Syracuse gains momentum, can’t top Florida State
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — With two rookie quarterbacks learning on the fly, Syracuse played top-ranked Florida State even in the second half. If only the Orange could have that first half back.
Despite more controversy surrounding quarterback Jameis Winston, he responded with a nearly flawless performance, throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Seminoles past Syracuse 38-20 on Saturday.
Quarterbacks Austin Wilson and freshman A.J. Long took turns in place of injured starter Terrel Hunt and Syracuse was bitten again by its inability in the red zone, scoring just one touchdown on four trips inside the Florida State 20-yard line. That boosts the Orange’s futility to 10 TDs in 23 tries.
“I was happy with the way they played,” offensive coordinator Tim Lester said. “They played like I thought they would. You never know how it’s going to play out. I’d still love to have those first-half, red-zone opportunities back. Looking back now, that’s all I think about.”
Long was 16 of 27 for 167 yards and two touchdowns to freshman wideout Steve Ishmael, 22 yards in the third quarter and 35 in the fourth.
Long also made a rookie mistake, throwing an interception deep in Florida State territory late in the third. The pick by Nate Andrews at the FSU 8 came after Wilson mishandled a punt and Sam Rodgers recovered for Syracuse at the Florida State 21.
Wilson was 5 of 9 for 89 yards before leaving the game after a tough hit to his head.
The Orange were up against it from the start, playing with a quarterback making his first college start in Wilson, another who had never played a down in college, and a new offensive coordinator. Lester replaced George McDonald early in the week.
Still, Syracuse never quit.
“Coach (Scott) Shafer preached that we had nothing to lose and we should just have fun,” Ishmael said. “That’s what we did. We had a clear chance of beating this team.”
Winston, who scooted out of trouble when necessary to extend plays, finished 30 of 36 and earned his fifth 300-yard passing game on the road.
“It’s not about distractions,” Winston said. “It’s about Florida State football.”
Mario Pender scored twice, on a 12-yard run to open the scoring in the first quarter and a 4-yard reception in the second as the Seminoles built a 24-6 halftime lead.
Tight end Nick O’Leary had a career-high eight catches for 97 yards and one touchdown, while Rashad Greene returned from a concussion and caught six passes for 107 yards, becoming the school’s all-time receptions leader.
Greene passed Ron Sellers (1966-68) for most career receptions at Florida State. Greene’s fourth reception was a 9-yarder that set up Winston’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Jesus “Bobo” Wilson midway through the third quarter. It was his record-setting 213th catch.
“When you have multiple guys making multiple catches, that’s doing what we got to do,” Winston said. “People can’t game-plan us for one person.”
Florida State (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won a school-record 22 straight games, the longest streak in the nation, and 19 in a row in the conference.
The Orange (2-4, 0-2 ACC) lost their fourth straight, producing 412 yards offensively but throwing three interceptions.
“To beat the No. 1 team in the country is a very difficult task,” Shafer said. “I really believed that we could beat this team and we didn’t get that done. I saw some good things that were encouraging.”
The game came a day after Florida State University decided to publicly detail its own timeline of events since Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012. The woman making the accusation could still sue. Winston wasn’t charged in the case.
The school also is investigating Winston for a possible code of conduct violation involving the alleged sexual assault, and the Department of Education is investigating the university on how it handles reports of sexual assault as a result of the case.
The Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t let it affect his game halfway through his second college season. He’s 19-0 now as the starter.
“This was status quo for what we’ve been doing and we knew this was coming,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Our guys eliminate those things, control what they can control, and that’s playing ball.”