TALLAHASSEE – Jameis Winston has erected a legacy based on self-reliance and here was another opportunity, a Maryland blitz bearing down upon him, the pocket collapsing with nowhere to run. Linebackers Marcus Whitfield and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil had pinched the redshirt freshman phenomenon from both sides, the latter so close he lept up and tried to pile-drive Winston from the neck down. Even his left tackle stopped moving. The play was dead.
Through five games with the eighth-ranked Seminoles, Winston has effortlessly matched all manner of hype. They call him Famous Jameis for a reason and, right now, he might be more recognizable than the chocolate chip cookie magnate whose name it rhymes with. His Heisman Trophy candidacy reached new heights Saturday on a swampy afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium, when he added another escape act to the highlight vault.
Winston spun left and dashed into open space. With Whitfield and Cudjoe-Virgil still on his heels, he rocketed a pass on the run to the right side of the end zone, where tight end Nick O’Leary hauled in the pass. Winston set career highs against a porous Maryland defense during a 63-0 win, thrashing the No. 25 Terrapins for 393 yards and five touchdowns on 71.9 percent passing.
“He’s an outstanding football player,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “We had him a couple of times. One of the things we worked on all week was to tackle him low, wrap his legs, and we didn’t do that. We were up high. He made some really good plays and as he started to come out of there, our eye discipline in the secondary wasn’t very good. We looked back at the quarterback instead of plastering on the receivers and they got some big plays that way. And we didn’t do a good job on third down. Third down we were very, very poor on third down. All around it was not a good day.”
One of the worst, in fact. Edsall had never suffered this bad a loss in his career. Only one ranked team had ever lost by 63 points before. But Maryland might never face another ACC quarterback quite like Winston, and that includes Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. The Terps have proven they can routinely pound inferior opponents, or even average squads like West Virginia. Yet faced with their toughest task yet, they fell flat.
“He’s a good quarterback,” nose tackle Darius Kilgo said. “He’s a great guy who can get out of the pocket and move around. We knew coming in the game that he was capable of doing that. We weren’t prepared at some times and moments, so he got the best of us.”
After Winston took Florida State 77 yards on its first offensive possession, the teams appeared headed for a dogfight. Maryland forced a punt on the Seminoles’ next two drives, buoyed by pocket pressure on Winston and two straight terrible snaps by center Bryan Stork, who eventually left with a concussion. After defensive lineman Andre Monroe dropped Winston for a nine-yard loss, Maryland’s first sack of the afternoon, the Terps appeared on the cusp of breaking through.
“I mean, yeah he’s a great quarterback and everything, but I definitely feel like we had the talent out there to stop him,” linebacker Cole Farrand said. “You saw the first couple drives, we were doing a good job. Then we definitely got sloppy with things. You have to be on point every time. You can’t give him leeway, because he’ll take advantage of it.”
But give a quarterback of Winston’s caliber an inch and he’ll march his team straight down the field. Passes of 15, 11 and 38 yards put the Seminoles at the Maryland 15-yard line, and three plays later Devonta Freeman punched in from five yards out. Without cornerbacks Dexter McDougle (shoulder surgery) and Jeremiah Johnson (fractured toe), a thinned Terps secondary couldn’t match up with Florida State’s stable of athletic receivers. Four players topped 50 yards and three caught touchdowns, surgically knifing holes through Maryland’s defensive backfield.
After Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown left the game with a concussion, Winston strung together another long drive, finding Kelvin Benjamin, also from five yards. He hit O’Leary from eight yards to open the third quarter and Kenny Shaw from 21 yards less than three minutes later.
Then came the coup de grace, the escape routine that exploded Twitter and gave another GIF for Winston’s legion of followers to drool over. Television cameras captured Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher smiling on the sidelines after that play. In the end zone, O’Leary needed time to process what just happened. More magic from Winston, that’s all it was, and the Terps were the latest helpless victim.
“He’s done that quite a few times,” O’Leary said. “I don’t know how he does it.”