TALLAHASSEE — Florida State redshirt sophomore QB EJ Manuel didn't need long to show he was ready to play Saturday night against Clemson and its stingy defense.
It took him a single play.
Off a play-action fake on FSU's first offensive snap, Manuel lofted a deep ball and hit sophomore WR Rodney Smith in stride for a 53-yard gain, the Seminoles' longest pass play of the season.
"It was a great way to start the game off," Manuel said after the 16-13 win. "I felt great out there."
Although he deftly ran the option to gain a team-high 71 yards, he showed his poise and polish on a single play in the final minute. On a second and 24 from his own 30, Manuel threw deep down the left sideline for Smith.
"You've got to be careful down there," coach Jimbo Fisher said of that call.
But he and his staff spotted the Tigers in one-on-one coverage on the outside and trusted Manuel to throw it where only the 6-foot-6 Smith had a play. A pass-interference call gave FSU a first down at its own 45. Manuel followed with a strike over the middle to Smith for 18 yards, setting the stage for sophomore K Dustin Hopkins' 55-yard field goal to win it.
"We got the penalty and went right up into what we do every week, 15 seconds, no timeouts, we're at midfield, we call a play, and we hit it and run up and clock it," Fisher said. "We work that drill every Thursday."
"Whoever's in there, we're like a machine," Manuel added. "One part goes down, the other part has to pick up the weight."
Hopkins' dash: A week after missing a 40-yarder in the final seconds that would have beaten North Carolina, Hopkins knew his attempt at the end Saturday had a good chance.
"It felt pretty good, but about halfway, I thought it was starting to fade left," he said. "I was just hoping, I was willing it to the right; 'stay right, stay right.' When I saw it was going to be good, (holder) Shawn (Powell) jumped and started yelling, so I just took off running. I didn't want to get dog piled. There's some big dudes out there."
Ponder update: Fisher said fifth-year QB Christian Ponder, trying to come back from swelling in his right (throwing) elbow, could have played, but he decided not to jeopardize his star's future.
"He went out there and threw the ball very well (in warm-ups)," Fisher said, "but one more pop on that thing and how fragile it went and how late it went in the week, you're talking about the rest of the year, you're talking about the Senior Bowl, you're talking about his draft status."
The last word: From Fisher, looking ahead: "We still have to fix some issues and problems. But the one problem we don't have is competing. Our kids will compete."