For most of three quarters, Jameis Winston played like a redshirt freshman playing in his 14th college football game.
Which he is. But Winston, the Florida State quarterback who turned 20 years old on Monday, had performed at an exceptional level throughout the season, capturing the Heisman Trophy.
The excellence returned just in time.
Winston drove the Seminoles quickly across the Rose Bowl turf in about a minute and threw the touchdown pass that gave Florida State a 34-31 triumph over Auburn in a dramatic BCS National Championship Game.
The 2-yard loft to Kelvin Benjamin off a play-action fake, provided the winning points with 13 seconds remaining.
“I knew it was going to be a touchdown as soon as I stepped to the line of scrimmage,” Winston said.
The score ended a 21-point fourth quarter for the Seminoles and a scoring flurry in which Florida State outscored Auburn 14-10 in the final 4:42.
Winston was chosen the game’s MVP after completing 20 for 35 with 237 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 294 passing yards per game this season.
“This was the best game he played all year,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “For three quarters he was up and down. He fought and fought. Some nights you have it, and some nights you don’t.”
Winston won the game when it wasn’t his night.
“If that’s not a great player, I don’t know what is,” Fisher said.
Winston was at his best on the final drive. All 80 yards were covered through the air, the big play a 49-yard strike on the second play to Rashad Greene that took the Seminoles deep into Auburn territory.
“I was ready,” Winston said. “I wanted to be in that situation. Drew Brees, Cam Newton, that’s what they do.”
Special teams also played a major role for Florida State. Trailing in the first half 21-3, the Seminoles pulled off a fake punt. They needed 4 yards from their 47, and up back Karlos Williams got 7. Florida State went on to score a touchdown and trailed 21-10 at halftime.
After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with 4:42 remaining, the Seminoles’ Kermit Whitfield took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards.
Through it all, Florida State’s defense settled down and held Auburn without a second-half touchdown until Tre Mason’s 37-yard run with 1:19 remaining. All phases were firing for the nation’s top-ranked team.
But in the end, the birthday man played up to his Heisman Trophy, and Florida State had a national championship.