Florida State, Jameis Winston lift themselves from mat once again

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jameis Winston was talking about the pressure from Notre Dame's incessant blitzes, which kept him under duress for the better part of four hours Saturday night. He was hurried and hit, and No. 5 Notre Dame rarely afforded Winston an opportunity to set his feet.

"I get hit a lot of times, but you know what I do: I get back up," Winston said. "I keep playing football, and we keep winning."

Then Winston flashed a smile. He knew his answer could be extended far beyond the Fighting Irish's exotic blitzes to the numerous off-the-field headlines that have threatened to force him from the field.

Saturday, the second-ranked Seminoles were celebrating a 31-27 victory not just over Notre Dame, but, at least in their eyes, against an allied front of college football fans who'd like to see the sport's longest active winning streak end.

"It was kind of like us against the world," defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell Jr. said.

With Winston, the Seminoles always have a puncher's chance, and the entire playoff-seeking country is lamenting Sunday morning that the three-knockdown rule in boxing doesn't apply to college football. For a third time this season, Florida State was staggered and bloodied, lying on the mat and struggling to find its center. College football looked to, of all schools, Notre Dame to play the unfamiliar role of David. The Irish were maybe the last chance to eliminate the reigning champions from the inaugural College Football Playoff after Oklahoma State and Clemson both had the Seminoles reeling before fourth-quarter blunders.

The Irish came close to victory, winning nearly every statistical category. And Everett Golson was knocking on the door in the final seconds, even throwing a touchdown with 13 seconds left before it was stricken from the scoreboard for offensive pass interference.

Winston was at his best, though, delivering multiple Heisman moments even if the prospects of a second bronze statue have diminished greatly since the season began. They could possibly be described as nonexistent after the continued Title IX inquiry and an internal compliance investigation into whether he accepted money for autographs.

In the second half, Winston completed 15 of 16 passes. Nearly all of them came with an Irish lineman or linebacker barreling toward him at full speed. On the touchdown drive that gave Florida State its first lead and proved to be the deciding score, Winston completed three straight passes under pressure.

On the drive's final play, Karlos Williams scored, and Winston did a pirouette and pumped his fist. He silenced his critics, at least for a week, maybe less.

In the aftermath that ensued once Winston took a knee, the team rushed toward him. Linebacker Terrance Smith said it wasn't planned or even on purpose that they surrounded Winston, but it fit the script.

Then, as Tom Rinaldi was set to interview Jimbo Fisher, who emotionally defended Winston earlier in the week, Winston ran over and hugged his coach. Fisher yelled in his ear -- the metal bleachers were still reverberating from a raucous 82,431 Seminoles fans -- about the love he has for Winston.

"It's my job to help mentor and help him. And he's a fun guy to coach and be around," Fisher said. "I've always cared for him, like I care for all my players. That's my job."

Winston's teammates said there wasn't much talk in the locker room this week about the looming school conduct code hearing or the authenticator that has labeled more than 2,000 Winston signatures as credible. They understand he has flaws, but each player went to bat for their quarterback when asked about their feelings on Winston.

"Jameis is not a dumb kid, he just makes poor decisions at times just like everybody his age does," said Mario Edwards Jr., who was part of the same recruiting class as Winston. "Things get blown up a lot bigger because he's Jameis Winston and he won the Heisman, and it's not fair to him and it's not fair to us. But that's Jameis. Jameis is a goofy kid and he loves to have fun and he's going to play good football."

As a team, Florida State will continue to play meaningful football. A loss to Notre Dame could have knocked the reigning champions out of the four-team playoff.

Though his team has looked nothing like the 2013 Seminoles -- it has trailed in fourth quarters twice -- it has still found a way to win.

"That's extremely satisfying. It's what you play for. That's what you strive to get your program to all the time, to be able to persevere and play in games like this and win those games," Fisher said. "That's what I love about our team. They have a lot of pride and know how to win."