Oct. 29, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — If Florida State had a three-item checklist of things to accomplish coming into Saturday’s home game against NC State, it could have read something like this:
1. Protect the football. 2. Limit T.J. Graham. 3. Generate turnovers.
At the conclusion of a 34-0 blowout win over the Wolfpack, the Seminoles can put three tomahawk-shaped check marks in each of those to-do-list boxes. Of course FSU (5-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had a number of important tasks to take care of against NC State (4-4, 1-3) — as it does for every game — but those three were especially important considering the opponent.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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The Wolfpack came into the game boasting the nation’s top defensive back in David Amerson, who had registered a college-football best eight interceptions before his trek to Tallahassee.
But ‘Noles quarterback EJ Manuel made sure he didn’t add to that total with his 321 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-34 passing. Manuel did have an interception but it was on a pass that bounced off his wide receiver’s chest and wasn’t corralled by the aforementioned Amerson.
Coinciding with his career-high 25 completions was Manuel’s ability to run the option play to near-perfection. A high-risk, high-reward play, Manuel’s pitches to the running back were well-timed and well-placed and most importantly were kept out of the hands of Wolfpack defenders.
“It’s just a matter of trying to make plays while also knowing how important it is to not give the ball away,” Manuel said.
Protect the football: tomahawk.
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Graham also entered the game with a country’s-best statistic of his own as his 185.7 all-purpose yards per contest were more than anyone else in college football.
The FSU defense, which held NC State to a total of 166 yards on 62 plays in the shutout, allowed Graham to garner just 39 yards receiving on five catches. And the special teams did their part too. Graham had four returns because of all the Seminole scoring but finished with just 76 yards in the return game for a below-his-standards all-purpose output of 116 yards.
“That goes with just game-planning a whole week for that guy,” sophomore safety Lamarcus Joyner. “Taking special teams seriously because that’s a big factor in this game. Just practicing and focusing on stopping that guy who is one of the most explosive players in the nation.”
Limit T.J. Graham: tomahawk.
In addition to game-planning for Graham, the same proved to be true for NC State quarterback Mike Glennon.
The big-armed Wolfpack quarterback had an FSU defender in his face all day and threw for a season-low 130 yards on 19-of-34 passing. He also didn’t throw a touchdown pass in a game for the first time this year.
Glennon was forced to pass the ball so much because the NC State running game mustered just 36 yards on 28 carries.
“We are keeping teams one dimensional,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That allows you to pass rush and turn your ends loose.”
Glennon finished the day with two interceptions — one to Xavier Rhodes, which was the first pick by an FSU cornerback all season, and another to Vince Williams — and one fumble that was forced by Christian Jones and recovered by Timmy Jernigan.
Generate turnovers: tomahawk.
Jones wound up as the leading tackler for the Seminoles with nine total stops and a sack. Mike Harris added eight tackles and a sack and Jernigan had a sack to go along with his five tackles. Cornelius Carradine added a sack, too.
Jermaine Thomas posted 48 yards rushing on 11 carries to eclipse the 2,000-yards mark for his career and also had a career-best 53 yards receiving. Lonnie Pryor and Devonta Freeman both posted touchdown runs.
Florida State finished the day with 444 yards of offense — 249 of which were achieved in a 24-point first half.
“Offensively, we put pressure on them just because we were scoring a lot early,” Fisher said.
That early scoring started after Florida State forced back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game.
After Christian Green took a pass-play 32 yards into the redzone, the FSU offense spread out the Wolfpack defenders on an option play and Manuel pitched the ball to Freeman at the last second. Freeman snagged the ball out of the air and danced untouched across the goal line for the seven-yard touchdown early in the first quarter.
NC State picked up its first third-down conversion on the following drive but it again ended in a punt. FSU then tacked on a 43-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal to go up 10-0 with 1:40 left in the opening quarter.
The Wolfpack were then able to generate some offensive momentum at the onset of the second quarter. Buoyed by a big third-down conversion on a near-miss sack attempt by Brandon Jenkins, Glennon guided his team into scoring position. But a missed 51-yard field goal gave the ball back to the ‘Noles.
On FSU’s drive after the miss, Manuel connected on four consecutive pass attempts and then ran another beautiful option play that put the Seminoles on the eight yard-line. On the next play, Pryor’s bruising, Wolfpack-dragging run to pay dirt pushed FSU’s lead to 17-0 halfway through the second quarter.
“I knew I was getting the ball,” Pryor said. “I told myself it doesn’t matter who comes in my way I am scoring a touchdown. I had that whole mentality. I took the ball and I got a touchdown.”
Rhodes’ interception then helped FSU pad its advantage before the half ended.
The turnover helped set up what would be a memorable drive because of two specific plays. Thomas grabbed a screen pass and took it 32 yards down the field thanks to his excellent vision and a stadium-shaking crack-back block by Rodney Smith. Two plays later, Manuel threaded the needle perfectly to Shaw, who withstood a big hit but held on for a 20-yard touchdown reception that gave the ‘Noles a 24-0 lead at halftime.
As it turns out, the play was the exact same one that frighteningly knocked Shaw out of the game against Oklahoma. Only different this time was that Manuel was able to keep the pass low enough to avoid a high hit by the defender.
“I was able to protect him this time,” Manuel said.
NC State then had its best drive of the day late in the third quarter as it after Hopkins had missed a 52-yard field goal. But Christian Jones’ blitz forced a Glennon fumble and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the FSU 42 yard-line to end the scoring threat and cap off a scoreless third quarter.
That drought ended at the 8:56 mark of the third quarter. Everett Dawkins tipped a Glennon pass that was then intercepted by Williams in NC State territory. Four plays later, Hopkins booted a 39-yard field goal to extend the advantage to 27-0.
Dent’s 26-yard touchdown in the final moments then slid the scoreboard to 34-0.
It’s a short week for the Seminoles as they will take their three-game winning streak to Boston College for a Thursday night game live on ESPN.
“Thirty-four-point game; we won the football game,” Fisher said. “We are getting better. We still have a lot of room for improvement but we are making some strides. We’ve got to get ready quick. We have to put this one behind us quick because we’ve got a five-day turnaround.”