Through Florida State’s first four games this season, however, Winston has only 57 fewer passing yards, and that is with one fewer game because of the Week 4 suspension. In 2014, Winston is averaging 40 more yards per game (330), and his 69.5 completion percentage is more than two points higher than last season’s number.
“We're definitely confident in the offense, knowing they can score any time. It's not really like ‘Oh, we know we're going to lose,'" safety Tyler Hunter said. “We're always going to be confident in the offense, that it can go up and score on anybody.”
Winston is coming off his best game of the season against NC State, completing 26 of 38 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns. In the second half, he led touchdown drives on five of the Seminoles’ seven possessions, and on the last drive, Winston orchestrated a four-minute drive and ran for a critical first down to seal the win.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has struggled with turnovers through his first three games, however. He fumbled in the first half against NC State and threw two second-half interceptions. The second came inside the Seminoles’ 15-yard line while they were nursing a tenuous fourth-quarter lead.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders were already prepping to give Winston an earful as he trotted to the sideline because it is a play Fisher said the offense runs “all the, all the, all the, all the time.” But he acknowledged sometimes quarterbacks misread the defense or suffer from information overload, which causes a split-second breakdown.
“It is like driving home and you drive past the turn to turn into your house. Sometimes you can be distracted. There’s so much on these quarterbacks today, especially like an offense like ours,” Fisher said. “These guys are making every decision -- run, pass where it goes and who gets it. There is so much on them. No matter how mature a guy is he’s still got a young mind.”
Fisher said those minds often work like computers. If it freezes, set it aside and give it a minute to reboot. Florida State knows any malfunction with its quarterback is not a product of a growing virus in need of persistent troubleshooting.
“Those guys have that true confidence in themselves. They know they messed up but they will come back,” Fisher said, “… and you are going to keep going back to them and they are going to keep making plays.”
He just kept going, and going and going, all the way to an NCAA-record tying five punts returned for touchdowns. It was easy to take what Switzer did for granted, because he made it all look so effortless.
Excellent returners sometimes get two or three in a season. Five? Only one other player in NCAA history had ever done that.
Switzer entered the season as a marked man. Teams started game planning for him in the return game, either punting to him in the boundary so they can try and pin him, or launching sky kicks with good hang time to allow the coverage to converge on him.
He has had between four and five new faces trying to block for him up front, including several who are playing special teams for the first time. Switzer himself has missed a few opportunities with the ball in his hands because of mistakes he says he has made.
To date, Switzer has not returned a punt for a touchdown and is averaging just 6.4 yards per return -- down from the 20.9 yards he averaged a season ago.
But he is not alone. Return units across the ACC have struggled five weeks into the season, somewhat surprising considering the All-America talent returning.
“Obviously people are excited now when I’m back there, as they should be because we did great things last year,” Switzer said in a phone interview. “It’s eventually going to happen. That’s all I can really say about it because we are getting a lot better at it, and I do think we practice it more than anybody else in the country so it will eventually come.”
So far, the ACC is the only power 5 conference without a punt return for a score. Over the first five weeks of 2013, the league had three -- including two from Jamison Crowder at Duke.
Overall, punt return average is down across the league. Last season, teams averaged 10.1 yards per return. This season, that average is down to 8.7. Crowder, an All-ACC selection as a return specialist a year ago, is averaging nearly 10 yards fewer per return. No ACC player with nine or more punt returns is averaging more than 9.7 yards per kick.
“What you have to realize is every return is not going to be a touchdown,” Crowder said in a phone interview. “Sometimes, you catch yourself forcing the issue a little bit and that throws off your decision making. Sometimes when you do that, you may fumble or muff a punt and that will ultimately hurt the team. So you can’t force the issue.
“You have to be patient and just go out there and play each play and if a return happens to open up and break, then that’s all good, but if a return doesn’t open up and break, I want to be able to make the right decisions so I can put the offense in a good position.”
Kickoff returners who had big performances a year ago also have struggled in the early going. Kermit Whitfield, who led the nation in kickoff return average a year ago, is not even listed among the ACC leaders. He is averaging 16.8 yards fewer per return than 2013.
Coach Jimbo Fisher specifically pointed to missed blocking assignments on kickoff returns last week against NC State, saying, “It’s nothing to do with the returner. You give him a crease and he’ll get out of there.”
Returning punts and kicks takes a true team effort, and it requires great deal of fortitude as well. The good news is the season is still young. Switzer did not return his first punt for a touchdown last year until the Virginia game on Nov. 9. He also has more return yards now than he did a year ago at this time.
As the season wears on, the units should get better, and that should open up more opportunities for the highlight-reel returns we have come to expect.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Switzer said. “You just learn how to be patient and pick the right time to try and make something happen.”
At Florida State, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher addressed how the nation’s top-ranked team deals with in-game concussions. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and running back Mario Pender missed Saturday’s game with concussions, and freshman Trey Marshall left the game with a concussion.
“If there’s anything it comes to me and then it’s up to [doctors] and they make a decision when a guy goes back in. It has nothing to do with me,” Fisher said. “We get [the player] directly to them and they come to me and say ‘It’s OK’ or ‘There’s no chance.’
“… That’s doctors. It has nothing to do with me, and I don’t want that responsibility. There’s no game or no situation that’s worth it, if a coach knows [of a concussed player]. I don’t know the circumstances [at Michigan]. A doctor, that’s his expertise. … I want to have the best for these guys and that’s an expert.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the Tigers have a “monstrous medical staff. We have doctors for doctors.”
While the last few days in Michigan have not put the school or athletic department in a positive light, hopefully this leads to more knowledge and a better response for the future.
Here are a few more ACC links:
- Miami receiver Stacy Coley had a big drop early in the Duke game, but it did not come back to hurt the Canes. Still, the Miami offense needs Coley to play like he did as a freshman.
- Clemson did not have to face Jameis Winston this season as the FSU quarterback was suspended for the contest. But Swinney will face Jacoby Brissett, who stood toe to toe with Winston last weekend and who reminds Swinney of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
- North Carolina had Eric Ebron at tight end last season, and Frank Beamer needed to game plan for him. So he called upon Bucky Hodges, the scout team quarterback. A year later, Hodges will play tight end against the Tar Heels.
- Louisville is concerned with containing Syracuse's quarterback, and the Cardinals are dealing with quarterback problems of their own.
- Syracuse has "decided to part ways" with freshman Naesean Howard.
Absolutely, if we can confirm it or see it for ourselves. This is the challenge of player evaluation. Oftentimes the easy part is determining if the guy can play. The difficult part is finding out what kind of person he is. What are his red flags? Personality quirks? A player might be a four- or five-star player and two-star person. Quite honestly, we never saw any of this “foolishness” with Jameis Winston when he was a recruit. The way kids handle pressure, hype, exposure, success, failure, academics, social environment, etc. can often be impossible to project when a guy is 16 years old. You just don’t know what they are going to do until you have them in your program. You are always weighing risk and what you are willing to deal with in exchange for ability level, especially if you know going in there are some red flags. There is no crystal ball and too many unknown factors that are part of the equation with any recruit, but when coaches are on the hook is when they knowingly take a high-risk player. Coming out of high school, Winston was not in that category.
Rule No. 1 to concocting your very own conspiracy theory: Never let facts get in your way.
Just go with what you believe no matter how it sounds or looks!
Take NC State coach Dave Doeren, a man unafraid of taking on big, bad Florida State. Forget any apology you may have heard this week. Doeren provided the perfect fodder for two separate conspiracy theories after his Wolfpack blew an early lead and lost to the No. 1 Seminoles 56-41 on Saturday.
First, there is the classic "favored team gets preferential treatment" conspiracy theory that generally reads: Referees must protect favored team at all times! No exceptions! In this case, the highly scientific favored team theorem would read: No. 1 team in the nation + only ACC College Football Playoff contender = MUST. NOT. LOSE.
Did the refs deliberately protect Florida State? Read between the lines. "There was some unbelievable holding by their offensive line that apparently is invisible," Doeren said after the game Saturday.
Doeren already has experienced the "favored team gets preferential treatment" conspiracy theory. See: Clemson at NC State, 2013. Bryan Underwood scored the go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter against the No. 3 Tigers. Pandemonium ensued.
But ... ohhhhh. Look at that. Underwood was whistled out of bounds. The play was unreviewable. Clemson won. And ACC officials later said it was unclear whether Underwood had stepped out of bounds. Doeren, by the way, says he still has photographic evidence on his phone that Underwood was in. Do not trifle with a scorned Dave Doeren.
The man does NOT forget.
Maybe he isn’t channeling William Shakespeare, but Fisher got his point across when asked what he’s learned about his 2014 team so far, which has yet to emerge out of the shadow of the 2013 team that spent a January night making confetti angels on the Rose Bowl turf.
OK, land this plane, Jimbo.
“It’s similar to that. You train it the same, I’m doing the same things I did with No. 1 but the results aren’t the same. [The second] doesn’t think or do the same. That’s kind of how a team is. A lot of coaching and success comes from judging the personality of the team and getting to know it. You don’t just get it and plug it in.”
Translation: Fisher is not entirely sure what he is coaching yet, but he knows this isn’t the 2013 team. It isn’t a slight to the current group either. That’s Fisher’s roundabout way of saying even he’s still sizing up his team entering Week 6.
The good news is the Seminoles remain undefeated even if their three FBS wins have come by an average of nine points. That’s far fewer than the average of victory of the other three teams to receive a first-place vote in the AP poll and more than 20 points fewer than their own margin of victory through the first three FBS games of 2013.
Through preseason camp, the fifth-year Seminoles coach harped on finding an identity for his team. He felt he had a finger on the pulse of his team, but top-ranked FSU has been a mixed bag through four games. This isn’t the balanced offense it was last season. This isn’t the top five defense that has been a Tallahassee tradition under Fisher. It’s not a team built on forcing turnovers while limiting its own.
What the heck is the 2014 Florida State team? Better yet, who are they?
“Great competitors [who] don’t flinch,” Fisher said, “but I think it’s evolving offensively and defensively to how we can play.”
The Seminoles deserve the credit for winning close games in which they were tested late in fourth quarters, which did not happen at all during the 2013 calendar year. But they’re walking a tightrope over shark-infested waters. Maybe it is more like mutated, ill-tempered sea bass with the nature of the remaining schedule, but the point still stands: An identity will have to crystallize over the final two months.
Right now, the Seminoles' identity is a team relying on an elite passing attack buttressed by arguably college football’s top quarterback and receiver. Maybe that will be its identity all season, and it very well might be good enough to repeat as national champion, but history suggests either a complementary rushing attack or defense will need to materialize.
Fisher isn’t worried yet, though, and that’s the benefit of gutting out wins even when a team is not playing up to potential. It’s equally frustrating and promising, Fisher said. The confidence in Florida State from pollsters, the Football Power Index, and Las Vegas has waned each week, but Fisher realizes only under the wildest scenario would an undefeated Florida State be left out of the four-team College Football Playoff. So he is keeping weekly stock reports of his team instead and, despite outside doubts, he contends FSU’s arrow is trending up. The Seminoles did in fact have a 100-yard rusher and a defense that allowed only 123 yards in the second half Saturday.
“I don’t worry. You take how it goes and play well enough to beat your opponent and you want to see it gradually going in that direction, and, as crazy as it sounds, I do,” he said. “We’ve improved tremendously from that opening game. I start to see it in my mind.”
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher fired back Monday at NC State coach Dave Doeren, two days after Doeren had accused the Seminoles of faking injuries in FSU's 56-41 win.
"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday, as our Jared Shanker wrote. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."
As Shanker writes, Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith needed help off the field Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Doeren softened his stance Monday but did not exactly back down, saying that the issue is not specific to FSU and that a rule should be in place that a player has to sit out for more than one play if he leaves the game in such a situation.
None of this, of course, is particularly new to college football, which has publicly wrestled with the hurry-up, no-huddle debate going on three years now. There is no real clear answer yet.
Surprisingly, a poll embedded in Shanker's story shows fans are overwhelmingly OK with Doeren's suggestions, saying that he did not cross a line. But our David Hale likely had a point Saturday when he tweeted that if you're going to fake injuries to slow the offense's tempo, you probably don't do it with Goldman in the red zone.
On to the rest of your ACC links ...
- With BC entering its bye, ESPNBoston.com's Jack McCluskey takes a look at where the Eagles stand after a disappointing loss.
- Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has some new motivation, Ken Sugiura writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: He became a father last month.
- Will Gardner returned to practice but his status remains unclear, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- Larry Fedora is going about correcting UNC's mistakes, Andrew Carter writes in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
- Pitt is looking for answers after its latest loss, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Syracuse is trying to develop green cornerbacks during a tough stretch, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
- The (Newport News) Daily Press' David Teel says Virginia's clash with Pitt is important and intriguing for the Coastal division.
In a statement released on Twitter, Doeren said: "I have apologized to Jimbo Fisher & want to apologize to his staff, players & FSU fans for my comments that took away from a tremendous football game. I left an emotional locker room & took those emotions w/ me to the press conference. It was a great college football game with tremendous plays made by both teams. That is where the focus deserves to be. I have the utmost respect for Jimbo, his staff and players. FSU played a great game and earned the win."
The two coaches had traded barbs since Doeren's initial comments Saturday, after No. 1 Florida State rallied to beat NC State 56-41.
"The tempo we had was working until all the crazy fall-down things were going on and the clock kept stopping," Doeren said after the game. "You know the refs can't do anything about that, but it's horrible the way the tempo gets slowed down by these injuries. We went fast in the first quarter; I guess there were no fake injuries."
When asked about his comments Monday, Doeren said his team has dealt with "multiple people falling down" and limping off the field through the first five games of the season and called it "unsportsmanlike" behavior. He specifically pointed to one second-half play in which a Seminoles player "walked off the field as slow as humanly possible, and he's back in the game."
* Jameis Winston’s Heisman campaign shouldn’t be on life support just yet. His numbers are down from last year, but not by as much as you might think.
Last season, Winston led 137 drives and Florida State scored on 66 percent of them, averaging 4.1 points per drive.
This season, Winston has led 33 drives and the Seminoles have scored 61 percent of the time and averaged 3.7 points per drive.
It’s really a small blip, and given that Winston is breaking in a lot of new faces in new roles at the skill positions, it’s certainly not too surprising.
Winston also ranks 10th nationally in passing yards per game, 15th in yards per attempt and 19th in passer rating. Again, off a bit from last season, but certainly well within range of climbing back into the Heisman race by year’s end.
* In Florida State’s first eight quarters of action against Power 5 opponents, it had tallied just 131 yards and two TDs on 45 non-QB rushing attempts (2.9 yards per carry). Since the start of overtime against Clemson, however, those numbers have jumped to 194 yards and five TDs on 30 carries (6.5 YPC).
* Rashad Greene is FSU’s Mr. Reliable. Since he arrived in 2011, he’s responsible for 36 percent of all of the Noles’ receptions on third or fourth down (48). This season, he's been targeted on 11 of 21 third-down passes.
More Greene: He's played in 19 games decided by two touchdowns or less. In those games, he's caught 118 passes for 1,658 yards and 12 TDs. No other FSU receiver has had more than three touchdown catches in those games.
* The bad news for FSU is the defense. The Seminoles have allowed more than 400 yards of offense to ACC teams in consecutive games for the first time since 2009 — a season in which Florida State finished 108th nationally in total defense.
* Looking for a dark horse for the ACC’s top freshman? How about NC State’s Bo Hines, who has 24 catches for 312 yards already this season. Only three other true freshmen in the nation have more catches and only two have more yards than Hines, and no Power 5 conference receiver in the nation (min. 25 targets) has caught a higher percentage of his passes (87.5).
* Jacoby Brissett was exceptional against Florida State, with Jimbo Fisher comparing the NC State QB’s game to that of his own Heisman winner. But beyond the highlight plays, what’s perhaps been so impressive about Brissett so far this season is that he hasn’t made many mistakes. In fact, the NC State QB currently has a streak of 156 straight attempts without an interception — the longest streak by any quarterback since Baylor’s Bryce Petty went 229 straight throws from Oct. 5 through Nov. 30 of last season.
* While Brissett avoided picks, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer keeps racking them up. Brewer threw two more against Western Michigan, giving him 10 for the year, which is tied with Wake Forest’s John Wolford for the most in the country. Brewer has thrown multiple interceptions in four straight games. That’s the longest streak by a Power 5 QB since USC’s Matt Barkley tossed multiple INTs in four straight in 2012. In the last decade, the only Power 5 QB with two or more picks in five straight games was Oregon State’s Matt Moore in 2005.
* Speaking of Wolford, he threw three more picks Saturday, which Louisville turned into two touchdowns and a missed field goal. Overall, Wake Forest has allowed 59 points off turnovers this year, the third most by any Power 5 team. Those 59 points account for 59 percent of all the points the Demon Deacons have surrendered this season, third most of any team in the country.
Worse news for Wake: It has Florida State up next on the schedule. Last year, the Deacons turned the ball over seven times against FSU, leading to 38 points for the Seminoles. Ouch.
* Saturday marked the first time this season that Pitt’s James Conner failed to reach 100 yards rushing and the first time that Miami’s Duke Johnson topped the century mark. Still, Conner and Johnson are the only running backs in the nation to have exceeded 90 yards in every game so far this season.
For Johnson, Saturday’s win over Duke was his 14th career game topping 90 yards rushing. Only three other active Power 5 running backs have had more since the start of 2012: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (22), Georgia’s Todd Gurley (18) and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (15). That’s pretty good company.
* Of course Deshaun Watson is great, but here are a few numbers to illustrate how good he’s been: Watson leads the nation in yards per attempt (11.9). He’s second only to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in passer rating (212.7). He’s third behind Mariota and Alabama’s Blake Sims in completion percentage (72.7). He has the third-best rate of TD-to-attempts in the country behind Mariota and Cal’s Jared Goff. And no QB in the nation has had a higher percentage of his passes result in plays of 20 yards or more than Watson (21.1).
* Impressive early work by Todd Grantham. Louisville currently leads the nation in total defense (208.5 yards per game) against FBS teams. Virginia is the next closest in the ACC, allowing more than 100 additional yards per game than the Cardinals (313.0). Louisville’s 18 sacks and nine interceptions against FBS teams are also tops in the nation, and only TCU has had a higher percentage of opponent drives end without gaining a first down (58%). ESPN’s metrics note the Cardinals’ defensive win probability added of 2.40 nearly doubles any other team in the country (Ole Miss and Utah State are next at 1.23).
* Virginia’s offense still won’t be confused with Oregon or Baylor, but the Hoos have scored 20 points or more in five straight games for the first time since Oct. 6, 2007. They haven’t hit that mark in six straight since 2002, but that could change Saturday against reeling Pittsburgh.
Georgia Flips, Signs ESPN 300 FSU Commit
12:30 PM ET Virginia Tech North Carolina 3:30 PM ET North Carolina State Clemson 3:30 PM ET Wake Forest 1 Florida State 7:30 PM ET Miami (FL) Georgia Tech 7:30 PM ET Pittsburgh Virginia