FSU Notes: Blitz doesn't bother Manuel

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
7:07
PM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Clemson brought a blitz early in last week's game, and the left tackle failed to pick up the block.

[+] EnlargeE.J. Manuel
Melina Vastola/US PresswireBlitzing EJ Manuel has been a losing proposition for opposing defenses this season.
EJ Manuel wasn't fazed. He sat in the pocket, found his receiver and stepped into the throw. It was marked progress for a quarterback often criticized for his struggles in the pocket.

"He wasn't having those happy feet," Jimbo Fisher said.

That's been par for the course this season for Manuel, whose numbers against the blitz have improved dramatically.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Manuel is completing 78.3 percent of his passes this season when facing five or more pass rushers. That's up from 59.8 percent a year ago. When under duress this year, Manuel has completed 10-of-13 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

It's patience mixed with trust in the players around him, Fisher said.

"He doesn't have to be blinking and looking and are guys supposed to be blocked," Fisher said. "There has to be a huge trust factor, know that's the guy I've got to handle, and then you get your sight, your hot, whatever you have to do."

It helps that Manuel is making better pre-snap reads and quicker decisions in the pocket, too. His checkdowns to third and fourth options this season have routinely turned into big plays.

"We're getting 10-15 yards off of check downs, which is a 5-yard pass," Manuel said.

That experience could loom large this week. USF has struggled to get pressure from its front four, meaning the Bulls will be tempted to bring the blitz and test Manuel's ability to hang in the pocket.

In years past, the plan may have worked. This season, Manuel's feeling a lot more comfortable.

"It allows him to have that confidence to keep doing it," Fisher said, "and they're executing around him." Just for kicks: Dustin Hopkins has had bad games before, but they've usually come with a bland backdrop and little fanfare. So his two missed field goals against Clemson -- a prime-time game in front of a packed house -- was something new.

"I'm just glad it happened earlier in the year, and I'm glad we have a whole team that rallied together and saved my butt, for sure," Hopkins said.

He'd booted a 44-yarder too much off his toe, then followed by hooking a 37-yarder after his approach was just a tick off. As Florida State trailed at halftime, Hopkins' missed kicks loomed large.

But the Seminoles rallied and won easily, and Hopkins said he's already shrugged off the misses. His approach this week hasn't changed, but he's looking forward to getting another shot.

"I've had bad games before, and I've been in the spot where you have a bad game and bounce back. I'm not worried. I'm eager to get another chance."

Stepping up: Junior Demonte McAllister finished last week's game with a career-high five tackles, and he's become a regular in Florida State's rotation at defensive tackle.

McAllister has eight tackles in his last two games, but his strong performance against Clemson was a breakthrough.

"That might be one of the best games, statistically and technique-wise, I've seen him play," senior Everett Dawkins said. "Demonte's playing good, and he's come a long way."

Injury report: Freshmen Chris Casher will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury that Fisher said is likely to land the defensive end in a redshirt. Fellow freshman Colin Blake will also miss the season with a shoulder injury. Blake was already expected to redshirt.

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