FSU defender calls Jameis Winston ‘best player in America,’ giving Seminoles an edge against Oregon’s Marcus Mariota

Grant Halverson

Grant Halverson

TALLAHASSEE — FSU’s Jalen Ramsey does not fear Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

He respects him, sure. But Ramsey does not anticipate being in awe when he finds himself lined up across from the Heisman Trophy winner. After all, the FSU defensive back sees another Heisman recipient up close daily.

“That doesn’t really matter to me,” Ramsey said when asked about Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy Saturday night. “Jameis [Winston] is the best player in America. we go against him every day in practice.”

Ramsey and No. 3 FSU (13-0) began preparing for Mariota and Oregon’s spread offense on Sunday. The Seminoles face the No. 2 Ducks (12-1) in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1. There is an understanding and appreciation for what Mariota has accomplished, but FSU players said they will not be paralyzed by the dual-threat signal caller.

“He’s a good quarterback,” FSU linebacker Reggie Northrup said. “He’s smart, he knows how to read defenses. He’s fast. If he doesn’t see his guys open, he knows how to find the opening and take it down the field. Most of the time, when he does scramble, he always gets the first down or he might score. So that’s what we’re working on, containing him.”

Containing and stopping Mariota are two vastly different objectives, with the latter perhaps being an impossible task. The junior has thrown for 38 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and has added another 14 scores with his legs. In three years as a starter, Mariota has lost just four games.

But Winston, who finished sixth in Heisman voting this season after seeing an increase in interceptions and a decrease in touchdowns from last year, has won every game he’s started since arriving at FSU.

“Great players effect guys on their team, they’re not just great yourself,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He wants the ball in those games, but the guys on the field, they want him to have it, too. They believe if they do what they’re supposed to do, good things are going to happen.”

Going against a quarterback with a 26-0 record in practice undoubtedly has a calming influence for FSU defenders when they get into games because they feel like they’ve seen it all before.

“The way [Winston] looks us off, we know we can’t relax, we know we can’t slack off,” Ramsey said. “He might look the other way and then throw it to your man. So you relax, he completes a pass. That really teaches us what our job is, what we have to do.”

However, FSU defenders are aware that the mobile Mariota — who has 2,136 rushing yards in three seasons — offers up a very different skill set than Winston. As a result, maintaining individual responsibility will be critical if the Seminoles want to limit Mariota.

The Ducks’ offense is predicated on balance and uses play-action to freeze defenders. Mariota has developed into a wizard at disguising plays and taking advantage of over-anxious defenses by throwing or passing. As much as FSU players have picked up on from practicing against Winston, Mariota’s elite versatility is something they cannot get from their own signal caller.

“He has pretty good speed for a quarterback,” FSU linebacker Terrance Smith said. “. . . To be able to out-run the d-ends, the linebackers and even the [defensive backs,] you usually don’t see that from a quarterback.”