Tallahassee, FL - Until Saturday, Florida State's quarterback battle had taken place exclusively behind closed intramural-field and stadium gates. So needless to say, all eyes were on Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston, Jacob Coker and Sean Maguire Saturday at FSU's annual spring game.
And in a 40-24 come-from-behind Gold victory over Garnet, FSU's quartet of quarterbacks had more than a few opportunities to turn some heads -- 86 to be exact.
With only one healthy scholarship running back available for the game (senior fullback Chad Abram), the Seminoles' four scholarship signal callers combined to throw 86 passes while only 33 running plays were called.
"It was something," Abram said afterwards. "We threw it a lot. We had to."
With James Wilder, Jr., Devonta Freeman and Mario Pender all out with injuries, the offensive focal point for both teams was an aerial one. Winston and Maguire played exclusively for the Garnet and Gold, respectively, while Coker and Trickett worked with both teams.
Winston, who immediately after the game walked across the parking lot to join the baseball team for its double header against Duke led the way with an eye-catching 205 yards on 12-of-15 passing with two touchdowns and a handful of "oohs" and "ahhs" from the nearly 30,000 fans in attendance.
The redshirt sophomore's first score of the day was actually his first throw: a 58-yard touchdown to walk-on David Tyrell.
"[Winston] came in here and, like I said, he took advantage of opportunities," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That's what you've got to do," Fisher said. "You've got to go make plays and he's done a nice job of making plays. He too the opportunity to take the day with the stage he had and I thought he played pretty well for the most part."
Trickett, the most experienced of FSU's quarterbacks, finished the day with a combined 259 yards on 22-of-31 passing with one touchdown and one interception for both Garnet and Gold. The highlight ofTrickett's day was his second-half connection with Gold's Kelvin Benjamin, who hauled in eight total catches for 141 yards and a Trickett touchdown toss.
Benjamin wasn't the only Florida State pass catcher to reap the statistical rewards of some eager-to-impress quarterbacks and the lack of healthy running-back options. Kenny Shaw grabbed 12 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown for Gold and Rashad Greene had 11 catches for 120 yards for Garnet.
Christian Green also had a strong day with six catches for 70 yards. Of Gold's 446 total yards, 437 came through the air. Garnet's 363 total yards featured 336 in the passing game.
"I thought all the receivers had a good day picking up the slack," Green said. "Without the running backs we knew we had to step up. I think we did a good job doing that."
Jacob Coker finished the day with a combined 15-of-26 passing for 186 yards and one touchdown but had two late interceptions -- one of which was returned for a Gold touchdown by P.J. Williams -- for Garnet.
Sean Maguire registered 113 yards and one touchdown on 6-of-13 yards passing.
Abram ran 13 times for 43 yards and one score and Roberto Aguayo ushered in the post-Dustin Hopkins era with 5-of-6 field goals made, featuring distances of 34, 47, 51, 34 and 58 yards, respectively.
Defensively, Fisher and his players admitted that the new-look defense held back and didn't fully unleash its new attack-style mentality in the friendly game.
Under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the 'Noles will feature a plethora of new blitz packages and pressure-generating plays to make opposing offensive coordinators lose sleep. But Saturday they pulled it back, instead working on the basics -- and the results were encouraging.
"We really did just basic stuff," senior linebacker Christian Jones said. "We put in so much stuff this spring with more blitzes. I can't tell you how much blitzes we have. It was all just a little sample of it. The fall should be exciting when we start putting all that stuff in and start game planning."
Jones finished with seven tackles for Gold but it was redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample that stole the show. Quarterbacks weren't live so therefore they could be tackled but Stample still finished with four sacks to go along with his game-high nine tackles for Gold. Karlos Williams also had eight stops and an interception for the winning team. Lamarcus Brutus also had a takeaway from his safety spot.
For Garnet, sophomore linebacker Reggie Northrup had six tackles.
It took until the fourth drive of the game for either FSU offense to get anything going. After his first drive was stalled, Coker completed three consecutive passes -- two to Benjamin and one to Shaw -- get to get Gold across midfield. His toss to Jermaine Washington was then followed by a 13-yard completion to Shaw that put Gold on the 20-yard line.
Three plays later, Coker connected with tailback Will Burnham for a 15-yard touchdown toss to put Gold up 7-0 with 1:54 left in the first quarter. Coker was under heavy duress on the play and very likely would have been sacked by Gerald Demps had the play occurred in an official contest.
But Burnham wasn't the only walk-on to make an impact early. Tyrell was the recipient of that 58-yard Winston touchdown toss to start the second half and then defensive back Kendall Fullington scooped up a fumble for Garnet after it was fumbled by Maguire on the snap.
On the ensuing Garnet possession, Winston found Green for a short gain to pick up the conversion on 4th-and-2 only to be sacked by Lawrence-Stample on the next play. Facing 2nd-and-long, Winston hurled a 19-yard completion to Green for another first down.
Then two plays later, Winston threw a back-shoulder ball to Greene for the 20-yard score and a 14-7 Garnet lead midway through the second frame.
Following a Gold punt, Winston faced a 3rd-and-15 but delivered a 21-yard fastball to Dent for the first down. But the drive stalled after that play and Aguayo missed a 47-yard attempt with 1:48 left in the half.
Operating in a two-minute offense, Coker was then able to drive the Gold team inside the 20-yard line. But an offensive pass interference call on what appeared to be a Benjamin touchdown catch and Ukeme Eligwe's batted pass in the backfield set up a 2nd-and-25 from the 33-yard line with 38 seconds left.
The drive ended with a 34-yard Aguayo field goal to cut Gold's deficit to 14-10. But Aguayo quickly gave those points right back to Garnet as he hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired after being lead into scoring position by the Trickett-led offense.
The second half started with a Gold punt and then a Karlos Williams interception off a Trickett pass attempt. The play set up an eventual 51-yard Aguayo field goal to make it a 17-13 game in favor of Garnet with 6:40 left in the third quarter.
Gold was then able to regain the lead after that early 7-0 score thanks to Maguire's work through the air. The redshirt freshman first found Benjamin for a 56-yard completion and then a few plays later hit Shaw in the numbers for an 18-yard score and 20-17 Gold lead.
The lead, though, was brief. Winston's perfectly thrown ball to Green for 30 yards was followed by his own 12-yard scramble to put Garnet on three-yard line. Abram's one-yard plunge then capped off an 86-yard drive and gave Garnet a 24-20 advantage with 8:59 still to play.
Trickett made the switch to the Gold team for the next drive and opened up the possession with a 46-yard bomb to Shaw. Two snaps later, Trickett registered his first touchdown throw of the day with a 23-yard jump ball to Benjamin to put Gold back on top, 27-24.
Gold later added another Aguayo field goal for a 30-24 lead with 1:45 left on the clock. That lead then ballooned to 37-24 when P.J. Williams picked off Coker and returned it 35 yards to pay dirt for Gold. Lamarcus Brutus then intercepted Coker on the next drive and Aguayo drilled a 58-yard field goal as time expired and FSU's spring practice period officially came to a close.