- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
It wasn't easy to put together a list of the best and worst performances from Florida State's dramatic come-from-behind win Thursday. It's not because there weren't a fair number of heroes and villains though. It's that they were the same players.
In the end, do you blame players for flubbing big plays that put FSU in a late hole? Or do you give them credit for bailing the Seminoles out in the final two minutes to ensure a 28-22 win? There's no easy answer, but here's our best crack at breaking it down anyway.
EJ Manuel and Rashad Greene.
It wasn't exactly a perfect night by either player. Manuel made his share of bad throws and failed to recognize a handful of key blitzes. Greene provided the first of three FSU fumbles on the night. But in the end, both posted huge numbers and combined on the biggest play of the night.
Manuel was 25-of-42 passing for 326 yards and three touchdowns. It was his third 300-yard passing game and third three-TD performance of the season. Greene racked up his first 100-yard game of the season, hauling in six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. None of their connections meant more than the 39-yard touchdown that won the game for the Seminoles with just 40 seconds left to play.
James Wilder Jr. and Tyler Hunter.
To say Wilder and Hunter struggled through most of Thursday's game would be putting it mildly -- more on that later -- but they came up big when they had to. Manuel's touchdown throw to Greene capped the game-winning drive, but it never would have happened had Wilder not converted a fourth-and-1 five plays earlier. Wilder was stuffed at the line of scrimmage but fought through the initial contact and carried multiple blockers for 7 yards and a first down.
Meanwhile, Hunter struggled in coverage all night, but his interception of a Logan Thomas pass with 27 seconds remaining -- his second INT of the game -- ended any chance of a Hokies comeback and sealed the win.
The FSU defensive end was everywhere Thursday, finishing with a game-high 11 tackles -- a career high -- including his ACC-leading ninth sack of the year. He was constantly in the face of Thomas and helped stuff Virginia Tech's running game throughout the night. The Hokies mustered just 2.4 yards per carry.
Hunter and Nick Waisome.
Florida State entered the game having allowed just eight passing plays of 25 yards or more this season, the second fewest in the country. Against Virginia Tech, however, the Seminoles' secondary allowed completions of 54, 33, 44 and 35 yards. Waisome and Hunter were each responsible for two of them. Hunter, in particular, struggled to cover Virginia Tech wideout Corey Fuller, who finished the game with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Hunter also fumbled a punt and failed to recover a fumble on defense, trying to scoop it rather than fall on it, allowing Thomas to reach out and pull the ball away at the last second.
The offensive line.
Manuel has been quite comfortable in the pocket this season at home, but things have been far different in his four road games. He was sacked five times Thursday -- including four of them on third down -- marking a season high. Overall, 13 of the 18 sacks Florida State has allowed this season have come on the road. Virginia Tech blitzed often, just as NC State did in a win over FSU last month, and the line struggled badly to find an answer (though to be fair, the backs, tight ends and quarterback didn't give them much help).
Wilder and the rest of the running game.
Plenty of blame for the running game's struggles Thursday falls on the line, which was dreadful. On a bulk of the stuffed runs, defenders were simply waiting for the handoff to occur before they tackled the tailback. There was virtually nowhere to run, and it showed. FSU finished with minus-15 yards on the ground, the fourth-worst rushing performance in school history. Even factoring out the 44 yards lost to sacks, Florida State's ground game still mustered just 29 yards total -- 205 below the Seminoles' season average. Add in a fumble by Lonnie Pryor (who led the way with just 22 yards) and Devonta Freeman's utterly inexplicable lateral run in the end zone that ended with a safety and it was a night to forget for the FSU running game, and no doubt questions of how the Seminoles will respond to life without Chris Thompson will resurface once again.
It wasn't easy to put together a list of the best and worst performances from Florida State's dramatic come-from-behind win Thursday. It's not because there weren't a fair number of heroes and villains though.