Weekly Rewind: 5 under-the-radar storylines

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
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Florida State began the 2012 season Saturday with a monster 69-3 win over Murray State, with Lonnie Pryor racking up three touchdowns, Rashad Greene returning the first post-Greg Reid punt for a score, and Bjoern Werner and the defense absolutely dominating the overmatched Racers.

But whenever 69 points is scored, there are bound to be a few storylines that get overlooked. So with that in mind, here are five newsworthy items and behind-the-scenes tidbits from Saturday that you might have missed.

1. Wilder's big night

After the game, James Wilder Jr. was still carrying around the game ball, promising he'd sleep with it Saturday night.

"I'm not letting it go tonight," Wilder said after the game. "This is going to be my girlfriend tonight."

Wilder said he already had purchased a glass trophy case before the season, waiting to get his first 100-yard game so he'd have a ball to put in it.

Turns out, it didn't take long.

Wilder racked up 106 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries -- and six more on one catch -- to pace the Seminoles' running game.

What's more, Wilder did it while checking in at a hefty 231 pounds.

Wilder said he usually weighs in at 225 before a game, and his goal had been 222. But Wilder had trouble shedding pounds in recent weeks because he was held out of a number of workouts during practice.

Jimbo Fisher had said they were being cautious with Wilder because of some shoulder soreness suffered during FSU's first full scrimmage. Turns out, Wilder said, it was actually a hip injury that had slowed him down.

Of course, he didn't look too slow Saturday.

But while Wilder's performance certainly was a good one, it's also worth noting he didn't get his first carry until the third quarter, when Murray State's defense was already gasping for breath. In fact, 182 of Wilder's 266 career rushing yards have come in the second half of games against FCS teams.

That certainly doesn't mean Wilder won't be impressive this year. After all, he said, he's molded his game after some great runners -- who just so happen to have been hefty for running backs, too.

"You don't see a lot of backs that big anymore," Wilder said. "But I always watched backs that big -- (Walter) Payton, my father, Earl Campbell. I just feel like, size doesn't really matter. I have the drive to get to the end zone, and that's what's going to get it done."

Granted, all three of those runners had retired before Wilder was born, but after averaging nearly 9 yards a carry, who's going to argue?

2. Benjamin's debut

We wrote last week about all the Kelvin Benjamin hype, which has been building slowly for a full year.

Benjamin, of course, wasn't going to start the game, but he promised big things from Week 1 anyway.

"The fans can expect a lot," Benjamin said. "Not even just in catches, even on blocking plays, I'm trying to just straight dominate cornerbacks."

So, how'd it turn out?

Well, it wasn't exactly one for the record books, but Benjamin actually looked pretty good.

He saw just a few snaps in the first half, but he finished the game with three catches for 50 yards -- the second-most receiving yardage in the game -- and he was targeted just once on a pass that didn't end up in his hands.

But the most impressive play for Benjamin was the one that fulfilled his initial promise.

On Lonnie Pryor's second TD run of the game, an 18-yard scamper down the left side to make it 21-0, Benjamin cleared out a huge lane for Pryor to run, laying down two solid blocks along the way.

Obviously, a lot of fans expected fireworks. That didn't happen. But Benjamin did provide some nice fundamental plays, and that's probably more encouraging.

3. Who didn't play?

The most noteworthy absence Saturday was Mario Edwards Jr., who was not dressed on the sideline at all.

Fisher dodged any question about Edwards' absence after the game, but he admitted the five-star recruit was likely to redshirt this season, along with fellow defensive end Chris Casher.

"It's hard because, where are you going to play them?" Fisher said.

Of course, Casher was on the sideline, dressed in full uniform. The same was true for the other FSU freshmen, including those who didn't play. If there's more to this story, however, Fisher wasn't forthcoming with details Saturday.

What Fisher did say, however, was that the freshmen who played Saturday were likely the only ones who would see action this year.

"For the most part (that's it)," Fisher said. "There may be one or two (more), because you never know with an injury."

If that holds, that means redshirts for defensive tackle Justin Shanks, defensive back Colin Blake, linebacker Markuss Eligwe, and receiver Marvin Bracy along with Casher and Edwards and the four players we already knew -- QBs Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire, kicker Roberto Aguayo and running back Mario Pender.

4. Injury issues

Brandon Jenkins' foot injury was the headline story among the injuries from Saturday, but there were a couple other players banged up in the game, too.

Terrence Brooks left temporarily, but he returned quickly with no harm done, apparently.

Menelik Watson missed the second quarter with an ankle injury, but he also returned for the second half.

Watson apparently hurt the ankle early in the game, but he wasn't interested in missing any action during his college debut.

"He wouldn't tell nobody," Fisher said. "We saw him limping and made him go fix it."

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a solid game, including his first INT of the year, but he was also limping fairly noticeably at times.

Rhodes was out of the game -- along with most of the defensive starters -- by Murray State's second drive of the third quarter, but he said he wasn't feeling any significant pain.

"I wasn't sore," Rhodes said. "He just wanted me to sit down and rest for the next game."

5. Manuel played, too

How often will a team put 69 points on the board, and the starting quarterback is a complete afterthought?

That was the case Saturday, as the running game tallied seven scores, another came on special teams, and EJ Manuel was responsible for just one touchdown.

But it's worth noting that Manuel still turned in a terrific performance against Murray State.

His final numbers were good: 16-of-22 for 188 yards, but really, he was much better than that.

Start with his legs. Manuel said earlier in the week he didn't anticipate running very often this season, but his five rushes Saturday amounted to 38 yards on the ground, including an 11-yarder in the red zone that set up a score.

Manuel's passing night should've been a lot better, too, had two receivers hung onto passes that should've been caught.

The first came on a pretty second-down throw to Nick O'Leary early in the first quarter. O'Leary appeared to haul in the pass for a 24-yard gain but fumbled the ball away as he hit the ground. Fisher said he thought it was a catch, with the ground causing the fumble, but it was ruled incomplete.

The second came with 1:51 left in the first quarter, when Manuel connected with Kenny Shaw on a bullet, but Shaw bobbled the ball a few times before it bounced away into the hands of a Murray State defender for an INT.

"I was thinking the guy was going to catch it, break a tackle and score," Fisher said.

If Fisher had been right on both passes, Manuel's final line might have looked like something closer to 18-of-24 (75 percent) for 280 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.

If you're looking for some minor cause for concern, however, there's also this: Manuel was 1-of-4 for two yards on third-down passes in the game, and he was able to convert just one of five third downs he faced -- that one coming on a QB run.

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