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In 2010 Florida State had one pass of 50 yards or more, a 53-yard completion from EJ Manuel to Rodney Smith.
FSU completed three passes of 50 yards or more in the first quarter last Saturday against Duke. So far this season Manuel and redshirt freshman Clint Trickett have combined for eight pass plays of at least 50 yards, including five touchdowns.
The five scoring plays of 50 yards or more is already more than FSU as team had from 2006-10.
"I think experience at receiver," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said of the increase in big plays. "I think those guys have grown up, which I told you they're developing more consistently. The young guys are big play makers, you're talking about some guys that are extremely talented."
Manuel agreed with Fisher that the maturity of receivers like Smith, who has two of the scores of 50 yards or more, and is averaging 17.5 yards per catch, is a big reason the big pass plays are coming.
"They're more mature, they're stating to get DBs on their toes," Manuel said of the receivers. "I think they're really attacking guys on their routes. Rodney is doing a great job, he's been the deep pass threat since he's been here for me. All those guys are getting open and they're starting to recognize coverages as well as me. I can see it pre-snap."
Pre-snap reads have also played a large role in the big pass plays for Manuel. He said going into the game with the Blue Devils he knew they could have opportunities for big pass plays based on what they saw on the film and he was able to recognize those same holes during the game.
"Just being able to read the defense a lot better pre-snap," he said. "All those long passes, those things we practice during the week, Coach Fisher said they would be there. The scout team did a great job getting those looks during the week. It's just like practice."
Defense avoids the big play
As the big plays have fueled the FSU offense, they have been an Achilles heal for the defense.
Against Duke FSU was able to avoid giving up the big play that hurt them so much in loses to Wake Forest and Clemson.
"For Coach Stoops, that was one of the goals going into this week-to eliminate most of the big plays and we did actually cut that in half. It was a lot more the week before and we just pretty much tried to focus on that," safety Terrence Brooks said.
Against Duke, the defense gave up only two plays of 20 yards or more, both of which came in the first half. Against Wake Forest, they gave up six plays of 20 yards or more.
The defense held Duke to just 63 yards rushing on 27 attempts, a vast improvement from the 128 yards allowed against Wake Forest. The improved defensive efficiency came after a week of practice that was focused on stopping big plays and eliminating the big drives.
"That all comes from watching film and staying focused and knowing your assignments and being in the right place at the right time," Brooks said. "At those times when those big plays do happen for the other team, that's just something that we didn't focus on enough and just didn't practice enough or something. Anything like that-it's just more focus and more film study." Brooks broke up a pass and had two solo tackles and one assisted tackle for loss on the day.
The defense achieved a level of balance against Duke that they had been lacking in games prior. Not only did they stop the big drives, but they began to reverse their turnover drought.
Everett Dawkins came away with an interception in the first quarter and Bjoern Werner led the team with four passes broken up.
It was also a big day for both sacks and tackles for loss. The team recorded five sacks, three from linebackers and two from the defensive line. The five sacks rank as the highest in a single game this season and for the sixth straight game, the defense recorded at least six tackles for loss. They recorded 10 on the day, six of which came in the first half.
The secondary played a big role as well. Mike Harris made seven tackles and Xavier Rhodes, despite being hit hard several times, made five. Duke was held to 226 passing yards. Greg Reid spoke about what it takes to stop those big plays, saying, "I feel like with me, it's just finishing. That's one thing I feel we haven't been doing, just finishing and working all the way through the drives and working all the way to the end of the play, till the whistle blows. That's the key thing. That'll come. We still have another half a season to go."
Rashad Greene (ankles) was able to particpate in a limited role in practice on Wednesday.
Josh Gehres, who is recovering from a torn ACL, has been able to participate in individual drills the past few days.
David Spurlock (knee) has yet to dress out for practice this week. Against Duke Garrett Faircloth made his first career start in Spurlock's place at right guard.
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