Notre Dame defense readies for Jameis Winston
Mary Green | Thursday, October 16, 2014
Winston became the award’s youngest winner ever by a handy margin last year, collecting 2,205 total points and 668 first-place votes. In comparison, the runner-up, former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, accumulated 704 points and 79 first-place votes.
Just like he ran away from the Heisman competition, Winston breezed past opponents en route to leading the Seminoles to a BCS championship last season.
One of those opponents was in-state rival Florida, then featuring current Irish graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs in the secondary. The Seminoles topped the Gators, 37-7, on Nov. 30.
“He threw for a lot of yards — I remember that,” Riggs said of Winston’s performance against Florida. “He’s very competitive. He’s a great leader, and those guys follow behind him, and he knows how to rally a team behind him.”
Last season, “Famous Jameis” completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 40 touchdowns and 4,057 yards — an average of 289.8 yards per game through the air.
With Winston at the helm, Florida State scored on 71 of its 73 trips to the red zone in 2013 (97 percent), 58 of those for touchdowns.
“[Florida State is] waiting for you to make a mistake, and I think that’s where they’ve shown themselves to be very, very good, and Winston in particular, he’s waiting for you to make a mistake,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s so efficient. You can’t let your guard down against him any play, or he’ll beat you.”
Amid the legend of the sophomore slump, lingering and revived allegations of sexual assault and selling autographs and a full-game suspension for the Seminoles’ win against Clemson on Sept. 20, Winston has barely slowed down from last season to this one.
Through five games, the quarterback has passed for 1,605 yards (321.0 yards per game) and 11 touchdowns with a 70-percent completion rate.
The Seminoles have come away fruitless on only one of their 29 trips to the red zone this season. That efficiency has rocketed them to the second-best red-zone offense in the FBS and the No. 20 spot in the nation in scoring offense, as they generate 39 points per game.
A quick glance of Winston highlights online shows play after play of him using his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body to escape pass rushers and fire the ball over and around defenders, on-point to his receiver for a score.
“I think that there’s a lot of things that make him effective,” Irish senior linebacker Joe Schmidt said about Winston. “He’s a great player, and he makes all the throws, all over the field, and he’s big, he’s athletic. They have a great scheme designed for him. He does a great job executing. He’s an amazing quarterback, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
As it has all season, a cloud of uncertainty of whether or not Winston will play surrounds the matchup against the Irish — this time because of the investigation into a large number of Winston autographs accumulated by James Spence Authentication. Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher said he expects his starting quarterback to play against Notre Dame.
However, Schmidt said those questions have not entered the minds of the Irish players.
“I try not to think too much about this or that,” Schmidt said. “I don’t really know about it because I don’t have any time to read whatever you want on him, but I can’t wait to go down there and play Florida State, and whoever’s player for Florida State, I’m gonna love playing them.”
While most of the quarterback’s stellar numbers have come from the work his arm has done, Winston also poses danger on his legs.
Last season, he was his team’s fourth-best rusher, piling up 412 yards and four touchdowns.
This year, the redshirt sophomore has picked up 112 yards and two touchdowns..
That dual threat has troubled teams over the last season and a half, giving Winston a perfect record in 19 collegiate games.
“That is such a hard question to answer,” Schmidt said about the key to stopping Winston. “We have to do a whole myriad of things very well to try to stop Jameis Winston, and those are the things we’re working on in practice, schematically, assignment-wise, technique — you’ve got to play with great technique against him. So there’s a lot of things that go into it.”
In preparing for Florida State this week, Riggs said the key to the game is stopping the Seminoles’ heart and engine behind center.
“Just to contain Jameis Winston,” Riggs said about his advice to teammates. “We’ve got to stop him. He’s what makes that team go. If you can slow him down, then you have a chance to win.”