RALEIGH, N.C. -- The next six days will likely include a lot of blame being spread around the Florida State locker room following a 17-16 loss to NC State that likely ends any hopes of a national title and opens the door for a wave of critics waiting to bash the oft-hyped Seminoles once again.
The truth is, there were a handful of impressive performances, but the flubs under pressure in the second half will be what's remembered. Here's a quick look at a few of the highlights and, of course, a handful of the many lowlights.
1. Chris Thompson: The senior running back struggled in the second half, gaining just 26 yards on nine touches, after a huge first half, but it's hard to blame Thompson. Other running backs tallied just two carries in the game, while Thompson got 25 carries, matching a career high. Still, for whatever struggles Thompson had late, he was the reason FSU had a 16-0 lead early, finishing with 170 yards from scrimmage. He's up to 572 yards rushing for the season -- just seven shy of matching Devonta Freeman's team-leading total from all of last year.
2. Christian Jones: The FSU linebacker finally had his break-out game with 14 tackles, and he was active all over the middle of the field Saturday. Of course, part of the reason for the heavy workload is that NC State continued to test the middle over and over in the second half. But while Telvin Smith and Vince Williams struggled in coverage, Jones was largely the most consistent producer, breaking up two passes along the way.
3. Lamarcus Joyner: The FSU safety had seven tackles, but none loomed larger than his open-field take-down of Tony Creecy after Smith missed the tackle on a 3-yard completion. The tackle forced a punt on fourth down, and it might have been the game's defining moment if FSU had hung on for the win. Instead, it's chalked up among the host of big defensive plays that quickly were erased under the weight of the final collapse.
1. Jimbo Fisher: You name it, and Fisher probably got it wrong Saturday. He didn't use James Wilder Jr. or Freeman to help lighten Thompson's load late. He didn't take enough shots down field against a defense that coughed up 566 passing yards a week ago. He couldn't draw up plans to punch in a touchdown from inside the 10 yet again. His play-calling down the stretch was painfully conservative.
2. EJ Manuel: It's not that he was terrible, but Manuel missed so many chances to seal the game -- whether it was the off-target passes to Kelvin Benjamin late, his taking of a 15-yard sack on what was designed as a bootleg that knocked FSU out of field-goal range, his second-half interception -- it just never seemed to click for Manuel on Saturday, particularly when Florida State needed him most.
3. The offensive line: As much blame falls on Manuel, more should go to an offensive line that clearly has a long way to go before its ready to consistently protect the quarterback. Manuel had few chances to do damage downfield because the O line couldn't hold up in protection. The running lanes that opened easily in the first half disappeared late. Missed assignments led to negative plays, nearly all of which proved crucial. After allowing 14 TFLs in the first four games, the Seminoles O line has opened the door to 19 TFLs in the last two weeks.