Doak Campbell stadium has seen many games in its recent past in which fans begin filing out just after halftime, content with a comfortable Florida State lead. But against Clemson on Saturday night, no fan dared leave his/her seat a second too soon. It took overtime, but the Seminoles stuck out a hard fought game to emerge victorious over their ACC rivals, winning 23-17.
Beneath all the cheers and celebrations resounded a collective sigh of relief, because for much of the game it looked as if FSU was on its way to its first loss since the 2012 season. One thing became very clear early on: Florida State is not the same team without Jameis Winston.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was suspended for the game due to yelling an offensive phrase in the student union earlier in the week. Backup Sean Maguire was forced to step in as quarterback, with only three days of preparation.
There was a noticeable difference in the offense’s production with Maguire under center. At the end of regulation, FSU had a total of -12 rushing yards, and the offense was struggling to find a rhythm.
Maguire was far from perfect, going 21-39 for 305 yards with two interceptions. He missed several open receivers and often picked out the wrong target downfield, all the while struggling to feel out pressure from the Clemson defense. It didn’t help that the offensive line failed to give him any kind of consistent protection.
While Maguire did have a rough overall performance, he was good when it mattered, and that’s what Head Coach Jimbo Fisher needed from him.
After a discouraging first half, in which the ‘Noles only produced three points, Maguire led the team to a touchdown on its first possession of the third quarter. The drive consisted of nine plays for 68 yards, ending in a 1-yard touchdown run from Mario Pender.
Maguire got a lot of support from his teammates in all phases of the game, as the team rallied around him late in the game to push the Seminoles past the Tigers. On special teams, Roberto Aguayo connected on a 50-yard field goal to give the ‘Noles an early lead and Cason Beatty had perhaps the best game of his career, averaging 40 yards per punt, and pinning the ball inside the 20 yard line four times.
Wide receiver Rashad Greene turned in another stellar performance, hauling in nine catches for 135 yards. He caught a 74-yard touchdown pass from Maguire with six minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary provided a great deal of support for Maguire, who was making his first career start in college.
“We were able to keep him calm, keep him composed and just trust us that we trusted him,” Greene said.
On the other side of the ball, the Seminole defense fought the whole game to give Maguire and the offense a chance to win the game. In the first quarter, Clemson’s starting quarterback Cole Stoudt was pulled by head coach Dabo Swinney in favor of true freshman Deshaun Watson. Watson posed a bigger threat than Stoudt as a strong runner, forcing the FSU defense to adjust.
Still, FSU only gave up 17 points, overcoming two Maguire interceptions which gave the Tigers favorable field position. At the end of the game, the defense leaders stepped up and ultimately stole the game from Clemson.
After Maguire’s second interception of the game, the Tigers had the ball deep in FSU territory, and it looked like they’d be able to run out the clock and score an easy game-winning field goal. Defensive end Eddie Goldman changed that when he forced the ball out of C.J. Anderson’s hands. Nate Andrews recovered the ball, giving FSU new life.
Coach Fisher chose to run out the clock and play for overtime, which was questioned by some, but turned out to be the right decision. Clemson got the ball first in overtime, and found itself in a 4th and 1 situation. Swinney chose to go for it, likely taking into consideration that his kicker missed two field goals earlier in the game. Clemson’s Adam Choice was stuffed for no gain by Reggie Northrup and Chris Casher.
On the ensuing possession, Karlos Williams powered past the Clemson defense on two consecutive runs to reach the end zone and give FSU the win.
After the game, Coach Fisher said about his team, “We know how to win. This team has resolve; it has guts. It didn’t play its best; it didn’t have its best player. I’m unbelievably proud of these kids and the guts and the heart this team has. It knows how to win.”
Fisher went on to praise Maguire and the defense for exceptional performances when it looked like they were down and out. Maguire also noted how much support he received from his teammates in the days leading up to the game, as well as throughout the night.
While it turned out to be a positive game for FSU, there are still worries on the horizon. The Seminole have plenty to work on to reach the level they were at last year. But most of all, they need Jameis Winston on the field. He is the focal point of the team, and without him they looked a little lost.
It is the hope of the university and of Jimbo Fisher that this suspension has taught him to start being the leader off the field that he is on it. Saturday night’s game showed that FSU desperately needs him to be.
“Our hope and belief is that Jameis will learn from this and use better judgment,” said Fisher. If FSU is to make it back to the National Championship, Winston has to grow as a person.
Regardless, he returns to the team on Monday, and will be FSU’s starter against NC State. Lucky for him, FSU’s postseason plans are still intact.
by MATT SIMONS / sports editor