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FSU receivers boost Winston in prolific offense

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Kenny Shaw were on a recent trip to a Dave & Buster's restaurant when a fan came up to offer congratulations on the Heisman Trophy.

Not to Winston, the prized quarterback, consensus All-American and winner of college football's top award.

To Shaw.

"I'm like, 'You're right,' " Winston said. "He won it for me."

Shaw and the rest of the Seminoles' receiving corps.

All of Winston's success — his school-record 38 touchdown passes, 3,820 passing yards and, yes, his Heisman — overshadowed one of the most prolific group of receivers in college football history.

Shaw (52 catches, 929 yards), Kelvin Benjamin (50 catches, 957 yards) and Rashad Greene (67 catches, 981 yards) are the first three players in school history to each record more than 800 receiving yards in the same season. All three earned at least third-team All-ACC honors.

With a solid performance against No. 2 Auburn in Monday's BCS title game, FSU could become the fifth team in NCAA history to have three 1,000-yard receivers. Texas Tech (2003), Hawaii (2007), Tulsa (2007) and Houston (2009) are the only others to reach that milestone.

Desmond Howard said the talent of FSU's receivers was obvious from the season opener. Although Howard said Winston's 25-of-27 passing performance against Pitt was strong, the 1991 Heisman-winning receiver was even more impressed by the players catching the redshirt freshman's passes.

"What I said was, 'This kid can throw the ball, but those receivers, they're not dropping anything,' " said Howard, now an ESPN analyst. "Nothing."

Shaw has made some of the biggest catches during No. 1 FSU's undefeated season.

He caught Winston's 55-yard Hail Mary to close the first half against Boston College, and the 6-foot, 170-pound senior absorbed a brutal hit from the Gators to convert on third and 26 and keep an eventual touchdown drive alive. The 'Noles scored on four of their next five possessions to turn a three-point lead into a 37-7 rout.

"He catches everything that comes his way," Winston said.

But Shaw isn't even the most talented or consistent receiver on his team.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Greene ranks in the top 10 in school history in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The junior has caught a pass in a team-best 28 consecutive games.

Benjamin's 6-5, 234-pound frame combined with his speed and leaping ability could make him a first-round pick whenever the redshirt sophomore declares for the NFL draft.

Auburn's No. 104 pass defense has given up at least 300 passing yards five times this season and been bullied by big receivers like Benjamin. Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham put up 144 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC title game, and Texas A&M's Mike Evans torched the Tigers for 287 yards and four touchdowns.

"I think it's definitely a great task for us, one on a national stage," Auburn defensive back Jermaine Whitehead said.

As strong as FSU's receiving corps is, it could have been even better. The 'Noles lost Jarred Haggins in August with a knee injury, and Greg Dent was kicked off the team after being charged with sexual assault.

Passing-game coordinator and former FSU standout receiver Lawrence Dawsey said that lack of depth gave Benjamin, Greene and Shaw more repetitions with Winston, boosting their chemistry and improving their timing.

"I think it actually paid off because they're familiar with each other," Dawsey said. "Jameis kind of knew when they make a certain step, which way they're going to break out."

Greene, Benjamin and Shaw combined for 1,768 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, but Shaw said they weren't satisfied. They had too many drops and left too many yards on the field, so they focused on their mental game to improve their consistency.

"We want to be that receiving corps who's getting nationwide exposure," Shaw said. "We grasped that."

FSU receivers boost Winston in prolific offense 01/03/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 4, 2014 12:35am]
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