Jameis Winston will make his first career start on Monday night. (Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
How Florida State can win a fourth straight season opener on Monday against Pittsburgh
Monday’s contest in Pittsburgh will begin a new era for both Florida State and Pittsburgh as the teams open up the 2013 season. For the Panthers, it will begin their first season as a member of the ACC while for Florida State, it will mark the beginning of Jameis Winston’s reign at quarterback as he replaces E.J. Manuel, who went 25-6 in his FSU career as a starter.
The last time that two teams played, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden was in his eighth season in Tallahassee while Pittsburgh was replacing a quarterback named Dan Marino that went late in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft. Nevertheless, Florida State will be looking to win its fourth straight season opener on Monday night and improve to a perfect 4-0 in openers under head coach Jimbo Fisher. With 2013 finally getting underway, here are Monday’s keys to Seminole success:
Play from Ahead
With what should be a lively Heinz Field crowd for the season opener, Florida State will need to play well early especially considering it is starting a freshman at quarterback. The Seminoles can’t afford to fall behind and give ACC newcomer Pittsburgh and its crowd confidence that it can pull the upset. Playing from ahead will also allow Florida State to be balanced with the talented backfield duo of James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman while keeping the onus off Jameis Winston to have to win it with his arm in what will be his first collegiate game.
Protect the Football
In Florida State’s two losses a season ago and particularly the regular season finale against Florida, turnovers played a key role. Not protecting the ball on Monday may be the single biggest key for Florida State to avoiding an upset. Pittsburgh ranked just 76th in the country last season in points-per-game and is losing a four-year starter at quarterback in addition to its leading rusher and receiver from a year ago. The starting quarterback for the Panthers, senior Tom Savage, has not thrown a collegiate pass in three years and if Florida State can avoid giving Pittsburgh a short field, points should not be easy to come by for Pitt.
Eliminate the Big Play
Aside from turnovers, big plays look to be Pittsburgh’s best chance to score against Florida State’s defense. While the Panthers lose a lot offensively from the skill positions, Pittsburgh does possess a big play threat at wide receiver. Devin Street, a senior, finished with 975 yards receiving a season ago and averaged better than 13 yards-per-reception. Street is a guy that can test Lamarcus Joyner, P.J. Williams, Terrence Brooks and the rest of the Florida State secondary. If the Seminoles can force Savage and the Pittsburgh offense to be methodical, that should bode very well for Jeremy Pruitt’s defense.