Thomas has D's attention

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel has been confused for a defensive end enough times in his life that he easily qualifies as a physically imposing quarterback. It's part of what made him one of the nation's most sought-after prospects in high school and will endear him to NFL scouts next spring.

But even the 240-pound Manuel looks on in awe when it comes to the size of Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.

"I'm big," Manuel said, "but he's BIG. He's a legit [260 pounds]. Big legs, calves, that kind of stuff. He's going to be a lumbery guy who's going to be hard to take down."

Indeed, Thomas represents not just the biggest target for Florida State's defense, but a unique threat that isn't entirely simple to prepare for.

At 6-foot-6, Thomas matches up physically with virtually anyone on Florida State's defense. His quickness is impressive, as evidenced by a 73-yard touchdown run against Miami a week ago. But he's no one-trick pony. Thomas' arm makes him more dangerous, and his 13.9 yards per completion average this season is third among ACC quarterbacks, behind only Manuel and Clemson's Tajh Boyd.

"He can move pretty good and he can throw the ball around," safety Terrance Brooks said. "We just have to be more on our keys to disrupt it."

The Seminoles have obviously gotten a taste of a big quarterback with good speed and a cannon arm in practice, but Manuel doesn't exactly mimic the test they're likely to get from Thomas tonight.

Manuel's designed runs are rare, and even when he does move outside the pocket he has the luxury of wearing a non-contact jersey. The defense has few opportunities to practice bringing him down.

Thomas, on the other hand, runs the ball often. He's Virginia Tech's leading rusher this season, racking up 514 yards on 98 designed runs.

"More than any other quarterback we've faced, there's going to be a lot of designed runs for him, so we're going to have to focus in on that," linebacker Vince Williams said.

Thomas runs more than anyone else Florida State has seen, but he's not the first mobile quarterback to face off against the Seminoles this season.

Boyd has run nearly as often as Thomas this season, including 16 times in Clemson's loss to Florida State. Boyd racked up 69 yards in that game, excluding sacks. USF's B.J. Daniels had 14 designed runs against FSU a week after the Clemson game, racking up 80 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

But if the history of moderate struggles against mobile quarterbacks is a concern, Florida State's defense certainly isn't owning up to it.

"He's a big quarterback. He can run. He's athletic. But we're prepared for him," linebacker Christian Jones said. "Whatever they have, we'll be ready for it."

Of course, there's another difference between Boyd, Daniels and Thomas -- about 40 pounds, to be specific.

That size makes the job even more difficult because it's not simply about getting to Thomas, it's about bringing him down. That puts pressure on the defense to swarm to the ball.

"You've got a guy like that, he can extend plays," Williams said. "A guy like Thomas, he can keep plays alive and stretch the ball down the field."

But again, the added stress doesn't have the Seminoles worried. They believe they've got an answer.

"He's a big one, but we've got some hard-hitting safeties, so I'm not really worried about that," Brooks said.

Perhaps Florida State's confidence is well placed. Thomas' athleticism and stature made him a preseason darling in the Heisman race and draft projections, but his performance so far has left much to be desired.

Thomas is last in the ACC in completion percentage (53.3 percent), interceptions thrown (12) and 11th in QB rating (122.12). He has struggled early (48.5 percent completions in the first quarter) and in key situations (converting just 38 third downs on passing plays). He has completed just 41 percent of his passes in the red zone and thrown two interceptions. His long touchdown run was the highlight of last week's loss to Miami, but repeated struggles -- including a red-zone interception and a costly fumble -- also doomed the Hokies' bid for a win.

In other words, Thomas' ability is something of a double-edged sword. He's dangerous, but he's also capable of costly mistakes. And that, of course, is something that has the Florida State defense's attention.

"Our defense knows what he brings to the table as far as his athletic ability and his throwing," Manuel said. "Those guys are practicing extra hard for him."