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  1. Sports

Despite sluggish start, FSU tops Wake Forest

TALLAHASSEE — Before the score got ugly Saturday in Tallahassee, the nation's No. 1-ranked team had its own aesthetic issues.

From a slow offensive start to Jameis Winston's general sluggishness to receiver Rashad Greene's exit (probable concussion), FSU found itself grinding through consecutive win No. 21 instead of gliding through it.

Yet by the end of this crisp, cloudless Tallahassee afternoon, the score — Seminoles 43, Wake Forest 3 — might have been as blissful to most FSU fans as the autumn weather. The hosts collected points on special teams (Roberto Aguayo's school-record-tying five field goals), on defense (middle linebacker Reggie Northrup's 31-yard fumble return), even on a big play (Travis Rudolph's 59-yard catch).

Points for style? Initially, those were at a premium.

"Offensively," coach Jimbo Fisher said, "we were never in rhythm."

Fortunately for them, the defense was. Maligned all week after missing more than 30 tackles in a 56-41 win seven days before at North Carolina State, the 'Noles forced three turnovers — only two fewer than they forced in the first four games — and held Wake to 126 total yards.

After Mike Weaver's 36-yard field goal on its third drive, Wake crossed midfield only once more.

"I thought they were outstanding," said Fisher, who has 50 wins as a head coach. "I thought they tackled, kept contain, did their thing. I mean, totally dominated the game."

Meantime, dusk nearly arrived before Winston and Co. did.

Nearly 29 minutes in, the Demon Deacons (2-4, 0-2 ACC) had played the 'Noles (5-0, 3-0) to a 3-all deadlock after becoming the first opponent to hold FSU scoreless in an opening quarter this season.

FSU didn't reach the end zone until its fifth possession, when Winston capped a six-play, 50-yard drive with a 2-yard scramble with 1:03 to go in the half.

Winston began 1-for-5, his fourth pass of the game being tipped into the hands of Deacons cornerback Merrill Noel. On the hosts' second possession, tailback Karlos Williams fumbled at his own 41 after running into left guard Josue Matias. Wake converted it into Weaver's field goal.

"I've got to get us going, I've got to get us starting fast," said Winston (23-for-39, 297 yards), who was sacked twice and intercepted once. "But at the end of the day, that's what we've got that defense for. When Florida State starts playing Florida State football and the defense and the offense are on the same cylinder, we're going to be fun to watch."

The defense essentially put things out of reach in a 58-second span late in the third quarter. P.J. Williams intercepted John Wolford inside the red zone and returned it to the Deacons 9, setting up Mario Pender's 3-yard touchdown run two plays later.

Two plays into the ensuing Wake possession, Northrup forced an Isaiah Robinson fumble, scooped it up and returned it for a 31-yard TD, increasing FSU's lead to 30-3.

"(The coaches) really emphasized tackling and getting low and wrapping up the whole week," Northrup said. "It was a grind this week and they were hard on us. It was for the better; we had a sloppy week last week."

Meantime, even as the offense hiccuped, Aguayo held steady.

The fourth 'Nole to boot four field goals in a game, Aguayo converted from 40, 52, 42 and 32 yards, extending his streak of made field goals to 21, an FSU record. He has converted 79 consecutive kicks (including 58 PATs) dating to November.

"It's amazing what that guy can do," Fisher said.

If only the rhythm had been contagious.

"People are playing higher against us than they're playing against anyone else," Winston said. "Obviously, it's my job to get the (offense) going, and I promise you just wait, just wait on it, because we're going to get it going."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com.

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