There hasn’t been any miraculous transformation in Tallahassee, no complicated changes, personnel moves or panic.
Instead, the reason for Florida State’s quick turnaround over the past three weeks is simple, at least according to coach Jimbo Fisher: Quarterback EJ Manuel is healthy and back in the starting lineup.
Manuel separated his shoulder in the 23-13 Sept. 17 loss to Oklahoma, a turning point in Florida State’s season that snowballed into a three-game losing streak in which Manuel was sidelined for parts of each game.
“It happens and it was something I couldn’t control, because if I could’ve played in all three of those games I would have,” Manuel said. “You never want to get injured and it did happen. Nothing I can do about it, just when I was healthy enough to come back and play, just try to contribute as much as I could to my team and let those guys know I was back, and I wasn’t going to allow the injury to stop us from doing what we wanted to do this season and still have a successful season.”
The definition of a successful season for Florida State has changed dramatically, though, since the preseason. The expectations for the Noles have bounced around like a ping-pong ball, from national title talk to the ACC championship game to just becoming bowl eligible.
Now, amidst a three-game winning streak heading into Thursday night’s game at Boston College, the Seminoles are on the upswing again, and it’s no coincidence that the team’s success has mirrored that of Manuel’s. In his first time facing NC State last weekend, Manuel threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-0 win. Consider what he’s done in the past four games since recovering from the shoulder injury:
Completed 71 of 109 pass attempts for 1,110 yards with seven touchdowns and a 164.5 passer efficiency rating.
Completed more than 65 percent of his passes.
His 1,110 passing yards in the past four games are more than accumulated in an entire season as a part-time starter and full-time back-up to Christian Ponder.
After never passing for two touchdowns in a game coming into 2011, Manuel has multiple touchdown passes in three of his last four games.
“He’s able to make plays when it seems as though the play is being shut down so he’s able to buy time and get the ball downfield and things of that sort,” said FSU cornerback Mike Harris. “He definitely does bring a new life to this team.”
And they definitely needed it.
Injuries, lack of cohesion on the offensive line, a subpar running game -- it all contributed to the pedestrian start. While the unranked Noles have yet to resemble the No. 6-ranked team they were tagged as this preseason, Florida State is getting closer and closer to reaching its full potential.
“I hope it’s still yet to come,” Fisher said. “I still think we have a lot of room for improvement. We’re so young and your line’s starting to finally grow together a little bit, hopefully. We’re playing better, but I don’t think we’re anywhere close to where we need to be and can be.”
“It’s good we’re playing well now,” Manuel said. “We lost three games, it happens. It’s part of the season, it’s football. We’re definitely going to try to control what we can control right now, take care of BC and then get ready for Miami.”
And 2012. Manuel said there’s no question he and his teammates haven’t lost sight of a national title, and chuckled when he said maybe they can even still win it this year.
“You can’t go into a hole just because you lost games and a couple of your goals, you won’t be able to reach them,” Manuel said. “You’ve still got to play the game and still have to win out.”
They have a much better chance to do that now that Manuel is back in the lineup.