Oct. 3, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Maybe if he were a "show dog," EJ Manuel would get more credit for the impressive personal numbers he continues to generate since taking over as Florida State's starting quarterback last year.
Sure, Manuel is in the early Heisman Trophy conversation after a big dual-threat performance against Clemson and a 5-0 record to start the year but not very often -- at least from a national standpoint -- are his exploits as a pure passer highlighted and discussed.
Manuel's athleticism and ability to extend plays and move the chains with his legs help make him an effective quarterback but his accuracy and decision-making are what define him. Look no further than the record books as evidence to that as Manuel has the opportunity to finish his time at FSU as the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leader in both quarterback efficiency rating and career completion percentage.
Haven't taken notice of his mistake-free play? Oh well.
"It doesn't matter to him," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He wants us to go win games and do what his team can do and that's the way we are. That's it. The expectations and all that, that's for everybody else. We've got to be about preparation. We are about preparation, not expectation."
Fisher famously referred to Manuel as a "hunting dog" and not a "show dog" following his performance against the Tigers when he became the first 'Noles quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to rush for at least 100 yards and throw for at least 300. The humorous but pointed metaphor was in response to a question about Manuel's Heisman Trophy chances.
Translation: FSU's third-year coach wants a worker at quarterback that is unconcerned with perception, expectations and what others may think or say of him.
Fisher shared the same Manuel metaphor this week on the heels of a 30-17 win at USF.
In that game, Manuel was a cool-and-collected 19-of-26 for 242 yards and one touchdown to increase his season totals to a statistics line that looks like this: 88-for-120 for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns. In addition to earning his 18th career victory (he is now 18-4 all-time as a starter), Manuel also continued to avoid turnovers as he has thrown just one interception (Kenny Shaw's dropped pass in the season opener) in the last 10 games.
"That's what you want to be known as. A quarterback, that's your job," Manuel said. "Be accurate and make decisions in a quick span of time. If you can do that you can be effective."
Manuel's performance against the Bulls upped his career completion percentage to 67.4, which is the highest in FSU history and currently tops the same chart in the ACC where former Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub had been the reigning leader. Remarkably, that sky-high percentage hasn't been accrued through the use of short passes as Manuel averages 12.9 yards per completion over the span of his career.
His ability to find pass catchers and effectively deliver them the football has developed as he has grown more comfortable and competent in Fisher's offensive scheme. From the time he completed 15-of-20 passes for 220 yards his first time as a starter in a win over Wake Forest in 2009 to last weekend against USF when he suggested to his head coach the play-call that resulted in a one-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Haplea, Manuel's progression has been evident.
"I think the biggest thing is just understanding what we are doing as an offense," Manuel said. "I've always known I could throw so that's never been a question in my mind. I think just understanding the offense, being more of a student of the game, understanding what defenses are going to do -- the looks, the pre-snap looks -- even if they try to disguise I still know what they are going to do."
Manuel the "hunting dog" is quick to point out that his efficiency isn't a one-dog achievement. FSU is as good as it has been on the offensive line since he has been here, the wide receivers are deep, talented and plentiful, and the running game has the ability to carry the offense and wear down defenses.
He also has a head coach in Fisher that recruited him out of high school when Fisher was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and has been there every step of the way in his development into one of the nation's top signal-callers.
"You have to make [quarterbacks] successful," said NC State coach Tom O'Brien, whose Wolfpack team is preparing this week to face Manuel in a critical ACC Atlantic Division showdown. "I think Coach Fisher does a great job of understanding what his talents are and his abilities are and putting him in situations and throws where he can be successful."
Saturday night at N.C. State, Manuel will make his first start in a stadium that is known for causing problems for visiting quarterbacks because of its design (the stands are virtually right on top of the players) and its raucous environment.
But playing at Carter-Finley Stadium is just one more task on Manuel's to-do list; nothing more and nothing less. The even-keeled redshirt senior spent the off-season working on his throwing motion, his touch and his presence as a leader for games like these when so much is at stake.
As he does every week, Manuel has spent time watching film, studying his opponent's defense and its tendencies and preparing mentally and physically for the challenge of leading the nation's third-ranked team into enemy territory.
"His heart is about about winning," Fisher said. "His mind is about winning and being successful so [preparing and working hard] to him are just what you've got to do to be successful. That's the way he looks at things and why he's such a great young man."
The "hunting dog" is ready to work.