The Eagles face a monumental task tonight in trying to stop one of the best signal callers in the ACC. Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is as big of a dual threat as the team will face this year. Throwing the ball, Manuel has completed 66 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He’s also dangerous on the ground, with 248 rushing yards and three rushing TDs. The defense has struggled this year against similar quarterbacks Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech. Manuel may be an even more explosive player than those two, linebacker Luke Kuechly said.
“He’s one of those guys who can throw the ball and run the ball,” Kuechly said. “The difference with him is he’s got that elite size, the elite speed, and the athleticism. You get some guys who are like six feet tall and 200 pounds who can run the ball. But E.J. Manuel is an even bigger kid.”
The “M” Word
Momentum hasn’t been a word heard much when describing the Eagles this year, but the general vibe around the locker room seems to have changed since last week. The team’s victory over Maryland has boosted the morale both on the field and in the locker room, and the players are not afraid to show it.
“After a win, everything’s definitely a lot more fun,” Kuechly said. “From the practice field, to the locker room, even the plane ride back, it’s just a different atmosphere.”
Boston College had lost its three previous games and was winless against FBS opponents before its breakthrough last Saturday. The change in attitude has been almost instantaneous.
“The win was huge,” tight end Lars Anderson said. “We obviously got some momentum going now. We rediscovered our identity in running the ball. That’s kind of what BC has been known for in the past. It was a nice little shot of momentum.”
Line Play Getting Better
A return to being O-line U may still be a year or two away, but the general feeling is that the offensive line play has been much improved in previous weeks. While the likes of Thomas Claiborne and Anthony Castonzo are clearly missed, the youngsters on the BC line have started making a name for themselves in a big way.
“You could really see it last week,” Anderson said. “Redshirt freshman Bobby Vadaro had a great game. He was just killing guys out there. They’re really starting to gel as a unit. At the start it was kind of a patchwork O-line, guys were in and out every week, but now they’re finally getting a chance to gel. They’re the core of the offense. It’s good to see them come together.”
Not to be outdone, the defensive line has stepped up its game as well. The pressure that was so absent in the first part of the season has reemerged during the last few weeks. In the games against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland, the defensive linemen disrupted the rhythm of opposing quarterbacks more than any other time this year. While they aren’t exactly racking up the sacks, they have been spending more time in the backfield and getting more hits on the quarterback lately. This could prove invaluable against E.J. Manuel, who, like many quarterbacks, needs time in the pocket to be an effective player.
“We’ve been trying our best to get back there and disrupt them,” defensive lineman Max Holloway said. “We’re getting a lot better as the year goes on. We’ve got the quarterback scrambling back there now. A lot of the young guys have started to step up. We’re not exactly like B.J. (Raji) or Ron (Brace), but we’re getting there.”
The play of both lines will be crucial tonight, as Florida State historically is strong up front on both sides of the ball.