TALLAHASSEE -- With his team down seven points on the road in front of a nationally televised audience and a packed house at Heinz Field is hardly the way any young quarterback hopes to make his collegiate debut.
It’s hardly the set of circumstances any coach would pick for his young starter, either.
But there Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston were Monday night in Pittsburgh. Down seven after Jeremy Pruitt’s new defense had just surrendered an 80-yard drive on the first series of the year, Winston trotted onto the field for the first time in his young career.
Given the situation, the type of play to be called seemed almost guaranteed. Let the redshirt freshman drop back and hand the ball off to one of the team’s talented junior running backs. Just get that first play — maybe even that first series — under his belt so he can settle in, right?
Fisher’s Seminoles — who came in at No. 10 in the new Associated Press poll Tuesday — spread it out the first play, lining up with an empty backfield, four receivers and a tight end. Winston dropped back and connected with Kelvin Benjamin for 13 yards. On the next play, he found Kenny Shaw for 20 more.
“Let’s throw it when the odds are on our side,” Fisher said after the game. “When you protect them so much every time you throw, it’s a bad situation.”
After months of deferring on naming Winston his starting quarterback despite mounting national hype — if only just to shield him — Fisher was done protecting him Monday night.
Instead, he opted to turn him loose from the first play, and Winston responded by completing a Florida State record 25of 27 passing attempts for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
“Of course I had butterflies,” Winston said. “I mean, if you don’t have butterflies you’re not a football player.”
Fisher didn’t just stop at letting Winston throw early either, he also let his young quarterback run.
In fact, Fisher wanted him to run.
“And get hit,” Fisher added as he addressed the ways he wants to get Winston into the rhythm of the game. “I wanted to run him early, I wanted to get him hit.”
Said Winston: “It’s always good to complete your first pass, especially to get the flow going, and I got hit that first play. They were trying to hit me all night. The best thing when you get hit as a quarterback is when you say, ‘Hey, we got the first down.’ ”
None of this is new to Fisher, whose past three quarterbacks were first-round NFL Draft picks.
None of them generated this kind of early buzz though.
None of them were wired this way, either. An average person can be taught to play the piano, but a virtuoso would make those same keys sing.
Fisher won’t admit it yet, but he’s well aware — despite his quarterback having played “just one game” — that for the first time since arriving at FSU, there’s a virtuoso in his presence. But Fisher is determined to take it slowly. And he wants his prodigious young quarterback to abide by the same philosophy.
Sounds like music to FSU fans’ ears.