Finding lessons in FSU's blowout wins

EJ Manuel did his best to play politician.

He'd seen little more than three quarters of action through two weeks, and nothing he'd been tasked with doing on the field presented much of a challenge thanks to the limitations of FCS foes Murray State and Savannah State. But Manuel refused to call Florida State's first two games meaningless.

"I can't say we're better or worse," Manuel said. "Those were the two teams we had to face. If we had played West Virginia, I might have had a different answer."

But West Virginia backed out of its scheduled date with the Seminoles, and the early slate offered little insight into a team that could either mark a return to FSU's glory years or the latest -- and perhaps greatest -- disappointment in an increasingly long history of underachievers.

The real tests begin this week with the start of ACC play, but while Manuel couldn't find much insight in two easy wins over lower-tier opponents, we'll do our best to try to find a few items worth noting.

1. One injury is one too many.

Jimbo Fisher said his team enters ACC play relatively healthy, noting that tight end Nick O'Leary and center Bryan Stork are both expected to practice this week and be ready to start Saturday after missing the Savannah State game. The easy start also gave Fisher a chance to break in some freshmen and get defensive tackle Anthony McCloud healthy, which should add some depth for the long season ahead.

But none of that overshadows the loss of Brandon Jenkins, which is easily the most significant thing that's happened on the field for FSU through two weeks. Jenkins was the team's best pass rusher and a vocal leader in the locker room, but a foot injury will force him to miss the season and potentially end his college career. Cornellius Carradine steps into the starting role, but there are big questions behind him on the depth chart.

2. Playing smarter, if not harder.

Florida State's starters haven't gotten a ton of work, as the Seminoles have led big early in both of their first two games. The effort level has been good, Fisher said, but no one has been asked to do too much.

If FSU hasn't been tested by its opponents, however, it's at least encouraging that it hasn't created many self-inflicted wounds.

A year after being one of the most heavily penalized teams in the nation -- particularly on the offensive line -- the Seminoles have been flagged just four times through two games, and just once for a pre-snap penalty.

"We've done a great job not having pre-snap penalties, mental mistakes," Manuel said. "Everybody's been locked in, and I expect that going into this Saturday. I've seen it in practice. Everybody's been doing the small details, and that's what you need as an offense to work."

Given the lack of experience on the offensive line, this is particularly good news. Backup center Austin Barron's holding penalty against Savannah State is the lone flag thrown on an offensive lineman so far this year.

In Florida State's first two games last season -- both against lower-tier teams, too -- the Seminoles were flagged for a whopping 17 penalties.

3. Chris Thompson is back.

Florida State's senior running back wasn't sure if he'd ever play football again after breaking his back against Wake Forest a year ago. Now, he's running with the same burst he showed as a sophomore, he's back in the starting lineup, and he's not shying away from contact.

"He's as quick, as fast and as strong as he's ever been," Fisher said. "Saying it and doing it are sometimes two different things. ... I never saw him in any way, shape or form not feel comfortable on the field or shy away from anything."

Thompson has 76 yards on 10 touches through the first two games, including his first touchdown in a full year last week against Savannah State.

4. Fisher has their attention.

Throughout the offseason, Fisher preached the credo of "eliminating the clutter." He wanted his team to ignore the preseason hype and all the distractions -- hence, the team-wide Twitter ban -- and focus on the task ahead.

Keeping that focus through summer workouts, fall camp and then two more weeks of low-level competition could have been a challenge, but Fisher said he's been incredibly pleased with how his team prepared for Murray State and Savannah State.

"It's shown the maturity we have," Fisher said. "You have to learn to create a habit and a way you prepare for things, and I was very pleased with that. It's one of those little signs where you just see little things that you know things are going in a good way, in a good place. That's how this was. It shows me where our mind was and how we're learning to do things."

Of course, facing a bit of serious adversity for the first time this season -- whether that happens this week or next -- will provide a whole new test for the Seminoles' mental fortitude.

5. Freshmen might play, but not a lot.

The most surprising tidbit from the first two weeks may have been how few freshmen were slated to see action. Had Jenkins not gone down, Fisher was prepared to redshirt 10 of his 16 true freshmen this season, which he said is a tribute to the depth FSU already had.

With Jenkins out, however, Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher will both get a chance to play -- although last week's weather-shortened game prevented Fisher from learning much about either defensive end.

Ronald Darby figures to get plenty of work at cornerback, too. While he didn't start either of the first two games, he did see regular action, and Fisher said he'll continue to rotate with Nick Waisome for the foreseeable future.

Christo Kourtzidis, P.J. Williams and Reggie Northrup saw limited work after the starters departed in the first two weeks, too, though their roles are likely to be far more limited -- they'll primarily work on special teams -- as the competition increases.