The first College Football Playoff game will be one for the history books, as Oregon destroyed Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl semifinal, with Marcus Mariota rising to the occasion while Jameis Winston experienced his first loss as a college player, putting on his worst performance as well.
Florida State got plenty of help from the officials when it came to little plays, but the referees got it right on the big ones, including the overturned touchdown by Jameis Winston in the second quarter, as his knee hit the ground before the ball crossed the endzone line. Florida State went for it on fourth down, something we saw both teams doing twice in this game showing a lot of faith in their offenses, but the Seminoles failed to convert on both attempts.
The second quarter made a big difference. There was that call the referees didn’t make when Nick O’Leary, playing injured and catching just one pass for four yards, got pulled down in the end zone with no one throwing a flag. And above all was the blown opportunity to end the quarter. After Mariota threw only his third interception of the season in a very bad underthrown pass, Roberto Aguayo hit the post on a 54-yard field goal, keeping Oregon in front by five points going into the locker room.
The quarter that changed everything was the third. Florida State, despite as Dalvin Cook fumble early in it, managed to keep up with Oregon and make it 25-20 after a Travis Rudolph caught a touchdown pass to answer the one by Royce Freeman. But Oregon’s offense never lets an offense rest for long. They needed just two plays to get a 56-yard touchdown by Darren Carrington, as his route was built in the previous drive to fool the covering defensive backs.
From there it was chaos for Florida State, turning the ball over four times in the third quarter alone. Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball after catching a Winston pass, and once again Oregon needed only two plays to get Carrington into the endzone off a Mariota pass. Jameis Winston imploded with a slip and fumble on the next play that led to a touchdown, and then an exchange of words with Jimbo Fisher, threatening to bench him if he doesn’t “clam the f@#$ down”. Reply? Winston threw an interception, already trailing 45-20.
Marcus Mariota ran for a touchdown on the next drive and Thomas Tyner ran for one as well three minutes later. Florida State, who have dodged countless bullets with great second half performances all season long were finally exposed by a better, faster and smarter team. All the poise Jameis Winston was praised for in his college career disappeared as he and his offense couldn’t catch a breather on the sidelines with Oregon lighting the field up in the second half at every opportunity.
Mariota finished with 400 total yards and three touchdowns. He threw an interception, and so did Winston, but Mariota never looked like the game got a little bit too big for him. Winston? He’s had bad games all season, but he always bounced back from them in the second half to lead his team from behind. But the quality Florida State encounter in the ACC is meaningless on such a stage, against such a team, built to beat the best in college football since the disappointment four years ago against Auburn.
Urban Meyer, upon hearing Oregon won by 39 points against the defending national champions, gave a hilarious reaction. But it was in the air. It always felt like Oregon were one big play away from breaking the game open and leaving the Seminoles in the dust. It’s not about their speed, or not just about it. You can’t fall everyone all the time, and Florida State have been able to hang on to “perfection” longer than they deserved. Eventually, it couldn’t last. Not with Winston regressing as a player this year, or simply the team not giving him the same kind of support on the field as before.