Big guys' big improvement

Maligned offensive line pushes around Murray State in season-opening rout

Updated: September 1, 2012, 11:48 PM ET
By Corey Dowlar | NoleNation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Sophomore running back James Wilder Jr. entered the postgame interview area with a wide smile and a football tucked securely under his left arm.

The 226-pound bruiser had plenty of reason to be happy. For the first time in his promising career, Wilder eclipsed the 100-yard mark, accumulating 106 yards on 12 carries, including a 42-yard run down the sideline. He also scored twice.

[+] EnlargeLonnie Pryor
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesFullback Lonnie Pryor scored three of Florida State's seven rushing touchdowns Saturday against Murray State.
"I was waiting for that 100-yard game to come, and it finally came and I got the game ball," Wilder said through a vibrant grin, tucking the football close as he would near the goal line. "It means a lot to me.

"I am going to be carrying [the game ball] around all night. It is going to be my girlfriend tonight."

As a team, No. 7 Florida State racked up 285 yards on the ground against FCS Murray State en route to a 69-3 demolition job. And yes, it was Murray State, not to be confused with Alabama or LSU.

But these Murray State Racers are vastly superior to Charleston Southern, the Seminoles' opponent in Week 2 last season. That night, Florida State ran for only 170 yards averaging 4.6 yards a touch. And if you subtract two plays from that game -- a reverse carry from a wide receiver and a 41-yard run at the final gun -- that average goes down to just over 3 yards per carry.

So while nobody should be ready to declare offensive line coach Rick Trickett's group world-beaters yet, there was tangible evidence of improvement.

"We played pretty well," said left tackle Cameron Erving, who made his first career start on the offensive line Saturday. "We were just trying not to screw it up.

"Everyone always talks about our defense, and they are great, but we have to have their back always. We're just trying to not screw it up."

The offensive line's success wasn't a surprise to anyone sporting garnet and gold on the home sideline. That includes members of the defense, the group that carried the brunt of the load for the Seminoles in 2011.

The maturity and growth of sophomore guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias, along with the size and athleticism of new tackles Erving and Menelik Watson, has been on display in practice for weeks now.

"I was not surprised at all," said senior defensive end Cornellius Carradine, the Seminoles' leading tackler Saturday. "I kind of knew that they were going to do that based on the way they practice and how physical that the offensive line is."

So, for now at least, it appears some kind of reinforcement is on the way. A line that was much maligned during Florida State's relatively disappointing 9-4 campaign in 2011 could be the remedy in 2012.

And if Florida State is going to be what some national analysts are predicting -- a national championship game participant -- they will need the line to be dominant.

This was just one game, though. The real verdict might not truly be known until Wake Forest, or even Clemson, come to Tallahassee in Weeks 3 and 4.

"I thought the offensive line did a really nice job," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Great pass-protection and we kept pounding the ball. That's what we've got to do. Long way to go but much improved."