Oct. 15, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel didn't have to grow up in the state to understand the importance of the yearly battle between rivals Florida State and Miami.
Whether they were competing for national titles or just 364 days of coveted bragging rights, it didn't matter. Manuel, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., just wanted to be part of the pageantry and tradition of one of college football's greatest rivalries -- even if at the time it was in the virtual world.
"Playing video games as a kid you always want to be in that game," Manuel said Monday at his weekly press conference. "Then when you're actually in it at Doak Campbell or at their stadium it's kind of a dream come true. Those kind of games you grew up wanting to be a part of."
All grown up and leading the No. 10/12 Seminoles (6-1, 3-1 ACC) into his second game as a starter against the Hurricanes (4-3, 3-1) Saturday at 8 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium, Manuel remembers what his real-life taste of the rivalry was like in 2008 when he watched from the sidelines as a redshirt freshman.
Manuel watched as his predecessor, Christian Ponder, did Christian Ponder-like things to the Hurricanes, throwing for 159 yards and a score and adding a career-high 144 yards rushing in a 41-39 'Noles' victory in a steady South Florida rain.
And while he was impressed by what Ponder did, it was what was going on around the players that Manuel remembers most vividly.
"I just remember that atmosphere," Manuel said. "I am not from here so I didn't really know how it was until I was actually in it. I just remember the atmosphere being crazy."
And FSU-Miami games are typically crazy close.
In 56 games dating back to 1951, the Hurricanes own a narrow 31-25 all-time advantage while FSU has scored a combined 1,168 points in those games compared to Miami's 1,146. Of the last 11 contests in the series, 10 have finished as one-score ballgames.
It may be cliche but it's true: Throw out the records and throw out the expectations in this annual in-state showdown.
"That's one of the big games you're here at Florida State for," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday. "That's always one of the great rivalries in college football. A lot of history, a lot of tradition. It means a lot to us, I know that. That's one you have to be aware of. It's a battle and it's a lot of history in it, tradition in it.
"It means a lot to the people here; it means a lot to the players that played here and it's always a great game."
OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY MUCH IMPROVED AGAINST THE EAGLES
More important than any other reason behind Florida State's loss at NC State was the subpar play of the offensive line.
Manuel didn't have time to throw the football because the defense was constantly in his face, pressuring him and not allowing the pass plays to develop. It was the second such game that FSU struggled in that regard as the Seminoles allowed a combined 19 tackles for loss and six sacks in games against USF and the Wolfpack.
Last weekend, that wasn't an issue. With Menelik Watson back in the lineup at right tackle after missing the NC State game with flu-like symptoms, FSU allowed just two tackles for loss and one sack in a 51-7 dismantling of Boston College.
"They moved [the Eagles] around a little bit," Fisher said. "They did a nice job. We moved E.J. around a little bit. But the two flanks held up. Cameron [Erving] played a really good game and getting Menelik [Watson] back in there makes a big difference as far as some of the power and size that he brings."
Erving, Watson and the three other starters all graded out with scores of at least 82 percent afterwards -- the highest among the starting five all season.
The improved play up front helped Manuel throw for a career-high 439 yards with four touchdowns -- an outing that earned him ACC Offensive Back of the Week honors Monday morning.
"Those guys did a good job," Manuel said. "They stopped all the blitzes [Boston College] brought. I don't think any missed or blown coverages as far as our protection. I think guys focused in during the week and they were able to do it well Saturday."
FSU-DUKE KICK-TIME SET
The ACC announced Monday that Florida State's Oct. 27 homecoming game against Duke will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will air live on ESPNU.