Florida State’s offense and defense reversed roles on Saturday.
A week after the Seminoles’ offense fueled a come-from-behind victory at North Carolina State, FSU’s defense returned the favor in a 43-3 win over Wake Forest at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The win, FSU’s 21st in a row dating to 2012, kept the top-ranked Seminoles unbeaten when No.2 Oregon, No.3 Alabama, No.4 Oklahoma and No.6 Texas A&M all suffered defeats over the weekend.
“I’m just glad we [won],” said Jimbo Fisher, who earned his 50th victory as FSU’s coach. Fisher is 50-10 since taking over in 2010.
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“I’ve got enough worries on my own. I don’t know what else is going on out there. We get caught up in [the polls]. Just play week by week, get better, try to fix your problems and move on.”
Despite the lopsided final score, Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC) took a while before finding its footing and pulling away.
After laboring through a 3-0 deficit after one quarter and a sluggish first half, FSU’s defense did the heavy lifting to set up two key, third-quarter touchdowns.
With FSU holding a 16-3 lead, junior cornerback P.J. Williams grabbed his first interception of the year and returned it 14 yards to the Wake Forest 9. Two plays later, running back Mario Pender bounced outside and into the end zone for a touchdown.
“I cut my man,” Williams said. “I got my eyes on him. I was looking at the quarterback, looking at him the whole time. I made the play.”
On Wake’s second play of the ensuing possession, linebacker Reggie Northrup forced a fumble, recovered it and sprinted 35 yards for FSU’s second touchdown in 15 seconds and a 30-3 lead.
FSU, which last week missed more than 30 tackles and surrendered its highest point total since 2010, limited the offensively-challenged Demon Deacons to just 126 total yards, 2.1 yards per play and 10 first downs.
“It was big just knowing that, last week, when we weren’t doing our best, [the offense] picked us up,” defensive back Tyler Hunter said. “So this week, they weren’t doing their best. We just had to pick them up.”
That allowed an offense that was missing star receiver Rashad Greene (concussion) and starting center Austin Barron (broken arm) for most of the game to eventually hit its stride.
Quarterback Jameis Winston, fresh off a four-touchdown performance against N.C. State, bounced back from a 10-for-20 first half to finish 23 of 30 for 297 yards in just more than three quarters of work.
Winston’s 59-yard strike to freshman receiver Travis Rudolph preserved a career-spanning streak of 19 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
Rudolph (four catches, 66 yards) and fellow freshman Ermon Lane from Homestead (two catches, 70 yards) finished as FSU’s top two receivers.
“I’ve got to get us going,” Winston said. “I’ve got to get us scoring fast. But at the end of the day, that’s what we’ve got that defense for. Sometimes they’ve got to have our backs, sometimes we’ve got to have their backs.”
FSU’s early offensive struggles at least set up a showcase for kicker Roberto Aguayo. The reigning Lou Groza Award winner, Aguayo tied a school record with five field goals from 52, 43, 42, 40 and 32 yards.
In the process, Aguayo made his 21st consecutive field goal, surpassing former FSU and current Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano’s school record of 18.
“It’s amazing what that guy can do,” Fisher said. “Just how you call [plays] and when you get into position where it feels comfortable, and you know you can get those points.”
Next up for FSU is a visit to Syracuse, where the Seminoles haven’t played since 2004, for one last tuneup before No.9 Notre Dame comes to Tallahassee on Oct.18.