TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The spotlight was going to be on Jameis Winston regardless. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, engulfed in controversy for the better part of a year, was suspended for the full game less than 24 hours before No. 1 Florida State's matchup with No. 22 Clemson.
As the game approached, though, the attention was supposed to turn to redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire, the other quarterback -- the starting quarterback, if only for three hours.
Except Winston invited the cameras and microscope with his pregame antics, appearing from the locker room in full pads and taking practice snaps with the rest of the quarterbacks.
Then it carried over into the game. The spotlight was not on the Seminoles until the ball was finally kicked off at 8:23, but for the first 30 minutes the team played like it was a secondary story: Breakdowns on the offensive line, a negative rushing total and a defense that allowed 249 first-half yards to Clemson.
For the most loyal Winston supporter, this was the perfect scenario as late as Friday evening. The offense was sputtering and in need of a spark as it entered halftime trailing 10-3. But now Winston was relegated to the bench for the second half, too, and it was time for Maguire to earn the spotlight he hadn't received since being named the starter Wednesday.
So Jimbo Fisher was left with Maguire, and if the Seminoles were going to win, he was going to have to take them there. He did, tossing a 74-yard touchdown to Rashad Greene with 6:04 left to tie the game, which Florida State eventually won 23-17 in overtime.
“I felt a lot of pressure was on him,” cornerback Ronald Darby said. “… We put him in bad situations, but he pulled out the win.”
Maguire learned he'd play the entire game not long before he went to sleep Friday. There weren't any dreams of big touchdown passes or improbable overtime wins. But he lived it Saturday.
“I can’t put into words,” Maguire said. “It’s the greatest feeling in my life so far that’s for sure.”
Maguire played nervous early while teammates played distracted. In the first half, Maguire played like a quarterback who only saw the field in mop-up duty previously, completing only 6 of 17 passes in the first half.
In the second half, Fisher took the training wheels off. There were shotgun and first-down passes and no-huddle offenses to start the second half. The game was going to be in Maguire’s hands, which most honest Florida State fans did not trust leading into the game.
In the second half, he was 15-of-22 passing and finished with 305 yards.
“We got him in a rhythm and got him some confidence,” Fisher said.
Would Maguire have been confident enough to throw that deep fourth-quarter pass to Greene in the first quarter?
“Probably not,” Fisher said. “And it comes after he takes a sack he shouldn’t have taken. But that’s what I loved about him tonight -- he just kept playing the next play, and that takes a lot for a first-time starter.”
The narrative nearly turned for Maguire in the final three minutes of the game. Maguire took a chance over the middle and threw an interception. Clemson had the ball at the Seminoles’ 26-yard line and was killing the clock to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.
That is when Maguire’s teammates secured the backup quarterback’s moment in the spotlight, no matter how fleeting it was destined to be, by forcing a fumble.
“Oh my God, we got the ball back,” Maguire said.
And Maguire finally got his limelight.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With two minutes to go in regulation Saturday night, the end seemed near -- for both the ACC and Florida State.
Jameis Winston stood in track pants on the sideline, his suspension threatening to shred national championship hopes. His backup, Sean Maguire, had just thrown a bad pass that Clemson safety Jadar Johnson easily intercepted, putting the Tigers in prime position to win.
On second-and-2 from the Florida State 18, C.J. Davidson took the ball. All the Tigers had to do was get a few more yards to set up for a game-winning field goal. Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman converged, and got his hand on the ball. It squirted out.
Hearts sank on the Clemson sideline. The nation had seen Clemson fumble opportunities before, mistakes that have turned its school name into a verb that has come to symbolize what it means to give away games.
All that was left was victory. Karlos Williams, ineffective all night, knew what he had to do. He would not let his teammates down. His 12-yard touchdown run gave No. 1 Florida State a 23-17 win, preserving its championship hopes and saving face for the ACC.
“It just shows we have great players on this football team besides Jameis Winston,” Williams said. “Although he's our captain, he's our leader, he's the best player in college football, we showed tonight we also have great players on this football team -- Rashad Greene, Bobo Wilson. Sean Maguire is a great quarterback. I believe that we proved we're Florida State and we're on the right track.”
With all due respect to Clemson, the ACC needed Florida State to pull out the win. Saturday was the worst weekend of the year for the ACC, as the league went 3-5 in nonconference play against FBS opponents, including an ugly 0-3 against the Big Ten.
Had Clemson won, the ACC would have gone from front-runner to outsider praying for a shot in the College Football Playoff.
Watching Florida State win the national title last year helped get the ACC some major respect. Watching Florida State go down at home in September to a team it has owned the past two seasons would not make a compelling case for inclusion. While it is true a one-loss Florida State team may not have been completely eliminated from contention, the ACC strength of schedule is simply not going to hold up this season against the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12. Not with the Week 4 results as an example.
So to guarantee staying alive for another week, Florida State had to win. It looked bleak in the early going, with the Clemson defensive line dominating and Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson taking a star turn of his own.
While Clemson played better for large parts of the game, it left points all over the field -- unacceptable for a team with its own championship hopes. Cole Stoudt, who started the game at quarterback, missed a shot at a sure touchdown in the first quarter when he threw the ball at his receiver’s feet. Clemson missed a field goal.
In the third quarter, Clemson had first-and-goal on the 1. A bad snap sailed over Watson’s head on second down. Clemson ended up missing another field goal. All the while Maguire started playing better, and so did his offensive line. It helped that Greene and Nick O’Leary were more involved, a big reason why the Noles stayed in the game.
But the biggest play of all belonged to Goldman, who matter-of-factly described his crucial forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.
“I knew it came loose,” he said. “When you're in the heat of the moment, you're not really thinking.”
Was there ever a moment of doubt when his teammates took the field, with the clock winding down and Clemson in prime position to win the game?
“You can't think of losing,” Goldman said. “One thing that Jimbo Fisher tells us is that you're never out of the fight until it's over. That's the mentality.”
Winston will be back at practice Monday. He will be under center next Saturday, when Florida State continues its playoff quest at NC State. The Seminoles proved they can win with Winston, and they can win without Winston.
Now they need to prove they can keep on winning. Because once again, the Noles are left alone carrying the banner for themselves.
And the banner for the ACC.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be back as the Seminoles' No. 1 quarterback Monday after being suspended for their 23-17 win over No. 22 Clemson, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
"He'll be back at practice Monday and be our quarterback on Monday," Fisher said in his postgame opening comments, which lasted five minutes.
Originally suspended for the first half of the game for profane and sexually explicit comments made on campus Tuesday, Winston was ruled out for the entire game by Florida State interim president Garnett S. Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox said in a joint statement late Friday.
Fisher declined to elaborate on why the university changed its mind or when. Sources told ESPN.com and ESPN's Tom Rinaldi it was for misleading the administration about his actions Tuesday.
Wilcox declined comment to ESPN.com before Saturday's game. Through a university spokeswoman, Stokes also declined comment.
Fisher said he believes this will be a learning experience for Winston, who has been involved in several off-field incidents and has been criticized for his questionable behavior despite previous transgressions.
He was investigated in 2013 for sexual assault, but Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, chose not to charge Winston in December. Florida State is still following through with its Title IX investigation into the matter.
Winston also was suspended from the baseball team for three games and ordered to perform 20 hours of community service after being cited for stealing $32 worth of crab legs from a local grocery store in April. There have been other minor run-ins with authorities, but no arrests.
The ACC didn’t have bragging rights for long. Remember when the Big Ten was a laughing stock and the ACC was comfortably in the No. 4 spot in the conference power rankings? Well, that didn’t last long. The ACC went 0-3 against the upstart Big Ten on Saturday, including home losses by Pitt (to Iowa) and Syracuse (to Maryland). The Pitt loss is particularly galling, as the Panthers were on the brink of hitting th Top 25 and might have established themselves as a Coastal favorite with a win. Now? It’s tough to see a team that’s going to gain any national respect in this conference beyond FSU.
North Carolina isn’t a contender. The Tar Heels rolled over for ECU a year ago in an ugly loss. They saw the Pirates upset Virginia Tech last week. They had an extra week to prepare for Shane Carden and Co. before Saturday’s showdown. The result? A brutal 70-41 loss that offered a long, long list of embarrassments. The 789 yards of offense by ECU is the most against an ACC team in at least a decade, and the most any team has racked up so far this season. The 70 points is the most scored against an ACC team since Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia in 2012. Carden’s 438 passing yards were the second most against UNC in the last decade. After three games, UNC hasn’t looked ready to stop anyone on defense, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the ACC slate to come. Up next? Clemson.
Jacoby Brissett took care of the little guys. No one will mistake NC State’s early-season schedule for a murderer’s row of talent, so it’s way too early to buy in on the Wolfpack’s ACC chances. But the bottom line is that they’re 4-0, need just two more wins to get bowl eligible, and a year after enduring chaos at the quarterback position, Brissett has appeared to have all the answers. Through four games, he’s completing 70 percent of his throws and has tossed 10 touchdowns with just one pick -- and that came early in opener. He’s now thrown 108 straight passes without an interception. Of course, the task gets tougher in Week 5 when Florida State comes to town.
We were high on the wrong Tech. OK, it was tough to hype Georgia Tech too much. The Yellow Jackets have trailed in each of their four games thus far, and even against Virginia Tech on Saturday, they were out-gained (424 to 375), had fewer first downs (24 to 19) and converted just 4-of-12 third downs. But the Georgia Tech D made plays when it had to, and the offense cashed in with 17 points off turnovers. So maybe instead of nitpicking the Jackets’ flaws thus far, we should’ve been noting how well they’d overcome them. Justin Thomas has Georgia Tech at 4-0, and with home dates against Miami and Duke, there’s a perfect opportunity for the Jackets to take command of the Coastal.
QBs of the future took a step forward. OK, so Miami lost, Clemson lost and Wake Forest barely escaped Army. That’s not ideal, but fans have to at least be excited about how the freshman QBs performed. We discussed Watson’s talent, which is immense, but Brad Kaaya looked markedly better than his Week 1 performance against Louisville, and John Wolford continues to improve in spite of very little help from the rest of the Deacons’ offense. Overall, the three true freshmen combined to complete 69 percent of their throws, averaged 8.2 yards-per-attempt, tossed five touchdowns and ran for a sixth while largely limiting any killer mistakes. On a brutal weekend in the ACC, the kids at least offered a reasonable silver lining.
He did so admirably, coming up with the biggest play of the game in overtime. On a fourth-and-inches that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had little choice but to go for, it was Casher who awaited Clemson running back Adam Choice. It was destined for a head-on, man-against-man collision, and Casher gave no ground. He held Choice until Reggie Northrup cleaned it up to force the turnover on downs.
Two plays later, Florida State running back Karlos Williams waltzed into the end zone to keep the No. 1-ranked Seminoles undefeated.
Casher was asked to do what few players in the country can do in replacing Edwards, who has a rare mix of size, power and speed. Casher made play after play throughout the second half as the Tigers wanted to test the backup. Casher answered the bell every single time.
It is a career-defining moment for Casher, who was injured early in his career and has been engulfed in controversy since. During the summer, FSU had placed Casher on probation for one year for two violations of the university's student code of conduct stemming from the sexual assault investigation into quarterback Jameis Winston. And in 2012, police briefly detained Casher and Winston after a person reported two men were carrying a gun on campus, which turned out to be a pellet gun. He was also part of a BB gun incident that damaged an apartment complex’s property.
Whether Edwards returns in time next week, Casher might have done enough to earn a starting job back with his clutch performance. He lost his spot to sophomore DeMarcus Walker, but Casher gave Seminoles coaches something to consider with his performance.
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College Football Top Plays Week 4
Final Georgia Tech 27 Virginia Tech 24 Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Tulane 13 Duke 47 Final Maine 10 Boston College 40 Final Louisville 34 Florida International 3 Final Virginia 33 21 BYU 41 Final Army 21 Wake Forest 24 Final North Carolina 41 East Carolina 70 Final Presbyterian 0 North Carolina State 42 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41 Final/OT 22 Clemson 17 1 Florida State 23