Monday, September 3, 2012
O-line answers its questions
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel was expecting nerves from his two new offensive linemen, the typical pregame jitters magnified by the fact that Cameron Erving and Menelik Watson had never played a game on offense on a stage this big.
Instead, Erving and Watson approached Manuel just minutes before kickoff, wrapped their arms around the quarterback and offered to calm any lingering concerns Manuel might be harboring.
"They told me they had my back, dapped me up," Manuel said, "and they played a great game."
It was not anything close to the biggest test Florida State's new-look offensive line will face this season, and Erving and Watson's resumes aren't much more complete than they were before the Seminoles' 69-3 drubbing of Murray State. But as debut performances go, this was an awfully good one.
The pregame pep talk for Manuel proved prescient, as Erving, Watson and Co. were dominant in pass protection. Manuel was only flushed out of the pocket once, and Murray State didn't record a sack.
The running game was a revelation, totaling 285 yards and seven rushing touchdowns as the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and opened up huge holes for FSU's runners to maneuver. The Seminoles averaged nearly seven yards per carry, and no play went for negative yards.
"Even in the short yardage, we were pushing," Manuel said. "It wasn't like guys were getting pushed into the running back's lap."
It was easy. It was supposed to be easy. Florida State's offensive line outweighed the Murray State defensive front by about 50 pounds, on average. So there are no grand pronouncements to be made after just one dominant performance in a game the Seminoles were expected to dominate.
But a year ago, under similar circumstances, things were different. The offensive line struggled against Charleston Southern, an FCS team that struggled in its own league to stop the run and rush the passer, but a team that nevertheless held Florida State's ground game in check for much of the contest and flattened Manuel twice.
Saturday's dominance of Murray State may have been expected, but it was still marked progress.
"Great pass protection all night, and we kept pounding that ball and pounding that ball," Jimbo Fisher said. "We've got a long way to go, but it's much improved."
Perhaps most encouraging was how effectively the offensive line worked together.
In the first half, Watson rolled an ankle and missed time getting it taped. Daniel Glauser stepped in, and the line didn't miss a beat.
Erving has only been working with left guard Josue Matias since April, but the duo was perfectly in sync throughout the game.
"A lot of times, we didn't even have to make calls. We know how each other are going to move," Erving said.
Early on, there were a few minor stumbling blocks, but as the game progressed the line got more comfortable and the performance grew more impressive.
Eventually, Erving glanced at the scoreboard and realized what had unfolded.
"Around the time we got to 48, 50 points," he said, "I knew we were doing well."
But for all the impressive numbers, the truth was that Erving really had been nervous.
There's a big difference between the grind of a month's worth of practice and that moment when the lights come on and the crowd erupts and the game begins.
"I feel like that's in everybody's case," Erving said. "I always try to make them positive nerves, the good butterflies, the pent-up energy that comes out when you need it to."
The first test wasn't about whether Florida State could beat Murray State or whether the line could hold its own against an FCS defense.
Saturday's win was about seeing how far Erving and Watson and their fellow line mates had come from a year ago, how well they could work together, how easily they could focus that nervous energy into something positive.
The first test was passed with flying colors, and now bigger challenges await.
"It was good; it was fun," Erving said. "That game's over now."