September 23, 2014

Florida State didn't resemble the nation's best team without Jameis Winston, though it managed to extend the country's longest active winning streak.

The top-ranked Seminoles hope Winston's return can help them avoid another scare Saturday at North Carolina State, where they've struggled recently when ranked.

Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) won its 19th in a row with Saturday's 23-17 overtime victory over then-No. 22 Clemson, though it wasn't pretty with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner watching from the sideline.

Replacement Sean Maguire threw for 305 yards and a touchdown, but was also picked off twice to match Winston's total from the first two contests. The Seminoles trailed 10-3 at halftime - the first time they faced a deficit in 12 regular-season games.

"The mental resolve of this football team, that's why I love them," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They understand how to rally together, they understand how to pull together, and they understand how much they care for each other. I think they mentally got themselves back together."

Florida State struggled to produce on the ground, managing 13 yards on 27 carries for its worst rushing average since 2006. Its 109.7 rushing yards per game rank second-to-last in the ACC.

The all-senior offensive line surrendered five sacks and the Seminoles allowed 400-plus yards in a regular-season game for the first time since a 2012 win over Clemson.

"Great teams find a way to win and they have won 19 in a row for a reason," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said of Fisher's team.

Winston was serving a suspension for his latest off-the-field incident, having what was originally a half-game ban increased to a full game as punishment by university officials Friday night. Winston was penalized for "offensive and vulgar" comments on campus last week.

"When he does spontaneous things he has to make better judgments," Fisher said Monday. "Jameis is not a bad individual. He makes poor decisions. He's got to stop that."

The fifth-year coach insisted his signal-caller's leadership remains strong with his teammates and chalked up Winston being in full uniform for warmups prior to the Clemson game as a staff miscommunication.

"When we saw it, it was corrected," Fisher said. "He was great about it."

Winston was 16 of 26 for 292 yards and three TDs in a 49-17 home win over North Carolina State last year, leading the Seminoles to 35 first-quarter points and helping improve their all-time series advantage to 23-11.

However, N.C. State has won five of its last seven home games versus ranked Florida State squads, most recently knocking off the then-No. 2 Seminoles 17-16 in 2012 - FSU's last loss in ACC play.

"It has no bearing to what happens in this game," coach Dave Doeren said. "It just shows that Carter-Finley is a great stadium. It's a hard place to win."

The Wolfpack (4-0) are looking for their best start since Philip Rivers was under center. They haven't been 5-0 since opening 9-0 in 2002 en route to finishing 11-3.

N.C. State's 502.0 yards of offense per game top the conference, led by Jacoby Brissett's ACC-leading 166.7 passer rating.

The Florida transfer has 10 TD passes with one interception and was 14 of 21 for 195 yards and three scores in last Saturday's 42-0 win over Presbyterian - the Wolfpack's first shutout since 2011. Brissett also found the end zone on one of his five carries.

Shadrach Thornton ran for 173 yards and two TDs on 23 carries in last year's meeting, also catching five passes for 32 yards.

N.C. State is 0-3 all-time against top-ranked teams but has never hosted one.

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