Oct. 6, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida State ground game may be a work in progress but the aerial attack is anything but at this point in the season. The Seminoles can sling it around.
In successive weeks, FSU racked up 280, 477, 219 and 336 yards passing. The ‘Noles enter the game against Wake Forest on Saturday with a per-game average of 328 yards passing, which ranks 14th nationally.
Making those numbers more impressive is the fact that FSU is airing it out with a pass-catching corps made up almost entirely of underclassmen.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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Redshirt senior Bert Reed has missed two consecutive games with a sore ankle and junior Willie Haulstead’s fall-camp concussion has prevented him from playing to this point, meaning that Rodney Smith is the only upperclassmen that has played in all four games. In the veterans’ absence, sophomores Greg Dent, Kenny Shaw and Jarred Haggins and freshmen Rashad Greene, Christian Green and Nick O’Leary have had to grow up quickly through the first third of the season.
That maturity process started in the sweltering Tallahassee heat a few months ago.
“Those guys truly developed over the summer,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “I could kind of see it right before my eyes, those guys growing up, understanding the concepts of our plays and things like that, being open in the right situations. You know, just catching the ball and making plays.”
Haggins and Dent started the youngsters’ playmaking trend right off the bat. Haggins snared a career-best five catches in the season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe and Dent and Greene added touchdowns.
Shaw then grabbed five catches of his own in the win over Charleston Southen a week later and Greene tallied 98 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Green also had 63 yards in that victory as well.
Against No. 1 Oklahoma, FSU’s young pass catchers accounted for 12 of the Seminoles’ 20 pass receptions and Greene hauled in a late touchdown.
Unfortunately for Florida State, the loss to the Sooners coincided with a loss of Haggins. The Lakeland, Fla. native broke his hand in that game and has not played since.
Despite Haggins’ setback, FSU still traveled to Death Valley two weeks ago and put on an aerial show in redshirt freshman Clint Trickett’s first career start. Once again, the young receivers accounted for the majority of the passing production as they nabbed 20 of Trickett’s 24 completions even though they were playing in one of the most hostile environments in the ACC.
“It felt good just getting the experience-going in there and getting involved and getting our feet wet in an environment like that,” Green said. “It was definitely an enlightening experience.“
“I think those guys helped Clint a lot,” Manuel added. “Obviously Clint made decisions and threw great passes but at the same time, those guys were still catching the ball. Obviously, even when I was in at quarterback those guys were making plays for me. I was extremely happy for those guys.”
Greene made Trickett’s job in that game much easier — much the same way he has done all season for FSU’s backup signal caller.
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the 2011 Florida State football team, Greene is second in receptions with 14 and has a team-high five touchdown catches. All five of Greene’s scoring grabs have come from a pass thrown by Trickett.
Greene heads to North Carolina as the first freshman at FSU to catch touchdowns of 50-plus yards in back-to-back games since 1976 and is the first Seminoles football player of any class to accomplish such a feat since Peter Warrick did so in 1998. He’s the first FSU player since Anquan Boldin in 2002 to have four consecutive games with a touchdown and is within 153 yards of moving into the top five for most receiving yards by a freshman in Florida State history.
The student-athete that Manuel calls the “money guy” for the offense has made quite the early impact for a high-flying ‘Noles offense with a bright future.
“He’s a great player. In my eyes, he’s a star,” senior safety Terrance Parks said. “He is an impact player. He’s fast, he’s smart, he can find the holes in the defense and exploit them. I am excited to see him the rest of the season.”
With Reed likely to be a game-time decision against Wake Forest and Haulstead still out, the young pass catchers and Smith will have to continue their high-performance trend.
The Demon Deacons boast the country’s 20th-ranked defense and allow just under 200 yards passing per game.
“I feel like they do a great job of being disciplined and buying in to what Coach Fisher and the offensive coaches teach them,” Parks said. “They play a big role in this offense and we need them to win.”