TALLAHASSEE — No. 7 Florida State opened its season by doing exactly what a national championship hopeful is supposed to do.
By overwhelming an overmatched, Division I-AA opponent in all three phases of a 69-3 blowout win over Murray State on a muggy Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"It's a start," fullback Lonnie Pryor said.
And it started for FSU on special teams.
Rashad Greene streaked 47 yards into the end zone on a punt return, the Seminoles' first touch of the game, less than a minute and a half into the game. The score set the tone for the blowout and eased fears about how FSU's special teams would fare after the departure of the talented but troubled Greg Reid, who was dismissed a month ago for violating team rules.
"I didn't think it would happen so soon," Greene said of the first special teams score of his career.
FSU's suffocating defense also dominated, holding the spread offense of Murray State to 156 yards and one score, a 28-yard field goal. The Racers mustered only 21 yards in their first 17 plays and were picked off by Xavier Rhodes.
The Seminoles hounded quarterback Casey Brockman, the Ohio Valley Conference's preseason player of the year, sacking him six times, breaking up 10 passes and holding him to 19-for-36 passing for 117 yards.
Murray State converted on only three of its 18 third-down chances against a defense Racers coach Chris Hatcher called the best he has ever faced.
"Their defense is the real deal," Hatcher said.
Defensive end Bjoern Werner was the defensive star. He tied a school record with five of FSU's 11 tackles for a loss and stripped Brockman at the 1 to set up one of the Seminoles' nine touchdowns.
"I thought he was very average," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher deadpanned.
FSU's defense led to plenty of opportunities for the best ground game the school has seen in two decades.
After finishing 104th in Division I-A in rushing offense last season, the 'Noles rushed for 285 yards and seven touchdowns. FSU hadn't scored even six times on the ground since 1992.
"Long way to go," Fisher said, "but much improved."
Pryor rushed for only 28 yards but scored a career-high three touchdowns. Top backs Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman combined for 96 yards on 16 carries, and Debrale Smiley added two garbage-time scores.
Plant High product James Wilder Jr. recorded the first 100-yard game of his career, finishing with 106 yards and two touchdowns. All of his offense came in the second half.
By then, most of the announced crowd of 70,047 had left.
FSU's rushing success came at the expense of quarterback EJ Manuel's statistics.
The senior quarterback started his Heisman Trophy campaign without eye-popping numbers. He finished 16-of-22 for 188 yards, one touchdown and his first interception since October. He was on the sideline by the third quarter, and, hours later, was still upset over failing to complete every pass.
"I'll try to shoot for that next week," Manuel said.
He might have a chance to do it. On Saturday, the Seminoles face another Division I-AA team, Savannah State, which lost its opener to Oklahoma State 84-0.
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected]