Dec. 8, 2013
By: @BrandonMellor, Seminoles.com Managing Editor
CHARLOTTE, NC -- For the 14th time in program history, the Florida State Seminoles are champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
After a 45-7 victory over No. 20 Duke Saturday night, the No. 1 `Noles now await official word on whether or not they'll get to compete for the program's third national championship. The decisive BCS Selection Show is Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
"Very happy for our team, our university," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "This championship means a lot to us. This is where we want to be every year and we have to get here to keep achieving and going to BCS games and the other games in which we want to get to, but the ultimate goal is to always win your conference and I think this conference is a great conference."
FSU (13-0) assuredly punched its ticket to Pasadena with yet another blowout victory built on an explosive offense and a dominating defense. The `Noles out-gained the Blue Devils (10-3) 569-239 and eclipsed 40 points on the scoreboard for the 12th time this season.
The Coastal Division champion Blue Devils had entered the game in Charlotte averaging nearly 423 yards of offense per game and 34 points.
FSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston likely locked up the Heisman Trophy in the triumph, beating Duke with both his arm and legs. Winston finished the night 19-of-32 for 330 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also added 59 yards rushing on 10 carries and a leaping score.
In the process, Winston set the single-season record for the ACC and among FBS freshman for passing touchdowns in a season and also set the FBS single-season passing-yardage record among freshmen. Winston now has 38 touchdowns this year with one game to go, shattering the previous record of 36 held by Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (previous ACC record holder) and former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (previous FBS freshman record holder).
The passing yardage mark was held by UCLA's Brett Hundly, who set the mark a season ago.
For his efforts against Duke, Winston was named the ACC Championship Game MVP.
"It means a lot, but as a teammate and having the guys right here beside me, our team is trying to make history, we're not trying to look at individual stats and things like that," Winston said. "We're trying to do something so much bigger than this, and then obviously the defense put us in a predicament for us to break all those records because defense wins championships, and they definitely won this game for us today."
Kelvin Benjamin continued his stellar play, catching five of Winston's passes for a game-high 119 yards with two touchdowns. Rashad Greene finished with 67 yards on six grabs and Kenny Shaw caught four for 74 yards.
The talented trio will head to the bowl game with the chance for each to end FSU's streak of no 1,000-yards receivers since Anquan Boldin in 2002. Greene now has 981 yards receiving this year, Benjamin has 957 and Shaw has 929.
The Seminoles haven't had a 1,000-yards rusher since Warrick Dunn but Devonta Freeman is now up to 943 yards rushing this season after gaining 91 against Duke on 18 carries with one touchdown. Karlos Williams added 55 yards and a touchdown of his own.
The 'Noles move on to the bowl game just 28 points shy of setting the FBS all-time record for points scored in a season. The 689 points FSU has racked up this year is already third-most all time.
Of course, Florida State's defense was just as impressive as its offense.
Duke had just 99 yards rushing and were held to a 7-of-20 mark on third downs. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone was limited to 138 yards through the air and was intercepted twice -- once by Lamarcus Joyner and then again by Telvin Smith. FSU tied the school record for interceptions in a season as the `Noles are up to 25 picks this year.
Timmy Jernigan had another monster game from his nose guard position, racking up a game-best 10 tackles. Smith finished with eight tackles, a sack and that takeaway and Nate Andrews had five stops, a sack and a forced fumble.
The Seminoles had double the amount of first downs than Duke (31-15).
"They were outstanding," Fisher said about his defense. "This is one of the best defenses I've ever been around."
The first big play of the night went Duke's way when Freeman fumbled at the end of a 22-yard dash into the redzone early in the first quarter. It was just the fourth fumble lost by the `Noles all season and Freeman's first giveaway since Oct. 27, 2012, which was also against the Blue Devils.
After taking over at their own three-yard line, the Blue Devils strung together an impressive 6:03 drive into FSU territory but shanked a 48-yard field goal that would put FSU into a deficit for the first time since the September Boston College game.
What Duke did do in the first quarter was hold the `Noles scoreless -- a feat that previously hadn't been accomplished against FSU this season.
A moral victory for Duke, no doubt, but it wouldn't last. Winston needed just five plays to find a leaping Benjamin in the endzone for the game's first score. Leading 7-0, Duke registered a 40-yard punt return into FSU territory two drives later but a Joyner interception halted any hopes the Blue Devils had of getting on the board.
The Joyner turnover would then turn into points. Freeman's impressive 22-yard screen-pass reception was followed by a big Benjamin third-down conversion on a slant pattern. Williams then came into the lineup and trucked a few Duke defenders before rumbling 12 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 FSU lead with 3:37 left in the second quarter.
"I'll just say the power of preparation, the way we prepare week in and week out," Joyner said. "That's where our confidence comes from. So when the game comes, it's easy."
FSU's Roberto Aguayo then connected on a 45-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the half that pushed Florida State's lead to 17-0 heading into the break. For Aguayo, the 3-pointer officially gave him the FSU and ACC single-season scoring record -- breaking the mark set by Dustin Hopkins a season ago.
The record-breaking would then extend to another `Noles redshirt freshman.
After Andrews' big hit on Boone forced the Duke quarterback to throw a bad pass that was intercepted by Smith, Winston connected with Shaw for an 11-yard scoring strike to give FSU a 24-0 lead. The touchdown toss was Winston's 37th of the season and officially gave him that ACC overall record and FBS record among freshmen for scoring throws in a single season.
Winston then threw a 54-yard touchdown to Benjamin on the next drive that gave him that single-season passing yardage record for an FBS freshman. If that wasn't enough, Winston then added to his record-breaking night with a 17-yard touchdown run -- his fourth score -- one drive later that tied the ACC Football Championship Game mark for most touchdowns by one person in the annual league title game.
The Winston score was set up by Andrews' forced fumble that was recovered by Mario Edwards, Jr. on the previous FSU defensive series.
On his final drive of the night, Winston orchestrated one last scoring possession that concluded with a seven-yard Freeman touchdown run. The Blue Devils then avoided the shutout by marching 75 yards against the FSU second-team defense. Sean Maguire replaced Winston on the last series of the night.
FSU heads to the bowl game having outscored ranked opponents in 2013 by a combined score of 200-35. The Seminoles have now gone 571:49 since they last trailed in a ballgame.
Florida State finishes the 2013 calendar year as the only undefeated FBS team.
"We came out and we said we've got one job to do, and that's win," Smith said. "Whatever happens we're going to win. Whatever it takes, believing in the man next to you. Love is the reason for the fight. That's what we've been going by all season. Our attitude."