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Backup RBs make most of chances

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- James Wilder Jr. was giddy after watching the tape of Boston College's inept run defense. After two weeks with a minimal workload, he was eager for a chance to find his footing in a matchup that virtually demanded Florida State run early and often.

As it turned out, Wilder's best plays Saturday were made in the air.

Wilder scored twice on screen passes, and both touchdowns required him to dive into the end zone. His second touchdown came after Wilder leapt from the 5-yard line.

"I told [the coaches], when I get the opportunity to fly, I'm going to fly," Wilder said. "I took flight on that play."

It was the type of effort from Wilder that Florida State had missed the previous two games, when the sophomore running back accounted for just six carries. But Wilder's wasn't the only resurgence Saturday.

Devonta Freeman hadn't touched the football in nearly a month before he got his first carry in the second half against Boston College. FSU's leading rusher in 2011 showed no rust, taking the handoff from EJ Manuel, bouncing the run outside and picking up 14 yards. Freeman finished with eight carries for 70 yards, a season high.

The running game was hardly the story Saturday as Manuel racked up 439 yards passing, but after two weeks in which Florida State's ground attack amounted to little more than a steady dose of Chris Thompson, Freeman and Wilder finally added a bit of diversity back into the offense.

"I love seeing those guys run the ball," Thompson said. "I like to see Devonta make moves on people, because it's nasty sometimes. And to see Wilder run through guys, he can get defenses tired."

It's a rotation that had worked wonders early in the season, but Jimbo Fisher had shied away in recent weeks after Wilder struggled in several short-yardage situations and a death in the family weighed heavily on Freeman.

But the look of the running game Saturday was a nearly perfect scenario, Fisher said. Florida State piled up 201 yards on the ground without overworking any of its tailbacks, and unlike the previous week, when Thompson wore down in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles' ground game was still going strong in the game's final minutes.

Fisher said he plans to ride the hot hand when necessary, but ideally he'd like to keep each back fresh and limit the hits Thompson takes throughout the course of the season. The senior is closing in on Florida State's first 1,000-yard season in 16 years, and Fisher wants to make sure Thompson is healthy for the entirety of it.

For Freeman, taking a back seat has been difficult. A year ago he was the top option out of the backfield, but he's now a distant third on the depth chart.

"It's tough, but at the same time it's motivation," Freeman said. "And it's a learning process, too."

Wilder's situation is a bit different. His limited carries the past two weeks were due in large part to his own shortcomings.

Against USF, he failed to convert on two goal-line carries. Last week, in a loss to NC State, he couldn't pick up a third-and-1 on FSU's first drive of the second half and he didn't touch the ball again.

"I got my opportunity third-and-1 and didn't make it," Wilder said. "If I made it, it might have been, 'Oh he's ready, keep feeding him the ball.' I took that upon me. But it's nothing going on outside of football with me and Freeman. We're just waiting for our opportunity."

Saturday's blowout win finally provided that opportunity, and both players took advantage.

Thompson still did his damage, too, racking up 68 yards on the ground. He now has run for 640 yards this season. He surpassed Freeman's team-leading total from last year in the first quarter of FSU's seventh game this season.

As a team, Florida State has exceeded its rushing total from a year ago, too, and the Seminoles' 6.28 yards-per-carry average this season is the best mark in the country.

It's a stark contrast from a year ago, when the Seminoles' limited corps of runners struggled to move the ball on the ground behind a patchwork offensive line. But Wilder knew early on that things would be different this season.

"We met with the O-line and we said, 'Look, we sucked running the ball last year, so let's pick it up and be known for running the ball,'" Wilder said. "I'm not surprised at all [by the success]."