TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston overcame some more first-half mistakes to lead second-ranked Florida State to another comeback victory.
The Heisman winner threw for 261 yards and accounted for two touchdowns in Florida State’s 34-20 victory over Virginia on Saturday night.
The Seminoles (9-0, 6-0 ACC, No. 2 CFP) have won a school-record 25 straight games. They are the 25th team in NCAA history to win 25 in a row.
“Winning is hard,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “There’s no such thing as a bad win. We knew this was going to be a very physical, good football team.”
Winston and the offense started slowly for the third consecutive game and two first-quarter interceptions allowed the Cavaliers to take a 13-7 lead. Virginia had ball control issues of its own and three first-half turnovers were converted to Florida State touchdowns.
“The defense kept us in the game,” Winston said. “If I don’t throw picks, they don’t score.”
Florida State receiver Rashad Greene had a career-high 13 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown. He is third in ACC history for his career with 3,454 yards receiving.
Virginia (4-6, 2-4) needs to win both of its final two games against Miami and Virginia Tech to become bowl eligible.
“It’s tough,” Cavaliers coach Mike London said. “With two games left, we have to play out. We have a bye week and we have to be a healthy football team and then you take it one game at a time.”
The first quarter conjured some frightening memories for Florida State fans that watched the ‘Noles fall behind in their last two games against Louisville and Notre Dame. Getting the offense started early in games has been such an issue Fisher has tweaked the beginning of practices to help alleviate the problem.
Florida State went up 7-0 with 12:15 left in the first quarter thanks to Kevin Parks’ fumble forced by Mario Edwards Jr. and recovered by Derrick Mitchell Jr. That gave FSU a short field and Karlos Williams scored on a 2-yard run.
Winston’s interceptions gave the Cavaliers a first-quarter lead. Freshman receiver Travis Rudolph stopped in the middle of his route on the next Florida State possession and Maurice Canady was able to break off pick off Winston’s pass. Virginia capitalized on the ensuing possession and Andrew Levrone hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Greyson Lambert in front of cornerback P.J. Williams to tie it 7-7.
Winston threw his second interception four plays later when he tried to force it to tight end Nick O’Leary. The ball was tipped in the air and gathered by Eli Harold.
The Cavaliers took their lone lead of the game on the next possession when Darius Jennings caught a 15-yard pass from Lambert, again on P.J. Williams. A missed extra point left Florida State trailing 13-7 at the end of the first quarter.
“I didn’t think we played up to our capabilities at times,” Fisher said. “When you’re playing young guys, you take the good with the bad.”
The second quarter was the Seminoles’ turn to score off miscues.
Terrance Smith picked off Lambert’s pass on the first Virginia snap of the second quarter. Karlos Williams scored from 3 yards out on the next play to make it 14-13. He finished with a game-high 70 yards rushing.
Lambert lost a fumble on the very next Virginia offensive play on an attempted backward pass that was picked up by Eddie Goldman. Winston threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Greene on the next play.
The Seminoles put the game away when Winston capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run with 4:43 remaining in the half. The 6-minute, 48-second drive was the team’s longest this season.
Lambert finished with 223 passing yards with three touchdowns, an interception and a fumble.
“We have to keep him positive,” receiver Canaan Severin said about Lambert. “When we do that, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC. When we keep him poised, when we get the team behind him, keep rallying him, he can bounce back from anything, and he did.”