TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State's youthful Heisman Trophy hopeful, never had a shaky start in his brief college career prior to Saturday's showdown against bitter rival Miami -- and he didn't know how to handle it.
Good thing for him, his teammates did.
Winston got a pep-talk at halftime and overcame two first-half interceptions to play mistake-free football after intermission, leading the No. 3 Seminoles in a rout of No. 7 Miami on Saturday night, 41-14, in a battle of Top-10 unbeatens.
"It's like baseball," Winston, FSU's two-sport star, said. "Sometimes you strike out (individually), but you just have to come back as a team. And that's what we did (Saturday night). They pulled me out of the dumps (at halftime). They told me, 'Hey, Jameis, be you.' And we came out and fought."
The game marked the first meaningful matchup in nearly a decade between two of college football's most storied rivals. The in-state foes once played seven consecutive times between 1987 and 2004 with both programs being ranked in the Top 10 -- and the Hurricanes owned the Seminoles in most of those big games. But Saturday's matchup marked the return of the rivalry's glory days, and this one belonged to the Seminoles (8-0 overall, 6-0 in the ACC), who beat the Hurricanes (7-1, 3-1) for the fourth year in a row since coach Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010.
The win should also vault Florida State, which came into the game ranked No. 3 in the BCS poll behind No. 2 Oregon, back in front of the Ducks (idle this weekend) when the new standings are released Sunday night.
"I think this win says a lot," Fisher said when asked whether the victory was convincing enough to leapfrog Oregon. "We just beat the No. 7 team in the country and played darn-near mistake-free football in the second half. I think we did plenty."
Florida State's P.J. Williams and Nate Andrews each picked off passes, and the Seminoles' defense -- led by 10 tackles by Terrance Smith -- shut out Miami in the second half after the teams went to intermission with FSU narrowly ahead 21-14. But FSU's offense stayed steady, led by running back Devonta Freeman, the Miami-area native who played the game with a chip on his shoulder after not being heavily recruited by the Hurricanes out of high school.
Freeman led all Seminoles with 76 yards rushing, 98 yards receiving and three touchdowns -- two on the ground and one through the air -- while FSU's defense was able to contain the ACC's second-leading rusher Duke Johnson, who left the game late in the third quarter with a leg injury and did not return.
Johnson reportedly exited the stadium in a cast. He finished with 23 carries for 93 yards, but the Hurricanes' offense was outgained, 517-275.
"I give Florida State a lot of credit," Miami coach Al Golden said. "That's an excellent team and a deep team. We have to play so much better than that (to beat a team like Florida State) and we did not."
This victory, however, wasn't as easy as all the rest have been this season for Florida State, which hadn't been tested during its unbeaten start and was hammering opponents by an average of 39.5 points.
Winston, who finished 21-of-29 passing for 325 yards and one touchdown, was intercepted in the first quarter by Miami's Deon Bush, leading to Miami's first touchdown, and then again with just over two minutes left before halftime. Both turnovers led to Hurricane touchdowns from Miami quarterback Stephen Morris to wideout Allen Hurns, who hauled in scores of 33 and 14 yards and led UM with five catches for 84 yards. Morris ended 16 of 28 for 192 yards and two picks, but outside of those two scoring drives in the first half on short fields that totaled 112 yards, Miami was held to 163 yards of offense the rest of the way. The UM defense was paced by Denzel Perryman with a game-high 11 stops.
The second half was all Florida State, off to its best since their 1999 national title season. Soon after the second half got under way, Winston engineered a 10-play, 83-yard drive that culminated in James Wilder Jr.'s second score of the game, this time from five yards out. Freeman would add his third score one possession later on a 12-yard scamper into the end zone, setting off a wild celebration on the Seminoles' sidelines.
And Winston, like he has been after each win this season, was right in the middle.
"I've got to keep a smile on my face. The players feed off that," he said of what helped FSU overcome its mediocre start. "When I threw those interceptions, I still had a smile on my face, even though I messed up. They've got to see my maturity and they have to see we can do that all the time."
NOTES: Florida State sports information announced the breaking of two Seminole records Saturday. The first was the shattering of the school's single-game attendance record of 84,409, while the second was the 639 media credentials issued to the primetime showdown between No. 3 Florida State and No. 7 Miami, breaking the previous school record of 628 set two years ago when Oklahoma came to Tallahassee for a similar Top 10 matchup. ... Miami's offensive coordinator James Coley coached his first game against his former employer at Florida State since leaving the same position with the Seminoles for the rival Hurricanes over the summer ... Saturday's 58th meeting in the rivalry series between Miami and FSU marked the ninth time that each team was unbeaten coming into the matchup. They've only met as unbeaten this deep into the season once before: 1991, when they were a combined 18-0 and Miami beat FSU in Tallahassee on its way to the program's fourth national championship ... Saturday's win also made FSU 8-1 against teams from inside the state (UF, Miami, South Florida and Bethune-Cookman) since 2009 ... FSU K Roberto Aguayo added field goals of 28 and 25 yards in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring, continuing his perfect season. Aguayo is now 65-of-65 between PATs and FGs this season, a Seminoles record.