TALLAHASSEE – A perfect finish in ACC play and a third 10-win season in four years was inevitable from the get-go as second-ranked Florida State thumped Syracuse 59-3 on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Junior James Wilder Jr.’s 3-yard touchdown run just over two and a half minutes in, gave Florida State the early 7-0 lead and its sixth straight game with a touchdown on its opening drive. Devonta Freeman would add a touchdown later in the first quarter. Freeman leads the Seminoles with 11 total touchdowns this season, 10 of which have come on the ground.
The Seminoles hit pay-dirt on the first play of their second drive less than two minutes later on a 74-yard touchdown run from wide receiver Levonte Whitfield. Whitfield was sprung by an outstanding block downfield from freshman quarterback Jameis Winston.
“It was amazing just to get down there and block, but that shows you how team-oriented he (Winston) is,” said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Whitfield’s score was the third for the freshman in four weeks.
“He’s very dynamic,” said Fisher of Whitfield. “We have to continue to find ways to get him in the game plan.”
Winston showed little ill-effect from a national story broke on Wednesday by TMZ that alleges Winston’s involvement in a sexual assault case at an apartment off campus last December. Winston led touchdown drives on each of Florida State’s first five possession and connected on his first 11 throws. Winston played just a half, but finished the day 19-for-21 passing for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Florida State scored 28 first quarter points and led 38-0 at halftime. In the last two weeks, the Seminoles have outscored opponents 80-0 in the first half.
As a team, Florida State rushed for 225 yards. Wilder finished the day with 52 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns on only three carries. Karlos Williams led the Seminoles with 78 yards rushing on just four carries.
Junior wide receiver Rashad Greene caught his ACC-leading ninth touchdown of the season for the Seminoles while tight end Nick O’Leary reeled in his seventh touchdown grab of the season on the first career touchdown pass from backup quarterback Sean Maguire. O’Leary’s score set a new Florida State single-season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end.
“It was great to just to be in the record books here at Florida State,” said O’Leary. “Hopefully I get a lot more touchdowns.”
While Maguire tossed his first career touchdown, it was a night for firsts on the defensive side of the ball for Florida State as well.
After redshirt freshman defensive end Chris Casher sacked Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt to force a fumble, Casher returned the loose ball 31 yards for his first career touchdown. Senior defensive end/linebacker Dan Hicks snatched his first career interception in the win. Kicker Roberto Aguayo knocked home a career-long 53-yard field goal to improve to 14-for-15 on the season.
Entering Saturday, Syracuse had allowed just three combined points in its last two games before giving up a season-high 59 to the Seminoles. Ryan Norton’s 32-yard field goal with 7:42 to play capped a 20-play drive that took more than 10 minutes off the clock to break up the shutout.
Syracuse freshman Devante McFarland finished the day with a game-high 81 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Despite being handily defeated, Syracuse managed to dominate the time of possession battle holding the football for nearly 42 minutes. Each of Florida State’s seven touchdown drives took less than three minutes off the clock.
Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC) will play its final home game next Saturday against Idaho while Syracuse will return to the Carrier Dome to take on fellow ACC newcomer Pittsburgh. At 5-5 and an even 3-3 in ACC play, the Orange will need a win in one of their final two games to become bowl-eligible.