FSU's Winston doesn't have A-game, still has what it takes to lead team to title

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 7, 2014 

PASADENA, Calif. The way Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston looks at it, the state of Alabama just won its fifth consecutive BCS national championship Monday night.

Alabama won the title in 2009, Auburn in 2010 and Alabama again in 2011 and 2012.

Winston, a native of Hueytown, Ala., thinks some people in his home state will claim Florida State's 34-31 win in the Rose Bowl as a win for the state of Alabama.

"I am sure the people back home are going to say that they have five consecutive championships," Winston said. "Alabama people are going to keep it in that state any way they can."

Had it not been for Winston's last-minute heroics, Auburn would have taken the title back to Alabama and left no doubt which state owned it.

Trailing by three points and looking at just 1:19 on the clock, Winston took the Seminoles 80 yards in 58 seconds to secure the win. He found receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning play with just 13 seconds to go.

Winston finished the night 20 of 35 with two touchdowns. He threw for 237 yards without an interception.

But that doesn't tell the story of how Winston struggled in the first three quarters. The Auburn defense had him confused and dazed in the first half as Auburn raced out to a 21-10 halftime led.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn understated it saying his defense "put a lot of pressure on the quarterback."

Auburn defensive end Dee Ford put it another way.

"He started second-guessing his decisions," Ford said. "... He's a freshman, and I think tonight we kind of exposed that.... Very early I saw he was a little hesitant."

He was not hesitant in the fourth quarter.

"I was uncomfortable," Winston said. "Auburn was not the cause of that. It was me, myself."

At the end of the game, Winston did not look like a rattled quarterback. He looked like the Heisman Trophy winner.

"I have never heard of a young quarterback to be rattled and come back with the game-winning drive," he said.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Winston played his best game of the year.

"It is the best football game he has played all year, and I will tell you why," Fisher said. "Because for three quarters he was up and down and he fought. And like any great player, some nights you just don't have it. ... Very few can do it when it is not their night."

Fisher said there should be no criticism of Winston for the slow start.

"To pull it out in this atmosphere and environment and with what was on the line, to me, if that's not a great player, I don't know what one is."

Winston even won the postgame news conference. A reporter asked him a question prefacing it with a statement that he did not have his "A game."

Winston immediately cut off the question.

"Coach said it was the best game I played," he said.

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