The phenomenon known as Famous Jameis stomped his left leg and called for the snap. As the first-half clock ticked down last Saturday afternoon and No. 8 Florida State found itself tied with host Boston College, its redshirt freshman quarterback demanded one more chance to make something happen. They had 55 yards to go, but Jameis Winston never panics.
He shuffled four yards back, more of a gazelle’s gallop than a typical drop-step. The pass protection broke down, so he tucked the football and ducked to his left. One blitzer reached for his throwing arm, so Winston shed him like an overcoat. He deals with pressure daily, from Heisman Trophy hype to the massive expectations levied upon him by a rabid fanbase that recently spawned T-shirts likening Famous Jameis to Jesus Christ. A few pass-rushers? No sweat.
As he planted and cut back to his right, another blitzer bore down upon him, so he shook that, too, whirling around and escaping into open air. He pointed downfield, cocked back and let it fly. As receiver Kenny Shaw grabbed the pass and scampered into the end zone, the moment seemed, beneath the cloudless skies over Alumni Stadium where a certain Hail Mary-heaving quarterback’s legacy still looms large, rather Doug Flutie-esque.
On Saturday, the Maryland football team will face its toughest challenge to date, compacted into 6 feet 4 inches and 228 pounds of muscle. Through four college games, Winston ranks fourth nationally in completion percentage (73.6), eighth in yards per completion (15.7), second in passing efficiency (209.9) and ninth in passing touchdowns (12). The eighth-ranked Seminoles have topped 40 points in every game and won all but one by at least 38. If the No. 25 Terrapins hope to upset a top 10 team on the road for the first time since 1990, nearly four years before Winston was born, they need to contain the Heisman Trophy contender.
“He’s a very good player,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “He’s strong, he’s a big guy, he’s tough to bring down. He’s got good escapability, got a really strong arm, he can make all the throws. He’s surrounded by really good people, he’s executing their offense well, and he’s somebody who you can see is doing all the things they’re asking him to do. He’s a very good quarterback, and somebody who concerns you when you have to play defense against him.”
Winston poses enough of a problem without referencing his veteran-laden offensive line, which started no one younger than a junior against Boston College, and his wide receivers, including four who stand 6-feet or taller. “Z” wide out Kevin Benjamin (6-5) poses a nightmare matchup problem for Maryland starting cornerbacks Isaac Goins and Will Likely, who are giving up six and 11 inches, respectively.
The plan? Well, there’s not much the Terps can do except hope Goins and Likely execute the games of their lives.
“We’re just going to take Will and Isaac and let them play,” Edsall said. “We can’t make them grow five inches overnight. It comes down to utilizing good technique, and if we do that those guys will put themselves into a position to make plays. We’re going to get a tremendous test this weekend, but I think our guys are up to it.”
Chief among Maryland’s bullet points this Saturday will be pressuring Winston and collapsing his pocket, much like Boston College did on two early drives before Winston went all, well, Winston on them. On Florida State’s opening drive, the Eagles swatted away Winston’s first pass, forced him to throw into double coverage on second down then sacked him for a loss of 11 yards on third and 10.
Winston should be challenged by Maryland’s edge blitz, which has the Terps ranked second nationally with 4.25 sacks per game. Linebackers Marcus Whitfield (fourth) and Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil (29th) are both in the top 30 in sacks per game, but with a secondary thinned by injury, still missing Jeremiah Johnson (fractured toe) and Dexter McDougle (out for the season with shoulder surgery), the Terps must pressure Winston before his receivers can do damage on the outside.
“He’s doing a great job,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “Tough to get down, tough to tackle. He’s extending plays. He’s out there playing like he won the Heisman last year or something. We have to do our job, contain him in the pass rush. Everything has to be sound.”
Winston has proven what can happen if it’s not.
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