TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has turned the ball over at the worst rate of his collegiate career during the past three games. Winston, last year’s Heisman winner, threw two more interceptions during the 34-20 win against Virginia on Saturday and now has six in the last three games.
He knows it has to stop.
“I’m hurting this team, I really am,” Winston said.
Winston’s turnovers have directly led to points by the opponent and the No. 2 Seminoles (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coastal Conference, No. 2 College Football Playoff) have had to rally in their past three games.
The Cavaliers (4-6, 2-4) scored two of their three touchdowns on the possession after Winston threw an interception. Both drives started with good field position near midfield.
Florida St. | QB | So.
Louisville did the same thing with two first-half touchdowns scored immediately after picking Winston off.
Notre Dame took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter after scoring a touchdown following a Winston interception.
Opponents have scored touchdowns off five of Winston’s last six interceptions for 35 points. Florida State won those three games by 29 points combined.
“Make smarter decisions, stop always looking for the big play,” Winston said. “I stressed about checking the ball down and making smart decisions, and I’ve got to go back to that. I can’t be careless with the ball.”
Winston and coach Jimbo Fisher were adamant about taking the easy pass in the flat, often to a running back, early in the season when the Seminole receivers were struggling. Freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane earned more trust and playing time as the season progressed and more of throws have gone downfield. At least two of the recent six interceptions were the result of a receiver running a wrong route, but Winston is also taking more risks with his throws.
Thirty-six of Winston’s 196 completions have gone to running backs and only seven of those have come in the last three games. A running back did not catch a single ball against Virginia. Starter Karlos Williams was averaging more than two receptions per game through the first five games.
One of Winston’s interceptions Saturday came when he tried to force the ball in to tight end Nick O’Leary, but the ball was tipped and picked off. At the same time, Lane caught a 47-yard touchdown when Winston threw into coverage against Louisville.
Fisher loves the aggression, but understands that it can lead to unwanted results.
“That’s scary, and that’s something that we’ve never done around here is turn the football over a lot,” Fisher said.
Winston now has 11 interceptions in nine games after throwing just 10 in 14 games during the national championship run.
The Florida State defense picked up the offense against Virginia. It created two first-half turnovers that led to touchdowns on the ensuing possession.
“We just decided to open up the playbook a little more, and I think we did pretty good,” Florida State safety Tyler Hunter said. “It adds a lot of variety, just being able to confuse the quarterback on making his reads and stuff; hoping we could get more turnovers like we did tonight.”
The Seminoles aren’t exactly playing ball-hawks the next two weeks as Miami (Fla.) and Boston College have 14 combined interceptions in 19 games. The Hurricanes rank No. 60 in the nation in interceptions and the Eagles are No. 94.
Florida State has won a school-record 25 consecutive games and are three away from a capping off another undefeated regular season.
“It’s not the offense starting slow now,” Winston said. “It’s just me starting slow, throwing interceptions, and that has to change.
“I’ve got to stop turning the ball over, and we’ve got to start making some noise in the first half. … My job as the leader of the team and as the quarterback of this team, I have to put both sides of the ball in good position to win the game.”