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BLACKSBURG, Va.-- Thursday night was by no means the best day of EJ Manuel’s career. The fifth-year Virginia native was sacked five times, completed just 59 percent of his passes, and was picked off once.
Yet when his team needed a big play, the 6-foot-5, 238-pound signal caller delivered for his team. With just 40 seconds left in the game Manuel found Rashad Greene for a 39-yard touchdown pass as No. 6 FSU escaped Virginia Tech 28-22 on Thursday night.
Manuel finished the game 25 of 42 for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He was erratic at times, but on the three touchdown drives, Manuel was 12 of 15 for 183 yards and three scores.
“EJ took a beating back there but he stood in there and still made the plays he had to and I think that’s what great players do and great quarterbacks do,” head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They’re able to find ways to win when it’s not you’re A-game.”
Manuel and the offense got off to a slow start in the game, including an interception inside the Virginia Tech 10-yard line in the first quarter. But after the Hokies took a 10-6 lead, Fisher allowed to offense to pick up the pace and Manuel got into a rhythm.
Manuel led FSU on a 71-yard scoring drive in 1:58 on just five plays. He lost five yards on running play, but completed all four of his pass attempts for 76 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene.
The drive opened with a 12-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin, and then after a loss on the run play he hit Benjamin for 17, and then Green on consecutive plays for 22 and 25 to go back ahead 13-0. FSU also pushed the pace in its only two other scoring drives later in the game.
“I felt like they couldn’t really line up or change what they were doing on defense,” Manuel said. “That kind of kept them off-pace and I feel like we’re good at that. We practice that way with the high-tempo things and it paid dividends for us tonight.”
After an abysmal start to the second half, the offense again pushed the tempo to try and take advantage of VT fumble. Manuel led a six-play, 49-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 10-yard touchdown catch by Greg Dent. Manuel was once again a perfect 4-for-4 on the drive as FSU took a 20-10 lead.
The Hokies responded though and shut the FSU offense down on its next three drives, including forcing a safety in the fourth quarter as they roared back to take a 22-20 lead.
Despite how things have typically gone for Manuel and FSU in this situation, he said there was no panic as he and the offense took over its own 32. Even a false start on the opening play of the drive couldn’t rattle the senior QB.
Manuel went on to complete 4 of 7 passes (one incompletion was spike to stop the clock) for 66 yards, including Greene’s game winner. Manuel had seemed frazzled after taking some punishing blows in the second half, but he was as cool as they come on the final drive.
“He stood in there and when he had to took shots in the mouth and made the throws he had to to win the game,” Fisher said.
The touchdown was simple rub route according to Fisher. Greene caught the ball around the 20 and made a quick move to the outside and found the endzone as Dent held off the final Hokie defender.
After connecting with Greene for the winning score, Manuel stopped near the Hokies’ sideline and looked up at the sky to take in the moment. He had taken his lumps throughout the game, but miraculously he and his teammates escaped with a win and still control their own destiny in the ACC Championship hunt (a win on the road against Maryland next weekend clinches the Atlantic division).
After taking in the moment, Manuel found tight en Nick O’leary in the endzone for a two-point conversion to make it a 28-22 lead. After the clock hit zero and the win was clinched, Manuel embraced his head coach on the field before heading to the locker room.
“I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. Just thanked him,” Manuel said. “Coach Fisher is a hard coach but times like this is when you see all the hard work and the hard coaching, it pays off. I wasn’t nervous, nobody on our team was nervous about the situation and we were ready for it and won.”
It was one more special moment for the Virginia native, who was playing in his home state for the first time in his collegiate career. It was also a special embrace for the third-year head coach.
“To come in his home state and play here, Lane Stadium on a Thursday night and win? Put us one step closer to an ACC title and the things we want do, clinch our division and play in that game, tremendous,” Fisher said. “EJ is full of character and I’m blessed to be able to coach him.”
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