Florida State recorded a signature win over a quality opponent. But it took a sensational second-half performance by Jameis Winston — and the Seminoles had to survive a late scare — in order to knock off No. 5 Notre Dame, 31-27.
The No. 2 Seminoles, who had slipped from the top perch in the rankings earlier in the week — in large part due to their underwhelming schedule — squeezed out a nail-biting win over the previously unbeaten Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame appeared to score the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds remaining. But the Irish were flagged for pass interference that nullified the TD and pushed the ball back to the 18 yard line.
Everett Golson’s last-gasp pass into the end zone was intercepted by Jacob Pugh, and the Seminoles barely held on for the victory.
"One thing we continue to do is win," Winston said.
After a less-than-impressive first half, Winston turned it on in the second half to help extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 23 straight victories. The win left FSU as one of only four unbeaten teams.
Winston, who was coming off a week in which he dealt with more off-the-field controversy, completed 15 of 16 pass attempts in the second half, leading the Seminoles to a come-from-behind win over the stubborn Irish.
"One thing people have to realize about this Seminoles team is that when we have our backs against the wall, we always rise and start playing harder," Winston said.
Said Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher: "Jameis was phenomenal."
Winston and the Seminoles were anything but to start, though.
Notre Dame was in control at the outset. They commanded the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, with Irish running back Tarean Folston piling up 78 yards rushing in the first half alone.
After Notre Dame drove 84 yards in methodical fashion to put the first points on the board on Everett Golson’s 1-yard touchdown pass, the Seminoles responded quickly with a four-play scoring drive that culminated on Winston’s 11-yard scoring pass to freshman Travis Rudolph.
But Winston wasn’t in Heisman form early on Saturday.
Immediately after the Seminoles intercepted a Golson pass to thwart an Irish drive, Winston gave it right back with a poor throw that was picked off at the FSU 31 by Joe Schmidt. Two plays later, Golson connected on a 9-yard scoring pass to Corey Robinson to put the Irish back on top, 14-7.
Roberto Aguayo’s 28-yard field goal made it 14-10. But Notre Dame got those points back late in the first half with a field goal of their own. The Irish had a 254-111 advantage in total first half yards, with Winston accounting for 92 of those on 8-of-15 passing.
While the Seminoles were 0-for-4 on third-down conversions in the first half, the Irish were succeeding at a 50 percent clip: 8 for 16. FSU converted only two third-down plays all game.
Fisher told the Seminoles at halftime that "you got your butts outplayed" by Notre Dame.
But Winston came out firing in the second half, a half that suddenly turned into a back-and-forth shootout.
Aided by a pair of exceptional catches by Rudolph and Jesus Wilson, Winston and the Seminoles took the second half kickoff and marched 70 yards — with all but five of those coming through the air — for the tying touchdown, an 11-yard completion to Rashad Greene.
Notre Dame promptly answered with a touchdown of their own to regain the lead, 24-17, only for Winston and the Seminoles to mount a 75-yard scoring drive to tie it again.
Kyle Brindza’s 46-yard field goal put Notre Dame on top, 27-24, early in the fourth quarter.
The Seminoles took their first lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Karlos Williams midway through the fourth quarter.
But Notre Dame fought back.
On fourth-and-18 with time winding down, Golson completed a 20-yard pass to keep the drive going.
The Irish moved the ball to the 2 when Golson hit a wide open Robinson on a short pass that appeared to give Notre Dame the lead — and a likely victory.
But officials flagged Notre Dame receiver C.J. Prosise for offensive pass interference.
"You can say whatever you want," Fisher said of the Seminoles, who have not dominated the way they did last season on their way to the national championship. "Is this team as dominant? Is is not as spectacular or whatever? This team understands how to win."