The road to where Florida State reached last season began Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, and if all goes as planned for the Seminoles, it’ll end there in January.
Check the first stop off the Seminoles’ map, even if Oklahoma State got a little close for comfort.
Jameis Winston responded from two interceptions in the first half and the FSU defense held off a Cowboys comeback, as the Seminoles beat OSU 37-31 in front of 61,521 in the Advocare Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium. The inaugural College Football Playoff championship game will be held at the same venue Jan. 12.
“As a team we’re a work in progress,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Still, our team understands how to win games. I’m proud of them for doing that.”
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For the defending national champions, it was an up and down debut. The same could be said for Winston, whose two picks in the first half kept OSU in the game. But Winston delivered with a dazzling 28-yard touchdown run that included a hurdle, a juke and a dive to put the Seminoles up 27-17 with 5:26 left in the third quarter.
Winston later sent FSU up 37-24 with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene with 3:58 left in the game. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner finished 25-of-40 passing for 370 yards and the lone strike to Greene.
“[Winston] becomes a competitor,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That’s the thing about him that you love when you coach him. Even when he’s not playing his best, he’s still a competitor.”
What little breathing room FSU had early in the third quarter was taken away when OSU’s J.W. Walsh hit receiver David Glidden for a 55-yard touchdown pass to cut the Seminoles’ lead to 20-17. Walsh found Glidden wide open along the right side of the field for the easy score.
The Cowboys responded again in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard touchdown run from Walsh to get back within three.
“There was not fear in any of their eyes,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said of his players. “They made mistakes, but they made mistakes going full speed.”
But after OSU forced FSU to punt with 7:43 left, the Seminoles defense made the stand it needed.
Mario Edwards Jr. sacked Walsh for a 14-yard loss on first down, and Walsh was pressured into an incompletion on second down. And on third down, Walsh’s pass along the sideline was broken up by safety Tyler Hunter, who swarmed over from the middle of the field.
“[Edwards’ sack] changed the momentum to get us the ball back and go score points,” Fisher said. “That was a big play by Mario. A critical, critical play by Mario.”
FSU’s P.J. Williams recovered a Walsh fumble with 4:41 left in the game, setting up Winston’s pass to Greene.
“We have to get more hungry,” Winston said. “We have to get better. That’s an eye-opener.”
FSU padded its 17-10 halftime lead with a 37-yard field goal from Robert Aguayo at the 11:50 mark of the third quarter. Aguayo opened the scoring for the Seminoles with a 36-yarder in the first quarter. FSU Safety Nate Andrews intercepted Walsh on OSU’s next offensive play and returned it for a touchdown.
As for the Seminoles’ offense, Winston was neither short on big plays or efficiency early on, but his two interceptions helped the Cowboys stay in a game that teetered on a blowout.
After a 42-yard field goal miss from OSU’s Ben Grogan, Winston completed a 62-yard pass to Christian Green to end the first quarter. But on the next set of downs his 3rd and 10 pass was intercepted by OSU linebacker Seth Jacobs. Jacobs was able to tip the pass near the 5-yard line, and then re-position himself to catch the ball and return it nine yards.
“If we didn’t have that turnover in the red zone, we could’ve got a good score there and put the game away,” Winston said.
But Winston rediscovered his rhythm on FSU’s next possession. He hit Nick O’Leary for a 10-yard pass on 3rd and 7, and then three plays later tossed a 51-yarder to Greene. Winston went back to O’Leary to get FSU to the OSU 11, where Mario Pender ran the next handoff in for a touchdown.
Pender’s score came on his first career carry.
The Cowboys then went 75 yards on 12 plays, a drive capped by Desmond Roland’s 1-yard touchdown run. Walsh hit Tyreek Hill for a 24-yard pass on 3rd and 4 to keep the drive going.
After the teams exchanged three-and-outs, Winston made his second blunder on a first down with 36 seconds left in the half. The sophomore rolled right and threw a strike that was intercepted by Ashton Lampkin, who came back down the sideline to force the turnover. The pick set up a 37-yard field goal for Grogan, who nailed his second attempt of the game.
“He just tried to squeeze the ball in there and sometimes that’s what great players do,” Fisher said. “But he got his bearings back.”
Saturday’s win extended the Seminoles’ winning streak to 17 games, coming off January’s victory over Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. But Fisher said his team can now officially put last year’s heroics in the past.
“We’ve got to hone in on some little things and all phases going on,” he said. “Last year’s over, and tonight, I think will help us get over that. Tonight, I think we can relax and go play football.”
Greene led FSU with 203 yards on 11 catches. Karlos Williams led the Seminoles with 75 yards rushing.
OSU speedster Tyreek Hill, who was recruited by FSU, did a little of everything for the Cowboys. He combined for more than 100 yards rushing and receiving and had 140 yards in kickoff returns.