Murray St.-Florida St. Preview

Florida State had trouble protecting quarterback EJ Manuel and

opening up the running game last season, but coach Jimbo Fisher and

Manuel are confident that an inexperienced group of offensive

lineman will get the job done in 2012.

Opening the season with an unprecedented four consecutive home

games, the seventh-ranked Seminoles will try to improve to 18-0

against FCS opponents when they face Murray State for the first

time Saturday.

Despite being tied for 110th in the FBS with 41 sacks allowed

and ranking 104th with 112.2 rushing yards per game, the Seminoles

went 9-4 in 2011 and earned their fourth consecutive bowl win –

18-14 over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.

With Manuel back for a final season, Fisher will start junior

college transfer Menelik Watson at right tackle, former defensive

tackle Cameron Erving at left tackle, sophomores Josue Matias and

Tre’ Jackson at guard and junior Bryan Stork at center.

Stork has 10 of the 12 combined starts among that group, with

Matias and Jackson each having one after the bowl victory.

“The size and athleticism, a different group of guys, different

cats,” Fisher said Monday. “We have made some really good strides

in that area. They’ve got to go do it Saturday.”

Manuel, who threw for 2,666 yards with 18 TDs and eight INTs

last season, has already seen growth from the most inexperienced

members of that group.

“It’s been good and I think the most important thing is that

they were coming to me,” Manuel told the school’s official website

of Erving and Watson. “‘EJ Am I doing this right?’ or ‘Are you

feeling pressure off the right side or off the left side?’ Cam and

Menelik have probably been doing it equally. That gives me a lot of

extra confidence in that pocket.”

Manuel should feel the same way about having sophomore wide

receiver Rashad Greene, the MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl, on his

side. Greene, the team leader with 596 yards and seven receiving

TDs in 2011, takes over punt return duties after senior Greg Reid

was dismissed from the team this month for a violation of team

rules.

Sophomore Nick Waisome will replace Reid as a starting

cornerback, but freshman Ronald Darby has impressed in the

preseason and will get plenty of opportunities.

The Seminoles return eight starters from a group that was fourth

in the nation in total defense at 275.0 yards per game and 15.1

points a contest.

Florida State, which tied for eighth in the country with 40

sacks last season, will likely be without senior defensive tackle

Anthony McCloud on Saturday after he suffered a pectoral injury

during camp.

Sophomore Timmy Jernigan will start if McCloud can’t go.

The Seminoles will try to get as much pressure as possible on

senior quarterback Casey Brockman, the Ohio Valley Conference

preseason offensive player of the year. Brockman threw for 3,276

yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 211 yards and four scores

to help the Racers go 7-4 last season.

Brockman’s favorite targets will likely be Walter Powell,

Ja-Vonta Trotter and Utah State transfer Dontel Watkins.

Murray State’s rushing game could be in for a rough night in

Tallahassee with junior Duane Brady, who ran for 283 yards last

year, taking over as the No. 1 running back following the

graduation of 2011 team leader Mike Harris.

“Brady played a bunch for us last year, but we have nobody

behind him,” said coach Chris Hatcher, an admitted Florida State

fan when he was growing up in Macon, Ga. “We are going to rely on

some junior college players and some true freshman. So far they

look good, but we’re going to be very young in depth at that

position.”

The Racers have some experience on the defensive side – junior

linebacker Qua Huzzie led the conference with 14 tackles for loss

last season, while senior defensive end Kevin Robinson was the OVC

sack leader with seven – but Murray State surrendered 28.5 points

and 395.0 yards per game in 2011.

“We are going to go down there and play our best and see what

happens,” Hatcher said. “We are not going to let that one game

define our season one way or another.”