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FSU QB Winston dazzles in debut

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Much of the hype leading up to Monday night's Atlantic Coast Conference game between league newbie Pitt and reigning champ Florida State was built around the debut of Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.

The redshirt freshman did not disappoint at sold-out Heinz Field.

Winston threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score, leading No. 11 Florida State to a 41-13 victory. The 18-year-old completed the first 11 passes of his career and 20 of his first 21 en route to finishing 25 of 27 for 356 yards.

The lone incompletion in Winston's first 21 attempts was caught by receiver Kenny Shaw, but it was ruled out of bounds.

"I was protected well all night, and when that happens, any quarterback can go out there," said Winston, who admitted he was anxious before the game. "The reason why I had a good night is because the guys around me had a better night."

One of the guys who had a great night was Nick O'Leary, who caught three of Winston's touchdown passes. The junior tight end had four career TD catches coming in. Receiver Rashad Greene led Florida State with eight receptions for 126 yards.

"He distributed the ball well," said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher of Winston. "He found his receivers and he found his tight end. He made great decisions and not pre-determined reads.

"It's one game. That's it. But he did a great job, and the reason he had success tonight is that he comes to work every day."

Winston's final pass of the night was a 10-yard touchdown toss to O'Leary, polishing off a nine-play, 49-yard drive. That was the Seminoles' lone touchdown of the second half, and it came with 9:32 remaining in the game, concluding the scoring.

Fisher opted to remove his promising signal-caller following that drive and went with redshirt sophomore Jacob Coker under center for the last couple of series.

"I wasn't surprised by him because we had never seen him play before," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said of Winston. "I was certainly impressed with him. He did a good job of making plays and extending plays."

While Winston was putting on a clinic, one of Pitt's few bright spots was the play of prized 2013 recruit Tyler Boyd. The receiver piled up 151 all-purpose yards, including a team-high 54 on the ground. Senior receiver Devin Street had a game-high 141 yards on six receptions.

"We have to go back to the drawing board and learn from it," Street said. "(The loss) was not from lack of effort. We need to roll up the sleeves and go to work. We need to work on the details, and we can prepare a little more."

Perhaps riding the momentum of the revved-up atmosphere surrounding their first ACC game, and on a prime-time stage at that, the Panthers put the Seminoles in a hole before Winston even took the field.

Pitt struck on the game's opening series when Tom Savage, making his Panthers debut, capped an 80-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Manasseh Garner. However, Winston finished consecutive drives with touchdown passes of 24 and 2 yards to O'Leary to give Florida State a 14-7 advantage early in the second quarter.

The first touchdown, which tied the game at 7-7, was set up by Jalen Ramsey's 31-yard interception return.

"That was a big play by Jalen," Fisher said. "We got hit in the mouth right away, and we responded. I love how we played the game from that perspective."

Winston's 23-yard scoring strike to Greene with 39 seconds left in the half, less than two minutes after his 5-yard TD run, closed out the first-half scoring with the Seminoles in control at 28-10.

With all the success he had in his first game, Winston knows that every week will present a new set of challenges.

"It's a process, and I have a great team around me," he said. "I am just going to go out there and compete and rely on my teammates because we have so many great players."

Savage completed 15 of 28 passes for 201 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

NOTES: Savage, who played two seasons for Rutgers, has the distinction of throwing a touchdown pass for and against Pitt. He threw one against the Panthers in both 2009 and 2010. ... Pitt used 11 true freshmen, all of whom played in the first 17 minutes. ... Florida State became Pitt's highest-ranked season-opening opponent since the Panthers defeated No. 5 North Carolina 7-6 in 1982. ... In the spring of 2011, Fisher's youngest son, Ethan, was diagnosed with a rare blood disease known as Fanconi anemia. Both schools wore "I Fight Fanconi" Kidz1stFund decals on the back of their helmets. ... Florida State G Tre Jackson left the game with an ankle injury.

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