PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Jameis Winston evaded two Oregon tacklers and wound up to throw, but both of his feet slipped on the Rose Bowl turf. While he tried and failed to stay upright, Florida State’s star quarterback lost the ball backward over his head in a comical arc, and Tony Washington hurdled him to scoop and score.
It’s hardly what you’d expect to be the defining image of what may be the final game for one of the most successful quarterbacks in recent college history.
But unless Winston defies predictions that he’ll enter the NFL draft, he ended a career spent mostly on top by stumbling, tumbling and landing flat on his tailbone.
“It was kind of like he slipped on a banana, like in a cartoon,” Oregon linebacker Torrodney Prevot said.
Winston and his Seminoles (13-1) weren’t laughing after their 29-game winning streak ended. They all took a metaphorical pratfall during their disastrous second half in a 59-20 loss to Oregon (13-1) on Thursday in the first College Football Playoff semifinal.
The stark reality of this defeat set in while Winston trudged off the field in chilly Arroyo Seco: He had lost a game as the starting quarterback for the first time since Nov. 25, 2011, in his senior year of high school.
And Winston was well aware that Washington probably hadn’t even reached the end zone before the Internet was hard at work immortalizing his awkward turnover in endless loops of video, some of them set to saxophonic accompaniment. “Fumble State University” was a trending topic on Twitter long after the Florida State buses pulled away from Pasadena.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Winston said. “I should have got the ball in my hands earlier. Just — it was just an unfortunate play, man. I never thought that I would slip, throw the ball backwards.”
Winston knew he had to do something big on that snap, which came on fourth-and-5 from the Oregon 30. The Ducks had already scored 21 points in the third quarter to take a 39-20 lead, and the Seminoles had to get going to avoid a blowout.
Instead, Winston blew a metaphorical tire on a play that made him chuckle dryly.
“That’s probably a ‘Come on, man,’ or something,” Winston said. “That was crazy.”
Winston largely played well, going 29 of 45 for 348 yards. Yet he also threw a key interception on the same field where he won the national championship as a freshman just under a year ago, going from dream to nightmare on the same hallowed turf.
He began the week with a relatively clear mind after a season full of off-the-field distractions and troubles. Last month, Winston was cleared of violating Florida State’s student code of conduct surrounding an alleged sexual assault two years ago, likely clearing him to play through to a shot at a second straight national title.
Winston didn’t look shaken while Oregon got rolling, but he obviously felt the pressure that he handled so impressively last season against Auburn, culminating in his last-minute winning TD drive. While the Ducks’ lead mounted, coach Jimbo Fisher was caught on television telling his quarterback to “calm … down, or you’re going to the bench.”
Two plays after Winston’s fumble, his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Erick Dargan at midfield. Oregon drove for yet another score, and the Seminoles were irretrievably behind.
The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was outplayed by current trophy-holder Marcus Mariota, but Winston only deserved a portion of the blame for the thorough thrashing received by the Seminoles, who allowed the most points in the 101-edition history of the Granddaddy of Them All.
The star quarterbacks met up after the game. They’re likely to spend plenty of time together in 2015 if they both head to the NFL, from the draft combine to the big stage in Chicago.
“I just told him, ‘Good game,’ and to keep his head up,” Mariota said about his conversation with Winston. “He’s a great player. He’s going to make plays, but I’m proud of the defense and the way they played.”
Although Winston hasn’t declared his intention to turn pro, again declining to do so after the Rose Bowl, his coaches and teammates realize Winston’s Florida State career is probably over.
“What he did as a competitor, and what he does with his teammates, he’s one of the great players in … college football history to me,” Fisher said. “He’s only had two years, and what he’s been able to accomplish (is impressive).”