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Second start a big test for Florida State Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel

For Florida State's EJ Manuel, the question has changed.

Last week, folks wondered how the redshirt freshman QB would perform in his first start in place of injured star Christian Ponder. He answered that with a stellar showing, leading the Seminoles to a critical win at Wake Forest.

"Manuel held his part better than most of us expected," coach Bobby Bowden said.

This week, folks naturally are wondering what Manuel will do for an encore in another critical game Saturday afternoon against visiting Maryland. Before you answer that one, consider that the Terrapins will have a full game of film to study to see what Manuel did well and what kind of plays offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher called for him. Wake, in contrast, had all of 14 plays to try to prepare.

"I told him the other day," Fisher said, "Christian had success all year because he did the same things every week; he prepared the same, he thought the same, he reacted and played the game. He didn't go out and say, 'I'm going to do this this week.' He played the plays that were called and read what was there."

That tested Manuel's poise and preparation.

And he graded out nicely in both. But college football is replete with examples of young QBs doing well in their debut then struggling the next game as defenses expose and exploit their inexperience. How many turnovers did Southern California freshman Matt Barkley have against Stanford? Four. How unnerved did USF's B.J. Daniels seem against Rutgers?

A question for Fisher and the staff is how much they throw at Manuel.

Last week, Fisher said the game plan had "some complexity" to it and he was "getting people lined up, not taking delay of games, managing the clock" and checking out of plays. That comes from grasping the concepts of each play and not simply memorizing.

"If you don't understand conceptually, you can never understand why you're doing things," he said. "You can never have any consistency that way."

The running man: Sophomore TB Jermaine Thomas is coming off three straight 100-yard rushing days (186 against North Carolina State, 119 against Clemson and 149 against Wake Forest). In those games, he has averaged 6.4 yards a carry and has scored four touchdowns. In his first seven games, he had rushed for 192 yards (a 3.9 average) and two touchdowns.

The difference? He's stronger — physically and mentally.

"It took a lot of messing up for me to get things down pat," he said, candidly adding that he got a "little soft" when Fisher got on him at practice and in games for not finding and hitting the holes with authority and not securing the ball. "But I just know he's doing that to get me better and just to get more out of me. I want him to continue doing it because it does bring the best out of me."

Sharing the credit: Redshirt junior CB Ochuko Jenije's team-leading fourth interception of the season was huge in helping FSU beat Wake Forest. He came up with it in the end zone.

"I just give credit to the other 10 people who were on the field," he said. (LB Dekoda Watson pressured QB Riley Skinner.) "We were on the goal line and Coach (Mickey) Andrews always talks about somebody making a play, and I just thank God it was my turn."

Something to shoot for: Sophomore WR Jarmon Fortson had a huge hit on a Wake Forest DB (after an interception), but Fisher said he could easily put together a highlight tape of about 20 such blocks and tackles from "a guy down in Tampa Bay by the name of Michael Clayton."

"That guy used to knock them out right and left; Dwayne Bowe did, too," he said of his former LSU stars. "J-Man (Fortson) can hit with any of them, but those guys … I remember Clayton one time knocking two linebackers and a safety out of the game on the same play."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.

Second start a big test for Florida State Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel 11/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 8:24am]

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