Oct. 22, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A balanced offense and bothersome defense helped the Florida State football team return home in style Saturday with a 41-16 win over Maryland.
Playing inside Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time in more than a month, FSU (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) racked up 482 yards of offense and registered a season-high six sacks on Terrapins (2-5, 1-3) quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Danny O'Brien.
"It was very good to keep balance in what we did," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Quarterback EJ Manuel helped the 'Noles earn their second-straight win with his 264 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-26 passing before the dynamic duo of rookie Devonta Freeman and senior Jermaine Thomas took over in the second half.
Starting for the first time as a Seminole, Freeman finished with 100 yards rushing and one score on just 11 carries. It was the second game in a row that the versatile runner had hit the 100-yard mark, which made him the first FSU freshman to accomplish such a feat since since Sammy Smith did so in 1986, but that wasn't even the biggest story from the backfield.
After missing most of fall camp with migraines, Thomas had played sparingly this season before Saturday's affair.Against the Terps, his fresh legs propelled him to 86 yards rushing and one score, which was especially fitting because the Jacksonville, Fla. native's re-emergence party came on the same day that he served as an honorary captain for the pre-game coin toss.
"I was kind of excited because I had never been a captain before and it kind of got me even more excited [for the game] right before kick-off," said Thomas, who had just 70 yards to his credit before playing Maryland.
As for the receivers, sophomore Kenny Shaw grabbed a game- and career-best six catches with one score. Bert Reed added 76 yards on a season-high five catches and Rodney Smith had 64 yards through the air.
While the offense was keeping Maryland guessing, the 'Noles' defense was dominating the trenches.
Sophomore linebacker Telvin Smith had a career-best two of FSU's six sacks on the day and Bjoern Werner once again lived in the offensive backfield as he registered a sack of his own. The consistent pressure from Werner and Brandon Jenkins on the ends and push from improving freshman Timmy Jernigan in the middle was just too much for the Terrapins.
Brown had entered the game on the heels of a loss to Clemson that saw him set a new school record for most rushing yards by a quarterback. But FSU held him to zero yards on 10 carries and he threw for just 92.
Brown was knocked out by senior linebacker Nigel Bradham in the second half and former starter O'Brien came on in relief to throw for 180 yards and one touchdown.
"We made it real simple for those guys," redshirt junior middle linebacker Vince Williams said. "Just go get the quarterback. Then when the non-scrambler (O'Brien) came in, we knew exactly what we were going to get. This guy is going to sit back there and try to throw the ball so we really had to get after him."
It took FSU less than three minutes to get the scoring started. Manuel misfired on just one of his four passes on a 62-yard opening drive and then trotted into the endzone from seven yards out thanks to a critical Lonnie Pryor block.
The 'Noles' next score was almost as swift.
After forcing a punt, the Seminoles benefitted from a tough first-down run by Freeman then Manuel found Shaw on a 26-yard touchdown pass to push the score to 14-0 with 4:45 left in the first quarter. On the scoring play, Shaw came back for the football, made a move on safety Eric Franklin and then dove across the goal line.
The smoothness at which the game was moving then came to a screeching halt.
First Greg Reid's apparent punt return for a touchdown was called back because the referees ruled he illegally pointed at the football. A few plays later, an obvious personal foul penalty from a hit on Smith went uncalled. Then kicker Dustin Hopkins missed the shortest kick of his career from 37 yards out that would have made it a 17-0.
"Superman finally missed, unfortunately," Fisher joked about Hopkins, who would have tied Graham Gano's school record of 18 consecutive field goals made had he converted. "That caught me off guard. I just stood there and I was questioning the refs. I thought they were wrong."
Despite all of that, Hopkins later redeemed himself and started a new streak with a 38-yard field goal with 2:35 left in the second quarter. Maryland would then add its own field goal as the clock expired and both teams went to the locker room with a 17-3 score in favor of FSU.
The second half then began with a pair of firsts.
Bradham's helmet-to-helmet hit on Brown knocked the quarterback out of the ballgame and former O'Brien had to come in to the game for the first time The change in quarterback resulted in a change in offensive philosophy for the Terps as O'Brien immediately went to the air.
But the shift in play-calling was met with similar results: a Terrapins punt. Thomas then registered his first touchdown of the season on an untouched 34-yard scoring scamper that was made possible by another Pryor block.
"I hadn't been in the endzone pin a long time," Thomas said. "Lonnie had a great block and Bert Reed, too. I have to give credit to those guys."
Down 24-3, O'Brien then connected with Quintin McCree for a 69-yard third-down passing play. O'Brien then did his best Brown impression with a five-yard touchdown run that cut the score to 24-10 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
Florida State then pushed their lead back to three scores -- 27-10 -- when Hopkins' second successful field goal of the day sailed through the uprights early in the final quarter.
With 5:57 left to play, Freeman then iced the ballgame with his 41-yard touchdown run. Smiley then added six more in the final moments with his goal-line plunge and the Seminoles were on top 41-10 before the Terrapins added a last-second touchdown and missed extra point.
Florida State is at home again next weekend against NC State, which beat Virginia 28-14, on Saturday. That game will kick off at noon and will air live on ESPNU.