- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel walked off the field last week wounded.
His head was woozy and his body beaten after a physical game against Florida, but it was the mental scars that were so evident when it was over. Manuel was beaten, his final home game concluding as one of his worst.
Manuel's misery was intense, but it was short lived.
"He’s been through this enough where he’ll put it behind him because there is a lot to accomplish," Jimbo Fisher said.
Manuel gets his second crack at an ACC championship and his first shot at redemption following the loss to Florida when he takes on Georgia Tech's woeful defense Saturday with a conference title hanging in the balance.
It won't erase the scars of Florida, but it would be an accomplishment no other FSU quarterback has managed in seven years.
“It is a championship game and it hasn’t been done here since ’05," Manuel said. "You just have to move on, process [the loss] and understand why you made those mistakes. Can’t go out there and do that [this] week.”
Manuel is making his second ACC championship game start. The first came as something of a surprise against Virginia Tech in 2010, and Manuel managed to impress -- completing 75 percent of his passes and throwing for 288 yards -- but this time he expects even more.
“It’s kind of like a second bowl game," Manuel said. "The implications of this game are huge and I understand that, my teammates understand that, so we have to get the job done.”
Noles to watch:
The sophomore receiver has led FSU in catches in five of the last seven games, and with at least one reception of 25 yards or longer in four straight after having just one catch of 25 or more in his first eight games. Georgia Tech's pass defense, meanwhile, allows 7.6 yards per attempt -- 10th in the ACC -- but has allowed the second fewest passing plays of 25 or more yards among ACC teams this season.
With leading tackler Cornellius Carradine done for the season, FSU is now on to its third starting right defensive end, with the job likely handled by Edwards. The highly touted freshman has dropped weight and added maturity throughout the season, and his production during limited stints on the field has been solid. Whether he is up for the assignment-driven defense required to slow Tech, however, remains a big question. Newberry's role has diminished some since the early season, but he's still in line to see a season high in reps this week.
3. Nick Moody
There will be plenty of pressure throughout Florida State's defense, but Moody provides an interesting case study. As the SAM linebacker, he's seen only minimal action this season as FSU has routinely employed nickel and dime coverages against spread formations. But against Tech's option offense, Moody will see plenty of playing time and have a central role in protecting the perimeter and keeping containment against the run.
Yellow Jackets to watch:
1. Orwin Smith
The Georgia Tech running back missed last week's game against Georgia, and not surprisingly, the Jackets turned in their worst offensive day of the season. Smith is Tech's best big-play athlete on offense, and his 8.97 yards per carry is tops in the ACC and third best in the nation. He may be hobbled Saturday, but he's expected to play.
Only Heisman contenders Collin Klein and Johnny Manziel have more rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks than Tech's Washington, and that might be a concern for FSU this week. Factoring out sacks, the four most mobile QBs Florida State has faced this year have tallied 183 yards on 45 carries (4.01 ypc) and three TDs.
The Tech outside linebacker has been the top playmaking defender the Jackets have, racking up 59 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and eight sacks. He added two QB hurries and a forced fumble for good measure.
By the numbers:
61. That's the number of three-and-outs forced by Florida State's defense this season, the most in the nation. FSU is the only team in the country to force at least three three-and-out drives in each game this season. Of course, the task won't be quite so easy this week. Georgia Tech's offense has accounted for just 19 three-and-outs all year, the ninth fewest in FBS and tops in the ACC.*
14. That's the number of missed tackles by Florida State's defense against Florida a week ago, by far a season high. In fact, FSU has had just three games this season in which the defense has missed at least 10 tackles -- two coming in its last two games. That's a bad sign against a Tech offense that thrives on opponents' mistakes. No team in the country has accrued more yards after contact this season than the Yellow Jackets' 1,528, which accounts for a whopping 39.4 percent of their total offense.
323.3. That's the average rushing yards per game for Georgia Tech this season, a product of its run-heavy option offense. The Jackets average 5.6 yards per rush, fifth best in the country. On the flip side, FSU's defense has allowed just 2.7 yards per rush this season, third best in the nation. The last time the Seminoles allowed at least 323 rushing yards to a team in a game was also the last time they played Georgia Tech -- Oct. 10, 2009, when the Jackets piled up 401 yards on the ground.
*Courtesy ESPN Stats and Info.