TALLAHASSEE — EJ Manuel has played in prime time before. He has performed in a conference championship game. He has started a New Year's Day bowl.
But as the controls of the Florida State offense were officially handed to the redshirt junior, opening-game jitters crept in.
Forget that the No. 6-ranked Seminoles opened the season Saturday against a Louisiana-Monroe team that has served as a BCS-power punching bag the past three seasons, barnstorming to open the season at Auburn, Texas and Arkansas before landing at Doak Campbell Stadium this fall.
"You would think I've played in some big games before," Manuel said. "I'm thinking, 'Why am I nervous?' "
Midway through the fourth quarter — after many of the announced 72,226 had departed Doak — Manuel could finally relax, having led the Seminoles to a 34-0 victory over the Warhawks. He threw for 252 yards and a career-high two scores. The quarterback executed a pass-first game plan, completing 22 of his career-high 34 attempts.
"I'm proud of our kids and the way we competed, but we've got to get a lot better," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We've just got to keep working to get where we've got to go."
FSU's defense held Louisiana-Monroe — which brought a heavy offensive playbook to Tallahassee — to 191 yards of offense on its way to registering its first shutout in 10 games. Aided by a field-position game that limited the Warhawks all afternoon, the Seminoles held them to just 12 first downs.
Louisiana-Monroe never visited the red zone. Its best drive reached the FSU 28, and that came against reserves during the fourth quarter.
"We always take it personal," said FSU first-time starter and sophomore defensive end Bjoern Werner. "(Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops) always says, 'Every yard is personal; whether it's the third backups or the fourth backups.' Our backups really did a good job of keeping the shutout. We take a lot of pride in preventing every yard."
The win, however, did little to answer how good the Seminoles are — and whether they're worthy of their billing as preseason ACC favorite and national title contender.
In some ways, it was the first of two dress rehearsals — this week's game against Charleston Southern being the other — for the Sept. 17 prime-time showdown with top-ranked Oklahoma.
"We still made some mistakes in the first game," Manuel said. "Jimbo's always coaching to perfection. I think that's something we've got to get to. We're a lot smarter team than we were last year. We have a lot of experienced guys."
The receiving corps shined, showing big-play weapons such as sophomore Greg Dent, who caught a 50-yard pass in the first half's final 70 seconds to make it 17-0. Steady senior Bert Reed made four catches, including a touchdown.
Youth — and sentiment — was served in the fourth quarter when redshirt freshman quarterback Clint Trickett threw a 28-yard touchdown to freshman Rashad Greene on his first and only pass of the game. That prompted teary-eyed emotion from his father, FSU assistant Rick Trickett.
Trickett and Greene were among 15 Florida State players making their first college appearance, including eight freshmen.
But the Seminoles' rushing game — the lifeblood of good FSU teams of the past — tallied only 92 yards. And Manuel's jitters were obvious early as he floated balls beyond his receivers' reach.
"I think we have the potential to be a good football team," Fisher said. "But we have a long way to go."
Warhawks coach Todd Berry, however, was impressed with the Seminoles.
"When you're an elite team, you have to show that you're an elite team early in the season," Berry said. "That's really significant to the way that your team performs the rest of the way out. And they certainly came out and played a very clean game."
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