Florida State Seminoles running back Devonta Freeman (8) runs the ball as wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (1) blocks Bethune-Cookman Wildcats defensive back Thomas Finnie (8) during the second half at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday. (Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There would be no FCS vs. FBS upset in the Sunshine State this week.
Florida State made sure of that.
The Seminoles got a pick-6 and a safety from their defense and overcome a mortal game from their rising freshman Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston to lift the eighth-ranked Seminoles to a 54-6 rout Saturday of Bethune-Cookman — a lower-tired FCS program that came into the game riding the momentum of an upset win against FBS school Florida International last weekend.
Instead, it was back to the norm for NCAA Division I programs, which had already been stunned a record nine times this year by FCS teams coming into Week 4 of the season.
Just don’t expect FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher to be pleased with the 48-point whipping after his offense got off to its second straight slow start.
“We dropped a touchdown pass and fumbled inside the 5,” Fisher said of the first-half miscues, which included a James Wilder Jr. cough-up that was recovered by B-C’s Marquis Drayton and a wide-open drop in the end zone by leading receiver Rashad Greene. “Those things have got to get cleaned up.”
Florida State (3-0) improved to 20-0 all-time against FCS programs and would not become the latest victim, despite a 10-for-19, 148-yard outing from Winston — a far cry from the Seminoles’ first two games when he was a combined 40-for-45 with 570 yards and six passing touchdowns. The former No. 1 QB recruit in the country came into the game as the NCAA’s second-most efficient passer, but he will see that ranking dip after watching his normally steady receiving corps — which hadn’t had a drop all season before Saturday — let several slip through their hands in the wet conditions at rainy Doak Campbell Stadium.
Winston did, however, have one unforgettable play that added to his growing legend around Tallahassee, where fans have already dubbed him “Famous Jameis.”
With FSU ahead, 12-0, Winston faced a third down and heavy pressure in the Wildcats’ red zone. But after breaking two tackles — using a 360-degree spin move to avoid the second — he threw an 11-yard dart while heading out of bounds to leaping 6-foot-5 wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
Fisher said Winston’s pure athleticism allowed him to pull a rabbit out of his hat after missing the initial read on the play-call.
“He should have thrown the hot route. Down on the goal line, we’ll allow him to hold it in short areas because you can give ground and lay it,” Fisher said. “But the guy he was going to do it with got tied up and he just made an outstanding, athletic play. It was a tremendous play.”
Winston would play just one series after halftime when he hit Greene from 19 yards out for a score on FSU’s opening drive. Kenny Shaw led FSU in receiving Saturday with four catches for 89 yards, while Devonta Freeman eclipsed the century mark for the second straight game, carrying the ball 10 times for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Bethune-Cookman, which had its 10-game regular-season winning streak snapped, saw its opening drive end with a 68-yard, pick-6 by senior linebacker Telvin Smith, who scored his first career touchdown after galloping past the Wildcats’ defense untouched for the score.
“Nobody was catching me,” Smith said. “I knew that.”
Quentin Williams, who was Bethune-Cookman’s third different starting QB in the Wildcats’ first four games, was benched one series later and did not return, giving way to senior Jackie Wilson for the remainder of the contest.
It didn’t matter. The opening defensive score set the stage for a long night for the Wildcats (3-1), who came into the game refusing to be intimidated by Florida State.
“We made some mistakes that (FSU) capitalized on, and that’s what good teams do,” B-C coach Brian Jenkins said. “We weren’t going to back down away from them. We didn’t let (Winston) scare us. We caused (him) probably to have more incompletions in this game then in the first two combined, so that’s a plus.”
Bethune-Cookman surrendered 492 yards of total offense to the Seminoles, who have now started 3-0 for the third consecutive season. Bethune’s two quarterbacks combined for just 60 yards passing, 52 yards rushing and one interception. The Wildcats came into the game with the FCS’ fifth-best rushing attack with an average of 251.7 yards a game, and while they accumulated 182 on the ground Saturday, leading RB Anthony Jordan was limited to just 81 yards on 15 carries by FSU’s top 10-nationally ranked defense. Bethune-Cookman leading receiver Eddie Poole was also held in check to the tune of just three catches for 46 yards, although his first grab in the opening quarter extended his streak to 39 straight games with a reception.
After racing out to a 33-0 halftime lead, Florida State made it 40-0 on Greene’s third-quarter TD, then the offense was turned over to backup Jacob Coker, who finished 3-for-6 passing with 78 yards. B-C answered FSU’s score, finally finding the end zone for the first and only time of the game with 8:21 left in the third. Wilson and the B-C offense gashed the Seminoles for 12 plays and 75 yards, capped by a 7-yard TD run by the senior signal-caller to cut the deficit to 40-6 after B-C’s woes continued when it missed the extra point.
It was the lone offensive highlight for the Wildcats as Jenkins lamented the errors that plagued his team all game.
“Just in the first half alone, we had two big sacks (on our quarterback), two dropped interceptions … and we fielded two kickoff returns that pinned us back,” he said. “Against any good ballclub it would have been hard to win.”