December 19, 2011

Passing game looking for bowl game boost

It’s safe to say that EJ Manuel’s first season as Florida State’s starting quarterback didn’t go how the 6-foot-5, 245-pound redshirt junior expected.

FSU finished the year with an 8-4 record, a shoulder injury injured forced him to leave the Oklahoma game early, miss the entire Clemson game, and didn’t allow him to start against Wake Forest.

In the final two games of the season Manuel completed 24 of his 44 pass attempts (54.5 percent) for a combined 265 yards in a 14-13 loss to Virginia and a 21-7 win over Florida. While FSU has struggled on offensive during the final stretch of the season, it’s most glaring issues in the passing game has been the lack of big plays, which were abundant earlier in the season.

“I’m not going to put blame on anybody, if anything I’ll put it on myself,” Manuel said of the lack of big plays. “So the biggest thing is to just try to make plays, whether it’s the short pass, the long pass, intermediate pass, long run, short run, it doesn’t matter as long we’re out there winning games.”

The first six games of the year FSU connected for at least one pass of 46 yards or more. The final six games of the year FSU connected for just two pass plays of 46 yards or more, a 58-yard completion to Nick O’Leary against Boston College and 68-yard completion Bert Reed. Neither long completion was a touchdown pass.

With almost a month to prepare for its December 29 match-up with Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, FSU is hoping to get the passing attack going again.

“I think we’ll be able to make plays through the air,” Manuel said of Notre Dame’s
defense. “That’s something that we really need to get jumpstarted because the past couple
weeks we haven’t put up a lot of numbers through the air. We’ve got by because our defense has played so great, but we definitely need to get our aerial attack back on track like it’s been earlier in the season.”

Manuel said the biggest key to getting things rolling on offense again is to put together long drives, instead of having so many three-and-outs and getting out of sync. Because of the struggles down the stretch for the offense they have a little extra motivation heading into the bowl game.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Manuel said. “We have kind of a chip on our shoulder knowing we can do a lot better. To be detail oriented. I think that was the biggest thing. We weren’t necessarily on the same tempo that we were earlier in the season. I can’t really point my finger as far as what it was.”

Manuel has played a big part in each of FSU’s last two bowl victories. As a redshirt freshman he passed for 189 yards, rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown, and was named the 2010 Gator Bowl MVP. Then last season he came in for an injured Christian Ponder and passed for 84 yards and a touchdown in Chick-fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina.

“Playing in bowl games is always great because it’s the end of the season, you get to go into the next season with a good taste in your mouth and that’s something I always like to do,” Manuel said. “I want to go out there and play well and then have that however many months it is until we start again in August to have that good feeling in your stomach.”

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