The Big Board: Manuel's struggles

The general sentiment as Florida State's offense slumped through a dismal second half against Georgia Tech in last week's ACC championship game was that those 30 minutes of ugly football were eerily reminiscent of the scoreless half against NC State that ended with the Seminoles' first loss of the season.

While fans flooded Twitter and message boards with those concerns, the players were saying the same things on the sideline.

"You just have flashbacks in those moments," safety Lamarcus Joyner said, "but you always remind yourself championships are not given away."

To the credit of Joyner and the defense, FSU fought for its championship and managed to escape with the 21-15 win -- something it couldn't do against NC State.

Of course, the defense was hardly the problem in either game. It was the offense that was the culprit, and those second halves against NC State and Georgia Tech were FSU's only two scoreless halves of football this season.

So who's to blame?

Against the Wolfpack, the finger was largely pointed at Jimbo Fisher for conservative play-calling down the stretch, running the ball on crucial drives when the Seminoles were desperate for a first down. Against Tech, Fisher might not have called a flawless game, but he was dramatically more aggressive in the second half (52 percent passing plays) than the first (31 percent).

Against Tech, the bulk of the blame seemed to go to EJ Manuel. Fresh off his worst game of the season a week earlier, patience was low for the fifth-year senior. Manuel was an efficient 7 of 9 for 64 yards in the second half against the Yellow Jackets, but two second-half turnovers doomed FSU's scoring chances.

The third piece to the puzzle was the offensive line. Against NC State, Manuel was sacked four times, and under constant pressure from the Wolfpack's blitz. In the second half against Tech, Manuel wasn't faced with nearly as many blitz packages but was sacked three times.

The common thread in both games: Right tackle Menelik Watson was on the sideline.

Watson sat out against NC State with an injury and left early in the third quarter against Tech with a sore ankle. The junior also missed a game earlier in the season against Wake Forest, and a quick look at the 10 quarters of football Manuel played without Watson in the lineup underscores just how valuable the burly right tackle has been.