Any members of Seminole Nation that have yet to press the panic button on the 2011 season will definitely be a little bit more trigger happy depending on the outcome of FSU's Week-6 matchup at Wake Forest.
At 2-2 overall, the Seminoles have just eight games left in the regular season and only seven to make a case for Charlotte and an ACC Championship Game appearance.
Last year's first 10-win season since 2003 made fans believe the hype that the dominance displayed in the '90s is back at Doak Campbell Stadium. And while the excitement and energy appears to be on the rise, a loss in Saturday's 12:30 p.m. kickoff could deflate the Seminole Uprising faster than a balloon-hating bully at a kid's birthday party.
While the 35-30 loss at Clemson let some of the air out of the tires on the FSU bandwagon, the 'Noles still are a Top 25 team and will be more than happy to regain ACC control should the undefeated Tigers stumble along the way. The remaining schedule sets up with a favorable chance of gaining seven conference victories, with the toughest test possibly coming Saturday at Wake Forest.
Should the double-digit-favorite 'Noles get past the Demon Deacons this week, four of their next six ACC opponents have yet to register a conference victory. Duke and Maryland are the only squads on the schedule sitting at 1-0 against the ACC. After that, the 'Noles get 2-3 N.C. State, 1-4 Boston College, 2-2 Miami and 3-2 Virginia.
But let's get back to the matchup against Wake. Can you believe Saturday marks 28 days since the last time the garnet and gold won a football game? Their 52-point beatdown of Charleston Southern back on Sept. 10 has been distanced by the well documented losses to Oklahoma and Clemson. But this past bye week was a chance for FSU to not only gain wisdom from those losses, but to also get a few playmakers back into the rotation.
Star quarterback E.J. Manuel didn't miss a single practice this week after sitting out the Clemson loss with a sprained non-throwing shoulder. The irony here is that Manuel could make his first start since the Sept. 17 injury at the same place he made his first career start two seasons ago. Manuel filled in for the injured Christian Ponder and led the 'Noles to a 41-28 victory in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Manuel will no doubt look to tap into that experience and connect this Florida State squad with its first ACC victory of the season.
Thus far through four games, Manuel has thrown six touchdown passes and four interceptions while completing 67 percent of his throws. For those in love with backup QB Clint Trickett, he has tossed seven touchdown passes and two interceptions with a completion rate of 63 percent. Both have combined to make the FSU air attack one of the more productive offenses in the nation. 1,312 yards passing have been spread out to 14 different receivers. Four Seminole wideouts have more than 100 yards on the year. Junior Rodney Smith and freshman Rashad Greene both have racked up nearly 300 already. The 13 combined touchdown grabs have been shared by Greene (five), Bert Reed (three), Smith (two), Kenny Shaw (one), Greg Dent (one) and fullback Lonnie Pryor (one).
While the passing game -- be it with Manuel or Trickett at the controls -- doesn't appear to be a concern, the major issue is on the ground. The 'Noles have averaged 79.5 yards rushing per game and been anxious to spark progress in the backfield. Viewed as a strength before the start of the season due to both depth and explosiveness, the FSU running offense is currently ranked 115th in the nation. Junior speedster Chris Thompson, who missed most of training camp, leads all tailbacks with 94 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. The second-leading tailback on the roster is true freshman James Wilder with 76 total yards, and he picked up 41 of those yards in Week 2 against CSU on the last play of the game.
All told, the Seminoles have been outgained on the ground 330 yards to 318.
"Back" just might be the key to this week's storyline.
The back-to-back defeats to Top 25-ranked teams have put pressure on all phases of the team in order to still have a chance at back-to-back 10-win seasons.
FSU returns its trigger man and one of his main targets this week in Manuel and Reed, respectively. Those benefits, along with an improved performance out of the running backs, could turn the ACC road showdown at Wake Forest into the moment the 'Noles climb back into the ACC Atlantic Division race.
Elton Gumbel is a sports anchor and reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, as well as a regular contributor to NoleDigest.com.
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