ACC title game gives Seminoles’ EJ Manuel shot at redemption

Wanting to make sure his quarterback was not shouldering too much of a burden after Saturday’s disheartening loss to Florida, Fisher spoke with Manuel during the game, after the game and once on Sunday.

“He took the loss hard, always does,” Fisher said. “Just like I do. … ‘It’s my fault.’ I always look at it that way and he does, too.

“So we talked a lot. We have a great relationship. I know how he is, how he’s wired. He’ll respond very well this week.”

Manuel had a difficult time getting past his three interceptions (one-third of his season’s total) and crucial fumble that played a major role in the Gators’ 37-26 win until he realized that unlike most years in recent FSU history, another game followed the Florida game.

One, the senior says, that is even bigger.

“It’s tough, but we understand that we have a huge game, basically an even bigger game this week coming up,” Manuel said about Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech at Bank of America Stadium.

“We have to be ready. We can’t allow this game to linger on.”

Manuel insists he is ready even after admitting the fumble against Florida came on a hit to the head that had the FSU sideline concerned about a possible concussion. Manuel said he was given baseline tests before being allowed to return for the final two series.

Manuel, though, would not have been a very cooperative patient had the results of those concussion tests been different.

“They were going to have to hold me down if I couldn’t go,” Manuel said. “I didn’t want to finish the game with an injury like that being my last time in Doak Campbell. I wanted to finish the game whether we won or lost.”

Manuel’s final play at Doak Campbell Stadium: A 22-yard scramble for a touchdown as time expired.

With just two games remaining in his collegiate career, Manuel suddenly has more to prove to scouts. Some draft sites have Manuel’s stock dropping after Saturday’s game, saying he “made poor decisions” and “seemed rattled by pressure,” against Florida.

In addition, Manuel appeared too amped up, overthrowing receivers for much of the game, including the time tight end Nick O’Leary was wide open on a slant and two overthrows that resulted in interceptions.

Fisher disagreed, saying Manuel was pressured on the first throw and the receiver did not complete his route on the third, admitting even then Manuel had a chance to hit him on the back shoulder and threw long.

“The guy has had a phenomenal year,” Fisher said. “We got to put him in a better position. The quarterback blame. … We want to put it on one guy.

“EJ hasn’t throw interceptions all year. He’s taken care of the football extremely well.”

Manuel forever will be linked to Fisher for being his first big-time quarterback recruit (Fisher arrived in January of 2007 and Manuel signed a year later) and earning Fisher’s complete trust.

Aside from being steady, efficient and owning a 23-6 record as a starter, Manuel has been the unquestioned leader of this team the last two years.

“He’s a warrior,” receiver Kenny Shaw said.

And Manuel played well enough this season to be named to the All-ACC second team, behind Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and currently place No. 8 in the country in passing efficiency (he was second at one time). Manuel topped the ACC’s all-time list for completions percentage for much of the year but at 66.6 percent has fallen to third behind Matt Schaub (67.0) and Riley Skinner (66.9).

Manuel’s numbers, though, will be countered by FSU’s weak schedule and the fact he stumbled in the highest profile game (to date) against the best defense.

And facing a Georgia Tech pass defense that allows 248.0 yards per game will not help Manuel erase that stigma, no matter his numbers on Saturday.

Manuel has played well in postseason games since arriving at FSU. He has started two bowl games, the 2010 ACC title game and took over early for an injured Christian Ponder in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl. FSU is 3-1 in those games and Manuel, the MVP of the Jan. 1, 2010, Gator Bowl as a freshman, is 70-of-101 for 810 yards four touchdowns and two interceptions in those contests.

Manuel has two more postseason games remaining. And a victory over the Yellow Jackets (6-6) Saturday will put the 13th-ranked Seminoles (10-2) in a spot they have not been in seven years.

“We just want to go out and win the game,” Manuel said. “We want to make it to a BCS Bowl game. It hasn’t been done here since ‘05, so we feel like there’re definitely still great goals out there for us to achieve and we don’t want to come up short.”

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