Wild night in Arlington. The Cowboys didn’t always play well, but they played valiantly in taking top-ranked Florida State to the wire in a 37-31 loss, and the grades reflect OSU’s inspired play:
DEFENDING WINSTON: A
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had great numbers, completing 25 of 40 for 370 yards, plus a 28-yard touchdown run. But the Cowboys made life tough on Winston. He threw two interceptions and was sacked twice. And OSU didn’t sell out to the blitz or consistently give FSU easy underneath stuff. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer kept Winston off balance with a variety of defensive looks. Winston hurt OSU mostly with big plays — pass plays of 62, 51, 37 and 50 yards. And though junior Ashton Lampkin played tough in his starting debut at cornerback, he was flagged for three defensive holds.
J.W. WALSH: C
Walsh was shaky early; his slant pass early in the game became an easy pick-six interception for FSU’s Nate Andrews. But Walsh warmed up, both with his arm and decision-making, as the game wore on. His numbers weren’t gaudy; Walsh completed 15 of 27 for 203 yards, one TD, one interception, and he rushed 10 times for 65 yards, not counting a sack. But the offense became more of a force in the second half, with three touchdown drives. Still, the game’s biggest play was Walsh’s lost fumble as he crossed midfield with 4:45 left in the game and OSU down just six points.
NATIONAL ANTHEM: A
Former OSU defensive tackle Larry Harris, now an opera singer who lives in Yonkers, N.Y., belted a rousing basso profondo rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Harris played at OSU in the 1970s.
KICKING GAME: C
OSU special teams were series of disasters and big plays. Which is not winning football. The Cowboys botched a kickoff return, making them start a series from the 3-yard line. Ben Grogan missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt. Tyreek Hill’s 28-yard punt return was in part negated by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. A botched snap killed OSU momentum in the third quarter. Another poor snap by Kaleb Smith made Kip Smith flee for OSU’s life, though he somehow got off a 30-yard punt from his end zone. But Hill showed he’s a difference-maker in the return game; he also had a 46-yard kickoff return that set up OSU’s final touchdown. And Smith’s punts were mostly solid; he averaged 40 yards on six punts, four of which were downed inside the 20-yard line.
GAME PLAN: B
The Cowboys were conservative most of the first half, discovering how they could maneuver against the mighty Seminoles. In the first half, Walsh threw to a wide receiver just nine times, completing only two. But offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich found his groove in the second half. Walsh started spreading the ball around more, and OSU put the Florida State defense on its heels. On the Cowboys’ third snap of the third quarter, OSU sent Hill in motion, making a no-tailback backfield for the first time all night. David Glidden ran deep and the confused Seminoles didn’t cover him, making for an easy 55-yard TD pass. And though Yurcich did a solid job finding ways to get Hill the ball, getting him even more touches would be nice. Hill finished with eight carries and six receptions.
Many neutral-site games are moderately attended. Not this one. The crowd was announced as 61,521, and that wasn’t padded. OSU fans turned out en masse, but credit Seminole supporters. They filled almost as many seats as did OSU, despite being 900 miles from Florida State’s campus.
LINE PLAY: A
Mike Gundy has touted his defensive line all offseason, and it indeed played strong. Florida State tailbacks Karlos Williams and Mario Pender combined to average less than four yards a carry (97 yards, 26 carries), and the Cowboys got a decent pass rush on Winston even without blitzing. But the revamped offensive line played well, too. The Seminoles didn’t overwhelm the Cowboy front wall, which for the most part protected Walsh and opened some holes on the running game. OSU’s tailbacks combined to gain 119 yards on 30 carries. And none of OSU’s seven penalties were committed by a lineman on either side of the ball.