TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is back.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher announced his quarterback was once again the starter shortly after the top-ranked Seminoles survived their biggest regular-season scare since Winston earned the job at the start of 2013.
Winston cheered his teammates from the sideline Saturday night as Florida State squeaked by Clemson 23-17 in overtime at home. He was serving a one-game suspension for making “offensive and vulgar” comments about female anatomy on campus Tuesday. The schedule now favors the Seminoles (3-0, 1-0) with the face of the program under center and no ranked opponents for the next 26 days.
Backup quarterback Sean Maguire was pressed into action and threw for more than 300 yards. But his two interceptions and inconsistent play almost gave FSU its first loss since 2012. The rest of the team didn’t play much better as the offensive line struggled, the run game was nonexistent, and the defense missed tackles regularly. Florida State hadn’t played an overtime game since a triple overtime loss to Penn State in the 2006 Orange Bowl.
“I think distractions were part of it,” Fisher said. “Yeah, I definitely do. I thought the last 48 hours ... we resolved and came back.
“The mental resolve of this football team, that’s why I love them. They understand how to rally together, they understand how to pull together, and they understand how much they care for each other. I think they mentally got themselves back together.”
Questions swirled about whether the Seminoles deserve to retain their No. 1 ranking. The team was held to 13 rushing yards on 27 attempts, and Maguire was sacked five times.
The offensive line, comprised of five seniors, lost the matchup against Clemson’s defensive line. Winston likely would have avoided some of those sacks with his mobility and quick decision-making. But the FSU defense gave up 400 yards — something that didn’t happen at all during the 2013 regular season. Clemson’s 306 passing yards were the most the Seminoles have allowed since 2011 — a span of 39 games.
“They had a lot of adversity, but they hung in there and they fought,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Great teams find a way to win, and they have won 19 in a row for a reason.”
The winner of Florida State-Clemson game has played in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship the past five years.
“We ain’t lost in 19 straight games,” Fisher said. “We are No. 1 till somebody beats us.”
Florida State should face minimal resistance in upcoming weeks with road trips to N.C. State and Syracuse bookending a home game against Wake Forest. The home game against Notre Dame on Oct. 18 could be the last ranked opponent the Seminoles face during the regular season.
A loss to Clemson could have ended aspirations of a second consecutive national title.
“It just shows that we have great players on this football team besides Jameis Winston,” said running back Karlos Williams, who scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime. “Although he’s our captain, he’s our leader, he’s the best player in college football, we showed tonight that we also have great players on this football team.
“I definitely think we should remain No. 1. We played against a very tough Clemson team who plays us difficult and tough year in and year out. Bama played against a Florida team that was unranked. I believe that Oregon was playing against Washington State, who is unranked.”
Fisher declined to speak about Winston’s suspension, which was increased from a half game to a full game in a statement from interim President Garnett S. Stokes and Athletic Director Stan Wilcox late Friday night. Stokes and Wilcox declined interviews, and Winston was not made available after the game.
Winston, though, caused another scene when he took the field during pregame, fully dressed in pads and participated in warmups. Fisher looked annoyed, had a brief conversation with the 20-year-old, and Winston jogged back up the tunnel. He returned moments later in pants, a ball cap and his No. 5 jersey without pads.
“I told him before the game ‘I got you, my brother, we’re going to be victorious,’” FSU receiver Rashad Greene said. “’We’re doing this not only for ourselves, but we’re doing this for you. We support you 100 percent and we know how much you’re dying to be out there with us.’
“To be able to win without him it just says a lot.”