Sept. 23, 2012
By: Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor), Seminoles.com Managing Editor
EJ Manuel had the game of his life Saturday night and the entire nation watched as he threw for a career-high 380 yards and added a career-best 102 yards rushing.
Perhaps the best statistic of the night was the fact that EJ Manuel didn’t throw a single interception.
EJ Manuel connected on all 11 of his pass attempts after FSU went down 28-14.
FSU’s 667 total yards of offense are the most gained since the Seminoles poured 771 yards on Clemson in 2000.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — On the eve of the biggest game of his career, EJ Manuel got some special advice from a special someone.
“Just take what the defense gives you.”
Sounds simple enough but considering those words of wisdom came from Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Charlie Ward, Manuel took the advice to heart.
And then he took it to Clemson Saturday night for all of the college football world to see.
In No. 4/4 Florida State’s 49-37 win over No. 9/10 Clemson, Manuel looked a lot like his mentor by registering career highs in passing yardage (380) and rushing yardage (102) while adding two touchdowns on 27-of-35 passing in what was a come-from-behind victory.
Fittingly he became the first Seminoles (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) quarterback since Ward did so in 1992 to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for another 100 in a game.
“He’s always encouraging,” Manuel said about Ward, while also adding that he communicates frequently with FSU’s other Heisman winner and national champion, Chris Weinke. “He’s an exciting person to talk to; first of all, it’s Charlie Ward. He’s a huge mentor for me and I thank him for everything he’s done for me.”
“Having those guys behind you supporting you is huge,” added Manuel, whose ‘Noles remained atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division standings with the win.
The support was also in the stands Saturday night. The 17th-largest crowd in Doak Campbell Stadium history — and the national audience watching live on ABC — saw what can easily be called Manuel’s best game and his first signature win in a collegiate career that is now in its fifth year.
With FSU’s typically strong defense still trying to figure out how to slow down the high-powered Clemson (3-1, 0-1) offense and the special teams unit struggling, Manuel found his team trailing 28-14 with 11:48 left in the third quarter.
Buoyed by improved defensive play and a huge 90-yard kick return into scoring position by Lamarcus Joyner, Manuel came alive and led the comeback, connecting on all 11 of his pass attempts the rest of the night for 188 yards and one score.
Manuel finished the night as the orchestrator of an offense that eclipsed the 600-yard mark for the third time this season — this time rattling off 667 with 380 of those through the air and the other 287 on the ground.
“It was a big game … but I’m not going to put it on me. It was a team effort,” Manuel said.
For the second game in a row, Chris Thompson was virtually unstoppable and uncatchable out of the backfield. The senior tailback finished with 103 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. James Wilder, Jr. also ran for 65 on nine carries and all of FSU’s ball carriers averaged 7.2 yards per tote.
Thompson led the way receiving, too. His 79 yards on eight catches proved deadly to the Clemson defense while Greg Dent added a career-best five catches for 72 yards. Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith posted the two touchdown receptions, with Smith’s — a perfectly executed 29-yarder — serving as the one that put FSU up for good at 35-31 with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
|Chris Thompson Interview|
“I can’t remember off the top of my head a bad decision all night,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said about Manuel. “… EJ Manuel like I say all the time, I get to coach him every day and look in his eyes and know how he works and what he does and what he thinks, he is a tremendous young man. A great leader for our football team.”
Terrence Brooks led FSU in tackles with 12 and Cornellius Carradine added two sacks for a ‘Noles’ defense that was grasping at straws and then on the ropes following Sammy Watkins’ tricky touchdown pass from his wide receiver position to tailback Andre Ellington.
But after allowing 253 first-half yards, FSU’s defense found its form following that touchdown toss and permitted just 173 total yards in the second half. Included in that second-half turnaround was limiting Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd to just 43 yards passing in the final two quarters after he torched the secondary for 197 yards in the first and second quarters.
“It was just getting our eyes right,” Joyner said. “Focusing on our keys; not trying to be superman … just staying fundamentally with our technique.”
FSU hadn’t allowed a touchdown since the third quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl last December but Clemson needed less than two minutes to break that streak. Boyd’s 60-yard connection with DeAndre Hopkins was just over the outstretched hand of Brooks.
The speedy score was the first blow to FSU’s defense this season but the ‘Noles’ offense quickly returned the favor on the ensuing drive. First Manuel hit Smith for a 31-yard gain on his opening pass and then later found Nick O’Leary for a 15-yard gain. His 28-yard rush would then set up Lonnie Pryor’s 13-yard dash to pay dirt and a tie score.
Clemson typically employs trick plays on offense but the Tigers showed the same mentality on special teams on the next drive. Clemson’s fake field goal on 4th-and-short surprisingly withstood Fisher’s challenge and Ellington then added insult to injury with a six-yard touchdown run.
Following a missed 44-yard field-goal attempt by Dustin Hopkins, Carradine’s back-to-back sacks stymied what was threatening to be another Tigers scoring drive. The defensive stand was then followed by Wilder, Jr.’s five-yard run to knot the score at 14-14 early in the second quarter.
Looking more like the defense that had allowed just three points in three games, FSU forced another Tigers punt on the next drive. But Greene’s fumble gave the visitors a short field and Boyd made them pay with a 17-yard scoring toss to a wide open Brandon Ford.
Ford’s score would give Clemson a 21-14 lead that would last until halftime after another Hopkins miss — this one from 37 yards out — sailed wide as the first half expired.
Clemson added to that advantage early in the third quarter thanks to an opening-half defensive three-and-out and some theatrics in the backfield. A backwards pass to Watkins left Ellington wide open down field and the receiver found the running back for a 52-yard touchdown pass.
But a 64-yard Benjamin reception put FSU in scoring position on the very next drive and Thompson finished it off with a nine-yard option run to make it a one-score game at 28-21.
After a 50-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal moments later, Joyner exploded for a his game-changing 90-yard kick return and Greene’s nine-yard touchdown reception two plays later made it a 31-28 game. After Smith’s touchdown gave the ‘Noles their first lead Wilder, Jr. added another short touchdown run and Thompson scampered in from 27 yards away following a clutch Nick Waisome interception.
Not long after FSU won it was announced that the team’s upcoming game at USF will kick off at 6 p.m. and air on ESPN.
Fisher’s attention in the post-game press conference was already on the Bulls.
“It’s a very good win but we should win big games here at Florida State and we’re 4-0 and that’s all it is,” Fisher said. “We’ve got a critical game next week at South Florida and we need to get ready for that, put this one behind us very quickly and move on.”