Florida State’s expected waltz across Texas this weekend more resembled the helter-skelter commotion of a mosh pit at a punk rock concert.
In the end, though, the Seminoles’ ambition of back-to-back national titles remained alive after a triumphant, albeit hard-fought, season opener against Oklahoma State.
The Seminoles avoided becoming the first defending national champion to lose a season opener since Michigan in 1998 with a much-tougher-than-expected 37-31 victory over youthful and inexperienced Oklahoma State in front of an involved 61,521 at AT&T Stadium in the annual Cowboys Classic.
The Seminoles needed a late touchdown to finish off the Cowboys, and they got it from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who found Rashad Greene for a 50-yard catch-and-run.
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Not surprisingly, Winston starred, though he wasn’t at his best while leading the Seminoles to a school-record-tying 17thconsecutive victory.
Winston finished 25-of-40 passing for 370 yards, better than three-quarters of Florida State’s 476 total. His top target was Greene, the senior receiver who racked up 203 yards on 11 catches.
“Any time you get challenged [it’s good],” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We didn’t play well and that’s a credit to Oklahoma State, but we still made critical plays when we had to make critical plays.
“I hope this is a lesson to our guys you have to play great. Not be great. Play great.”
Winston, a sophomore who passed for 4,057 yards last season, also had a rushing touchdown, though he threw two interceptions that kept the Cowboys’ head above water in the first half.
Oklahoma State also helped its cause by holding Florida State to field goals in the early going.
Florida State’s Robert Aguayo kicked three field goals, among them a 37-yarder with 5:13 left that, coupled with Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh’s fumble on the ensuing drive, essentially sealed shut the Cowboys’ upset hopes.
“We have to get more hungry,” Winston said. “There’s no reason to get upset. Oklahoma State was outstanding. They never gave up. They played their tails off.
“We had a couple of opportunities to put the game away. We have to get better.”
Walsh, a junior from Denton Guyer, had 203 yards passing and a touchdown — 55 yards to David Glidden — and two rushing. His 3-yard drive into the end zone with 1:55 left accounted for the final score.
Junior college transfer Tyreek Hill had 106 yards in his first game for Oklahoma State.
Florida State entered a heavy favorite with 15 starters returning from 2013’s 14-0 national-championship team, while Oklahoma State was starting anew after losing 28 seniors off a 10-3 team.
A mismatch it appeared to be as the Seminoles showed early why prognosticators believed the preseason consensus No. 1 team in the nation would return here in January and play for a second consecutive national championship. Florida State’s all-white uniforms flashed across the stadium’s carpet in racing to a 17-0 lead.
“The first quarter, Florida State was really strong and really fast,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said, specifically about three offensive linemen playing in their first game. “I don’t know how you prepare them for that. They got better as the game went on.”
What did surprise was Oklahoma State not going away.
The Cowboys found life by intercepting Winston twice in the second quarter and ultimately outscored Florida State 10-7 during a 23-minute span of the first and second quarters.
Seth Jacobs’ interception stopped the Seminoles at the OSU’s 13, while Ashton Lampkin’s interception set up Ben Grogan’s 37-yard field goal at the end of the half that cut the Seminoles’ lead to 17-10.
“We’re a work in progress, but we understand how to win games,” Fisher said. “I’m proud of them for that.
“I think they felt the pressure of being No. 1.”
Desmond Roland’s 1-yard touchdown run put the Cowboys on the board for the first time with 3:58 left in the second quarter.
The Cowboys hurt themselves with two crucial mistakes that led to 14 Florida State points.
Oklahoma State began its second drive from their own 2. The Cowboys bungled the ensuing kickoff after the Seminoles’ 36-yard field goal by Aguayo on their opening drive.
On the first play from scrimmage, Walsh’s pass attempt was intercepted by Nate Andrews, whose trot in from 9 yards gave the Seminoles a 10-0 lead.
Down three in the middle of the third quarter and set up to punt, Oklahoma State’s snap hit the upback, Eric Davis, who recovered the ball but gave Florida State great field position at its own 44.
That started a six-play scoring drive, ending in Winston’s 28-yard TD run.
The Cowboys had another bad snap on a punt late in the game.
“You don’t ever know what to expect with so many young players on the field,” Gundy said. “They played hard. They made mistakes but made them going full speed.
“I think the one thing we proved is these young players won’t back down from anybody.”