With the same ruthless efficiency that was the calling card for the 2013 national champions, top-ranked Florida State rolled through The Citadel 37-12 in front of a home-opening crowd of 81,294 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
In the process, the Seminoles established a new school record with their 18th consecutive victory, breaking the mark that spanned the 1999 national championship season and carried into the 2000 season.
Moving the ball and the chains at will against a Bulldog defensive front which yielded on average 53 pounds to FSU’s offensive line, the Seminoles scored on each of their four first half possessions to grab a 28-0 lead that was never challenged.
Averaging 8.1 yards per play in the first half, the Seminoles (2-0) amassed 291 yards on 36 snaps. FSU was equally efficient on the ground and through the air, pounding out 141 rushing yards on 19 carries while adding 150 through the air behind Jameis Winston’s near-perfect performance.
“We were extremely efficient on offense,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “[We] had it four times; scored four touchdowns. The defense … did a really nice job the second half coming out with the one and shutting them down; getting the ball back.”
In a first half performance reminiscent of his first career start at Pitt last season, Winston completed 16 of 17 attempts, throwing in rhythm and on time while spreading the ball between seven teammates. It wasn’t by accident.
“I came out with a different mentality,” Winston said. “I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but I wanted to give my team more of me. The Oklahoma State game I had those early turnovers in the red zone and I just felt like I had to come back and do a great job this game.”
Winston did just that, connecting with sophomore Jesus Wilson on a 12-yard touchdown pass, then closing the first half with a 1-yard strike to Nick O’Leary to cap a 13-play, 89-yard drive.
His lone incomplete pass of the first half came on a shovel pass intended for Kermit Whitfield, which was initially ruled a rushing attempt.
While Winston was clicking, the Seminoles’ ground game was producing yardage in large chunks. FSU averaged 7.4 yards a carry with Karlos Williams piling up 62 yards on seven first half totes, including a 1-yard touchdown run to finish off the first possession of the night. Freshman Dalvin Cook raced 17 yards on his first carry and tacked on a 5-yard touchdown for the Seminoles third score of the night.
About the only thing that didn’t go well for the Seminoles in the opening half was completely out of their control. Interior defensive linemen Eddie Goldman, Justin Shanks and Nile Lawrence-Stample all suffered lower leg injuries and did not return.
Despite their absence, the defense stood strong against the Bulldogs’ confounding triple-option. The Citadel, which annually ranks among the top Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) rushing leaders, managed 127 yards on 33 plays in the first half; 115 of those on the ground on 28 carries.
FSU’s first half dominance enabled Fisher to break in two potential first-year offensive weapons. Cook led the team in rushing with 67 yards on 13 carries, while freshman wide receiver Ermon Lane had three receptions for 37 yards, including 14 on his first career catch, which went for a first down.
By the third series of the second half, freshman Roderick Johnson and redshirt freshmen Wilson Bell and Ryan Hoefeld and junior college transfers Kareem Are and Chad Mavety entered the game with quarterback Sean Maguire, as Winston (22-27-0, 256 yards) retired to the sideline.
Though unable to sustain their first half efficiency, the Seminoles continued to extend their lead in the second half as Roberto Aguayo capped third quarter drives of 58 and 71 yards with field goals of 22 and 27 yards, extending the lead to 34-0.
Dismissing FSU’s second half red zone struggles, Winston accepted responsibility for Aguayo’s busy second half.
“We have no concerns on offense,” said the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. “That’s all me. It’s my job to put the ball in the end zone. Coach Fisher goes over with me every single day – touchdowns in the red zone. He says we’re not a field goal kicking team, but luckily we have one of the best field goal kickers in the country. Obviously, that’s a blessing.”
Still, the Seminoles did not punt until the first play of the fourth quarter.
Perhaps most impressively, FSU’s defense surrendered just 49 yards in the third quarter.
“For us, it was a defining moment for the defense, to see how disciplined we were going to be, see how everybody did their jobs and see how well we trusted each other,” defensive back Jalen Ramsey said. “We just wanted to come out (in the second half) and really put our foot on their throat; really give it to them and end the game quick.”
The Citadel (0-2) avoided the shutout when Rudder Brown capped a 10-play, 76-yard drive by collecting a 10-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Miller with 10:12 remaining in the game.
Maguire countered by leading the Noles on a 14-play, 58-yard drive, which Aguayo finished with his third field goal of the game – this one from 24 yards – for the second consecutive week.
DeAndre Schoultz collected a 10-yard touchdown pass from Dominique Allen with 12 seconds remaining for the final points of the game as the two-point conversion pass failed.
The Seminoles closed out the night with 494 total yards on 67 plays for a healthy 7.4 yards per snap, equally balancing the run (35-210 yards) and the pass (25-32-0, 284), to go along with 28 first downs.
With a 2-0 mark, the Seminoles will have an open week on the schedule before jumping into conference play with ACC Atlantic Division rival Clemson coming to town on Sept. 20.
“With the couple of injuries we had today, I'd say [the bye is] a pretty good thing so we can try to get guys healthy if we can,” Fisher said. “You get to regroup.
“Preseason is over with. You're going into your conference schedule. And you've got a big time opponent coming in – Clemson - who's very talented and very well coached. It's one of the premier games in our league every year. It's a double whammy for me. It's a conference game and an interdivisional game. So it's a big one.”