NC State safety Jarvis Byrd. Three tackles and a pass break-up on its own are not usually enough to earn recognition here. But Byrd playing and making an impact is certainly noteworthy, and it could be one of the early feel-good stories of the college football season. He considered giving up the game after suffering a third ACL tear last season. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility this season, but he barely practiced in camp and, as our David Hale noted last week, was hardly expected to play in the opener against Georgia Southern, let alone make an impact. Byrd ended up sealing the Wolfpack's 24-23 win with a fourth-down hit on the Eagles' BJ Johnson, forcing an incomplete pass that clinched the game with 1:02 left.
Virginia linebacker Henry Coley. If you told anyone before Saturday that alleged national-title contender UCLA would manage just one offensive touchdown against the reigning ACC cellar-dwellars, you'd probably think Virginia escaped with a victory. The Cavaliers' defense certainly deserved better in a 28-20 loss, as Coley led a charge that rendered the Bruins' offensive line rudderless, exposed just how difficult of a Heisman chase Brett Hundley will have and kept the Hoos alive all day. Coley matched a career-high with 14 tackles, recorded a career-high two sacks and notched the second forced fumble of his career. UVa held UCLA to just 358 yards of total offense. The difference, of course, was Virginia's offense giving away 21 points through a pair of pick-sixes and a fumble recovery for a score. Still, this was a step in the right direction for a program that went 0-8 in league play last year, and the Hoos have to think they have the same chance everyone else does in a wide-open Coastal Division.
Pitt running back James Conner. At times it just looked flat-out unfair to see the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Conner barreling his way forward against an FCS team in Delaware. The sophomore finished the day with 153 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries. The key words there may be "finished the day," as Conner's day rushing the ball was over at the 6:16 mark of the second quarter. The Panthers' 62-0 win over the Blue Hens marked their highest scoring game since Sept. 9, 1995, when they beat Eastern Michigan 66-30. Their 409 rushing yards marked their highest total since the Tony Dorsett era, when Pitt tallied 444 yards on the ground against Army in 1976.
Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene. Greene was, expectedly, Jameis Winston's favorite target during FSU's 37-31 win over Oklahoma State. The senior had 11 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown, a nifty 50-yarder with 3:58 left in the contest that proved to be the game-winner. It may be alarming that the Seminoles' other five pass-catchers combined for just 14 catches and 167 yards, but with FSU locked in a Week 1 dogfight, it only made sense that it turned to its most reliable pair of hands. Greene is also the Noles' punt returner, and though he returned just one for 2 yards against the Cowboys, his workload could be something worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy. The Florida transfer made his presence felt in the Eagles' 30-7 rout of in-state rival UMass, showing a dimension that simply wasn't there for BC offensively a year ago. Murphy completed 17 of 24 passes for 173 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He carried the ball 13 times for a career-best 118 rushing yards and another score. He was never sacked. He hit six different receivers, including three for at least three catches apiece. BC totaled 511 yards of offense and dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 42:11. Friday night's home tilt with ACC foe Pitt should be a great litmus test for both teams after dominant opening-weekend performances.
The sophomore was originally charged with a third-degree grand motor theft, a felony, in connection with stealing a scooter. Wilson admitted to police he took the scooter when he saw the keys in the ignition and crashed it while driving.
In July, Wilson pleaded down to two misdemeanors, his attorney Tim Jansen told ESPN.com. Jansen said Wilson had the initial felony charge reduced to misdemeanor petty theft and misdemeanor criminal mischief. Wilson already has paid $1,074 in restitution to the scooter owner and was sentenced to spend 30 days on a jail work camp and two years' probation. The probation can be reduced to one year if he completes the work camp.
Florida State policy states that any player charged with a felony is immediately suspended from representing the school in any games, but Wilson was able to continue practicing. Throughout preseason camp, Fisher praised Wilson's maturity since the incident.
Wilson could be immediately inserted into the starting lineup for the Seminoles' next game, 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday against The Citadel. As a freshman, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound Miami native had three receptions for 23 yards in limited action.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said last week that opening games are always cause for concern as he truly never knows how his team will react in game situations. The opening week of the season naturally over-stimulates the reactionary portion of the brain, but it’s vital to remember that while 12 games does not sound like a lot, it is a long season and the Florida State team we saw Aug. 30 will look much different on Nov. 30.
But now that we have had 24 hours to digest the Seminoles’ 37-31 win and look ahead to Week 2, we will try to break down fact from fiction as to where the real concerns are for Florida State.
1. FICTION: Florida State is overrated.
With all Florida State returns, there is little reason to believe this team is overrated at this point. The Seminoles might be overhyped, but that is through no fault of their own. Collectively, we -- fans, media, Vegas -- expected perfection from a team that is rebuilding in some vital areas and hadn’t played a football game in nearly eight months. The Seminoles still might be the most talented team in the country, and the Oklahoma State challenge did nothing to change the roster outlook. Maybe the biggest positive to come from Saturday for Florida State is they still had the look of a team that understands what it takes to win a game, even when they’re not clicking on all cylinders.
“We still made critical plays when we had to make critical plays,” Fisher said, “and there is something to that.”
What Florida State did do was buy into their own hype a little bit and, when momentum flipped, didn’t handle the expectations as the preseason No. 1, as well as Fisher, would have liked. From the outside, it looks like an obvious wake-up call, and Florida State players are referring to it as such, with Jameis Winston calling it an “eye opener.” But it is only a wake-up call if it results in a change, and we’ll have to wait another few weeks to see any.
“This year it hit us right off the bat,” cornerback P.J. Williams said, “and that’s a good thing.”
2. FICTION: Winston’s performance is indicative of a Heisman hangover.
The real issue for the passing game is who is going to emerge opposite Rashad Greene?
3. FACT: Florida State needs a No. 2 receiver to emerge.
There is a very good chance Greene will leave Florida State as the most prolific receiver in school history, and he showed why Saturday. But the passing game was out of sorts for stretches, and that is due in part to the lack of a playmaker other than Greene.
“They were … forcing us to throw the football,” Fisher said.
How many teams would have dared Florida State do that last season with Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw? Fisher said Winston kept relying on Greene, who had 11 catches for 203 yards, because Fisher called for plays to Greene. There just isn’t the same confidence in the other receiving options at this point, and maybe that changes once Jesus Wilson returns from suspension, which is still labeled as indefinite but figures to end sooner rather than later. The freshman receivers that earned so much attention during preseason camp didn’t catch a single pass. The trio of Ja’Vonn Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph still figures to be a great one in Tallahassee, but expectations from fans were far too high early on. Levonte Whitfield had some nice plays, but he is limited to a slot role.
The offensive line protected Winston extremely well, however, which in the future should give him enough time to start finding those No. 2 candidates. If defenses start fearing the pass it again, it should open up more holes for running back Karlos Williams.
4. (PARTIAL) FACT: The defensive tackles need to play better.
I watched Oklahoma State’s offensive drives beginning from the second quarter, and the Seminoles’ defensive tackles played well at times and looked shaky at times. If anything, the interior needs to play more consistently, and that could happen if Fisher elects to rotate more bodies in the future. Much of the burden was on Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Mitchell.
There was a mix of good and bad from the tackles on just about every defensive drive. The interior would get penetration one play and then get pushed a few yards off the ball on the next. A lot of it was simply Oklahoma State’s speed, too. A few times the defensive tackles were in position to make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, but Tyreek Hill just took away the angle. Goldman played well for much of the game, I thought, and if the linemen make those tackles for loss, their play might not be as widely discussed.
What did we learn from Week 1 of the season?
Everything ... and nothing.
We learned that Florida State isn't immune to the same disease that commonly infects defending national champions: Acute Pressur-itis.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher admitted as much after the Seminoles' semi-joyless 37-31 win against 18-point underdog Oklahoma State at JerryWorld. He said his team felt the pressure of being ranked No. 1 -- and all that comes with trying to win elusive back-to-back national titles.
"Now I think we can relax and go play football," Fisher said.
That's nice. It's also wishful thinking.
Sure, Florida State will be able to relax at home this Saturday against FCS member The Citadel. Quarterback Jameis Winston can get a mani/pedi while the third-stringers dispose of the Bulldogs. And after the blowout win, everybody can kid themselves into thinking FSU is good to go for the remainder of the season.
But truth is, as the regular season stretches its legs and the Seminoles face Clemson, Notre Dame, travel to Louisville and Miami, and finish with Florida, the Seminoles' nerve will be tested again and again. They will get every opponent's best shot -- just like the solid punches Oklahoma State landed a couple of nights ago.
The Cowboys could have beaten FSU. They didn't, which speaks to the Seminoles' resolve, but they could have. And that reality has to be an unnerving thought for Fisher and Florida State fans.
Fisher knows how hard it's going to be to win consecutive championships. He saw what happened to Alabama (and his coaching buddy Nick Saban) last season as the Crimson Tide were undone by complacency and expectations. If it can happen to a Saban-coached team, it can happen to anybody.
With that said, there are only 12 games on each team’s schedule, and each school can’t afford to throw a week away. So here are some things the ACC blog thinks we learned through the season’s first few days.
The good news is this is an early wake-up call for Florida State, and they still escaped with a win. Though they are considered likely two-touchdown favorites for every game this season, this game probably humbled Florida State a little after the public inflated their egos the past eight months.
2. Clemson’s defense is better, except when it’s against the best:
The Tigers’ defense improved drastically the past season, and Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables deserve credit for that. However, the Tigers allowed 38 points in their toughest games a season ago, and once again a quality offense shredded the unit. Georgia hung 45 on Clemson behind nearly 200 rushing yards from Todd Gurley, who might be the ridiculous early Heisman favorite now, thanks to the Tigers. Gurley averaged more than 13 yards per carry, and on top of it he had an easy 100-yard kickoff return score. All offseason the Tigers’ defense was hyped as possibly the conference’s best as it returns stars along the defensive front, the biggest being Vic Beasley. But the front seven wore down in the second half, and now the Tigers are left questioning whether they deserved the preseason attention.
3. It’s probably a good idea to shelve the perception talk for the time being:
ACC commissioner John Swofford and league coaches must have spent the offseason bench pressing the large stack of papers listing the conference’s 2013 accomplishments because they walked into ACC media days with their collective chest puffed out about the ACC playing second fiddle to nobody. Well, Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe and failed to eclipse 100 total yards. Syracuse nearly lost to FCS Villanova, North Carolina and Georgia Tech both trailed FCS schools, and NC State needed a touchdown with a little more than 90 seconds left for the win. Clemson looked good in the first half, but the defensive front seven was shredded by the UGA rush game and couldn’t tackle in the second half. Florida State even looked human, but at least the Seminoles pulled out the win. The rest of the league needed to show some progress, but the cupcake scares were all too familiar for ACC advocates.
4. Give a lot of credit to the Virginia defense: All afternoon the Cavaliers’ defense was brilliant against No. 7 UCLA. Despite continuously being put in bad situations, the defense bailed out Virginia, and the Cavs nearly pulled off the upset. We all knew Virginia had the potential to be really good on defense, but it showed it Saturday by holding UCLA to fewer than five yards per play and creating a couple of turnovers. Starter Greyson Lambert did not last long, but Virginia might have found its quarterback of the future in Matt Johns. Unfortunately for Virginia, there were too many mistakes. UCLA returned three turnovers for touchdowns, and the play calling was questionable late in the game. Mike London’s conservative approach might have cost Virginia the win.
5. Pittsburgh’s James Conner wants to join the Heisman discussion:
In Year 3, Paul Chryst has Pitt looking like Wisconsin, at least in box scores. The Panthers rushed 56 times for 409 yards and seven touchdowns. Pitt threw a total of 14 passes in the 62-0 drubbing. Sure it was against FCS Delaware, but there were no gimme games for Pitt during Chryst’s first two seasons. Youngstown State defeated Pitt in the 2012 opener, and there were many more close calls over the past two seasons. The Panthers were a popular dark horse pick in the Coastal Division, and they did nothing to suggest they don’t belong in the conversation. They are going to ride Conner, who ran for 153 yards and four touchdowns on only 14 carries. The bad news is sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd dislocated a finger and could miss the Friday night game against Boston College.
6. Deshaun Watson is going to push for more playing time: The No. 1 quarterback in the 2014 class did not look like a freshman on his first collegiate drive. He showed great poise on his first throw, which nearly went for a long touchdown. On his next two plays, the Clemson backup threw beautiful passes, with the second going for a touchdown. Stoudt played well in the first half, but the Clemson offense could not get much of anything going in the second half. Watson only attempted four throws, but the Tigers have South Carolina State and then a bye before Florida State. Could we see more of Watson when Clemson travels to Tallahassee?
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We pontificate and analyze and study for months, and then the games start, and we find out how much we don't know. We write and speak with good intentions. We're as excited about the season getting here as you are.
But then, like most newborns, it acts nothing like imagined. Little 2014 has a mind of its own, and already we see the darling barely resembles our expectations.
We thought Florida State was invincible, and it's not.
We thought the SEC would hang on to its predominance, and it didn't.
It's August, not November, and we are trying to solve big puzzles with small clues.
All that practice, all those meetings, all that information has to be synthesized and turned into efficient, crisp football. History tells us we don't see a lot of that on Labor Day weekend. But who remembers history when there's a new season to embrace?
No. 21 Texas A&M kicked off the season by looking all grown up and embarrassing No. 9 South Carolina 52-28. But the Aggies proved to be the anomaly. No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 15 USC dominated overmatched foes.
No. 2 Alabama looked exactly like Florida State and against a similar opponent, and they defeated West Virginia, 33-23. Those games might have been won on the past couple national signing days. When neither team is executing well, talent rules the day. It might wait until the fourth quarter, when minds are tired and precision is an elusive goal. No. 5 Ohio State and No. 13 LSU eventually found a way to beat Navy and No. 14 Wisconsin, respectively.
Considering the way the final three quarters played out, there were a dozen or so plays that stemmed the tide and flipped momentum in AT&T Stadium. Ultimately, three plays ended up having the biggest impact on the game, and they were all born out of mistakes. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher agrees with the contemporary cliché that more games are lost rather than won, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has to feel that way after the No. 1 Seminoles defeated the Cowboys 37-31.
The decisive play came with a little more than four minutes left in the game. The Florida State offense struggled much of the night, and reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston looked flustered throughout. Rashad Greene, now fourth all-time on the Seminoles' receiving list, ran a shallow cross, and as he broke to the middle of the field, the Cowboys cornerback bumped into a teammate, freeing Greene. The pass was a little behind Greene, so that little collision might have been the difference between an interception and what Greene did once he caught the ball -- go 50 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Two plays earlier, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh had fumbled the football when he looked poised to rip off a big gain. The Cowboys trailed by three and had a chance to take their first lead of the game. But Walsh was tripped up and fumbled, and Winston iced the game shortly thereafter.
Winston looked like a Heisman winner on a 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore lumbered down the field, jumped over his offensive lineman, juked a Cowboys defender and then dove into the end zone. It was the kind of play we've come to expect from Winston but hadn't seen Saturday to that point. That touchdown was also set up by a series of Oklahoma State miscues. The Cowboys looked as if they would pin Florida State deep, but an errant snap on a punt gave the Seminoles the ball near midfield. The Cowboys defense held, but on third-and-11, Cowboys defensive back Ashton Lampkin, who was picked on constantly, was called for holding. It extended Florida State's drive, and Winston rumbled into the end zone the very next play.
Florida State capitalized on the Cowboys' two turnovers, scoring touchdowns off of each. Oklahoma State managed only three points off the Seminoles' two miscues. The first Cowboys turnover came early in the game as Nate Andrews intercepted Walsh near the Oklahoma State end zone, and then Andrews walked in for the score. It was an outstanding play from Andrews, but it once again was precipitated by a special teams breakdown. The Cowboys fouled up the kickoff return and started the drive at their own 3-yard line. Walsh's interception was on the drive's first play, and it gave FSU an early 10-0 lead.
Good teams feed off their opponents' mistakes, and that is exactly what Florida State did.
Florida State Lifts Suspension For Wilson
Final 7 UCLA 28 Virginia 20 Final Delaware 0 Pittsburgh 62 Final Wofford 19 Georgia Tech 38 Final Georgia Southern 23 North Carolina State 24 Final Boston College 30 Massachusetts 7 Final William & Mary 9 Virginia Tech 34 Final 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 45 Final Elon 13 Duke 52 Final Liberty 29 23 North Carolina 56 Final 1 Florida State 37 Oklahoma State 31