The Big Board: FSU going deep

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The first pass EJ Manuel threw against Boston College was a 35-yarder from the back of his own end zone that sailed just over the head of Rodney Smith down the sideline.

Five of the next eight passes Manuel threw were deep balls, too, including a 77-yard touchdown to Kenny Shaw and a 42-yard deep ball to Jarred Haggins.

It was a stark contrast from a week earlier, when Manuel rarely looked downfield and Florida State's offense sputtered in the second half, failing to score as NC State engineered a dramatic, come-from-behind win.

"I wanted to be aggressive as a quarterback, and I told that to Coach Fisher," Manuel said. "I told him I wanted to attack these guys and allow our receivers to make plays. He opened it up for us, and we had a great game."

A week after earning heavy criticism for his conservative approach against NC State, Fisher called easily the most aggressive passing game of the season.

Manuel attempted 10 passes of 20 yards or more in Saturday's win over BC, according to ESPN Stats and Info. If we factor out his final three throws against NC State -- desperate downfield attempts in the final seconds -- Manuel had attempted just 19 throws of 20 yards or more in the first six games of the season combined.

But the difference in Saturday's outcome wasn't just about scheme or play-calling. The big offensive numbers against Boston College were built upon better protection up front and better execution from the quarterback.

"It's going through those reads, being able to take a five-step drop, hitch up and throw the ball downfield," Manuel said. "It takes time. I told those guys in the huddle, 'Give me a second-and-a-half and we'll get this ball down the field.' "

So, why did it all work so well against Boston College after things went so horribly wrong against NC State?

Protection -- particularly from the two tackle positions -- was crucial.

"When you go short corners and you have two guys that can handle the corners, it becomes a much easier task to do things and get the ball more vertical and get the ball down the field," Fisher said. "No matter how you say you want to throw the ball down the field, you have to have time. And you say, well, block them all up -- but then you end up double covered. You have to get your guys out and block."

We wrote last week about how NC State thwarted Fisher's attempts at an effective passing game, and the numbers against Boston College illustrate the alternative.

It's all fairly intuitive in retrospect, but the numbers speak to the importance of the offensive line in aggressive play-calling. The bottom line: Manuel's best games have come when he's faced the least pressure.

(*Courtesy ESPN Stats and Info.)

The big plays early set a perfect precedent, and BC made the rest of the game fairly easy for the offense. There were few blitzes, as BC chose to keep extra players in coverage, and that opened the door for both Manuel and the FSU running game.

Boston College represented something of a perfect storm for FSU -- improved blocking, better throws from the quarterback, a soft pass rush and some aggressive play-calling. Add it all up, and it was a recipe for a huge offensive performance.

The question now is whether Miami -- which has its share of problems in the secondary -- chooses BC's approach or the more aggressive style that worked for NC State. More importantly, what happens to Florida State when it faces a team (such as Florida) that can do both?