Thomas pass on Virginia Tech's final drive that was picked off by Kelby Brown. Brown's INT was one of four by the Blue Devils, and he finished the game with 14 tackles.
Florida State receiver Rashad Greene: Jameis Winston was sharp once again, throwing three TD passes in Florida State's win over NC State, but plenty of credit is due to his receiving corps, which was led, once again, by Greene. The junior finished with eight catches for 137 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown grab. It's Greene's fourth 100-yard game of the year. Seven of his eight catches went for Florida State first downs.
Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell: The Tigers rebounded from last week's devastating loss to Florida State and this week's slow start against Maryland largely because of two of their best offensive weapons. Watkins caught a career-high 14 passes for 163 yards, while McDowell carried the ground game, rushing 30 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia Tech running backs: The Yellow Jackets had three runners top 100 yards in their win over Virginia, led by junior Zach Laskey, who rushed 16 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. David Sims scored twice as well, and finished with 107 yards on 12 carries, while Robert Godhigh's 65-yard TD run highlighted a five-carry, 111-yard performance. The 394 rushing yards matched a season high for Georgia Tech, while Jemea Thomas (15 tackles) and the defense sealed the game.
Christian Jones looked down at the photo then looked away, shaking his head. There was no need for reminders of what came next.
That play ended with a pass from Mike Glennon to Bryan Underwood for the game-winning touchdown. Terrence Brooks might have batted it away if he’d left his man. Tyler Hunter nearly tipped it away, too. Telvin Smith went for the pick, but he came up short.
Up and down the roster, the memories linger, and that’s a good thing, Jimbo Fisher said. He wants his team to remember the pain.
“It’s just like yesterday that it happened,” Smith said. “I know what it felt like. I was on the field, I saw him catch it, I saw Terrence try to knock it out, I saw [Underwood] jump up yelling and everyone going crazy. It’s not something I need to re-watch. I vividly remember that.”
Florida State went on to win an ACC championship last season and followed that with a victory in the Orange Bowl, but for all of 2012’s success, the loss to NC State is perhaps what is remembered most by a sizable contingent of both fans and players.
As Florida State looks to build on last season's accomplishments in 2013, however, that loss might prove to be an asset.
The Seminoles are coming off an emotional victory over Clemson last week. Next week, they have a date with undefeated Miami. Normally, this week’s game would be a classic trap scenario, but the opponent offers too many reminders of what can happen when FSU lets its guard down.
“Every time someone even says [NC State] it kind of makes my stomach turn a little bit,” Brooks said.
But the growth of this season's team, in many ways, began with last season's loss.
There’s a learning curve to success, Smith said. After Florida State lost to Oklahoma in 2011, it learned a valuable lesson about carrying the weight of a tough defeat into the next game, dropping two more before righting the ship.
After last year’s NC State loss, the team learned that the exploits of success can’t linger either. FSU was riding high when it arrived in Raleigh, N.C., and players admit they probably didn’t take the Wolfpack seriously enough.
As the momentum shifted in the second half last year, and Florida State’s once-commanding 16-0 lead dwindled, heads hung and focus waned. Jameis Winston, then a redshirting freshman, was one of the few voices to speak up, trudging up and down the sideline, cheering and pushing his teammates to regroup. It didn’t go over well.
“Everybody was down, and you have this one freshman that’s all turned up,” receiver Kenny Shaw said. “We were like, ‘We don’t need that right now. Nothing can pick us back up.’ But it seemed like he wanted to win more than us. It was sad thing for us.”
A year later, players understand. Winston isn’t the outspoken freshman who doesn’t know his place. He’s the unquestioned leader of the offense, and his competitive drive has changed the mindset of the entire team.
So this year’s game is about both the past and the future. EJ Manuel called Winston this week to remind him how last year’s game ended, imploring him not to let it happen again. Brooks said he’s playing this week for the seniors on that team who won’t have a chance at redemption. FSU is No. 2 in the BCS right now, but unlike last season, the Seminoles aren’t paying much attention to their ranking. One game at a time is a mantra they’re actually living by.
And that’s where perhaps the most growth has come since that devastating loss last season. Yes, Florida State’s players want a win to ease that sick feeling in their stomachs, but that’s not entirely what Saturday's game is about.
“I wouldn’t call it a revenge because this is a totally different team,” Rashad Greene said. “It’s just a lesson learned.”
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.
Florida State had just wrapped up its biggest victory in years, a 51-14 thumping of No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley. It was the most impressive victory any team has had in college football this season, and so Greene made it clear the Seminoles weren't interested in taking a back seat to anyone -- even the two-time defending national champions.
"We definitely are the best team in the country," Greene said. "I put us second to none."
A year ago, Jimbo Fisher railed against the computer rankings, which didn't favor the ACC. But this year it's the voters who don't value Florida State quite as high. While both human polls had FSU ranked third, the computers -- a composite ranking that makes up one-third of the BCS equation -- had the Seminoles No. 1.
Regardless, Fisher said, there are still seven more games to play before the BCS rankings are finalized, so he's concentrating on what's left to be done for FSU -- while not exactly disagreeing with Greene's sentiment.
"I think we have a heck of a team," Fisher said. "I'm not doubting. We have a lot of ball to play, and if we keep taking care of our business, the country will see and we'll get to where we've got to go. I'm not scared to play anybody."
The Seminoles gave Fisher plenty of reason for confidence Saturday. Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards as Florida State racked up 51 points -- the most ever by a visitor in Death Valley. The defense forced four turnovers -- the most by the Seminoles in a game since 2011 -- and battered Clemson QB Tajh Boyd into one of the worst games of his career. It was a night in which virtually everything went right, and Florida State flexed its muscle on a national stage.
But if the Seminoles needed a reminder of the potential pitfalls on the road ahead, it won't have to look far. Next up on the schedule: NC State, and the lingering memories of one of Fisher's most devastating losses.
A year ago, FSU was still riding the high of a Week 4 win over Clemson when it arrived in Raleigh, N.C., for a game against the unranked Wolfpack. After jumping out to a 16-0 halftime lead, the wheels came off the offense, and Mike Glennon did just enough on a late drive to pull out a win for NC State, 17-16. While Florida State went on to win the ACC title and an Orange Bowl, for many fans, the 2012 season was defined more by that loss than any of the Seminoles' 12 wins.
"We haven't done anything yet," safety Terrence Brooks said. "We've got to prepare [this] week, and we plan on doing NC State the same way [as Clemson]."
While their spot in the rankings is high, and the expectations even higher, Florida State showed Saturday that it's not taking things for granted. Touchdowns were followed by a calm demeanor on the sideline, and Fisher was spared the traditional Powerade bath after a big win.
Yes, Florida State thinks it's the best team in the country, but Brooks said they still have to keep reminding everyone why that is each week.
"We've still got a long way to go, and it's not over yet," Brooks said. "We're about business. We hold a standard, so how we performed in this game is how we have to perform every week."