SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Distractions? What distractions?
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston ignored the controversy from a sexual assault allegation swirling around him and responded with a nearly flawless performance Saturday, throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns as the top-ranked Seminoles beat Syracuse 38-20.
“He just played ball,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Did he ever.
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.
“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, again saddled by too many failures in the red zone, scoring one touchdown in four trips inside the Florida State 20 behind two rookie quarterbacks who produced 412 yards offensively but combined to throw three interceptions.
“To beat the No. 1 team in the country is a very difficult task,” Syracuse coach Scott 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 may 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.
“This was status quo for what we’ve been doing and we knew this was coming,” Fisher said. “Our guys eliminate those things, control what they can control, and that’s playing ball.”
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.
The Orange were up against it from the start, playing with a quarterback making his first college start and a new offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Tim Lester replaced George McDonald as offensive coordinator early in the week and backup quarterbacks Austin Wilson and A.J. Long took over for injured starter Terrel Hunt, out 4-6 weeks with a broken calf bone.
Long was 16 of 27 for 167 yards and two touchdowns to 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 with an injury.
“I was happy with the way they played,” 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.”
Winston guided the Seminoles to a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, completing all five of his passes for 38 yards before Pender scored.
The Orange responded with a solid drive as Wilson looked calm in his first college start. He hit Jarrod West for 13 yards, Ben Lewis for 15, and Adrian Flemming for 12 as Syracuse moved deep into Seminoles territory.
The drive ended abruptly when Jalen Ramsey intercepted Wilson on the left side at the 12-yard line and returned it 27 yards.
Long, a freshman who had never taken a snap in a college game, then took over and guided the Orange to a 21-yard field goal by Cole Murphy.
It could have been more, but the Orange offense, which had scored only one touchdown in the two previous games despite seven forced turnovers by the defense, again failed to punch it in.
The Orange entered the game with only nine touchdowns in 19 trips inside the 20 and the trend continued after the defense forced yet another turnover.
After Syracuse’s John Raymon recovered Pender’s fumble at the FSU 16, a dropped pass and an incompletion forced Syracuse to settle for Murphy’s 32-yard field goal midway through the second.
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