TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Saturday’s Florida State spring game was supposed to be all about the two Gs: the garnet and the gold.
It turned out to be all about the two Ds: defense and Dustin.
In front of 53,818 Seminole fans, the FSU football program concluded its 2011 spring practice schedule with the playing of the annual Garnet & Gold game. And while the Garnet earned a 19-17 win, the fans inside Doak Campbell Stadium and the ones watching live on ESPN3.com had the opportunity to see a defensive unit that feasted on a shorthanded offensive line and a golden-footed kicker in Dustin Hopkins that stole the show.
Without the services of offensive line starters Andrew Datko, Zebrie Sanders and David Spurlock as well as key backup Rhonne Sanderson, the defensive fronts for both FSU squads were able to harass the quarterbacks at will.
Starter EJ Manuel, who helmed the Gold, finished the day completing 17 of his 37 pass attempts for 204 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Clint Trickett, who started for the Garnet, was 13-of-22 for 137 yards. Will Secord also played for the Garnet and hit three of his nine attempts for 25 yards.
The Gold generated 253 yards and the Gold had 168.
“That’s about what I suspected,” said FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher, who joked that he was glad both his teams benefitted from having such a great kicker on their team. “We actually scored more than I thought we would. We are just so banged-up up front that it’s hard to tell on offense and it’s hard to tell on defense. But the kids played hard and got through it pretty much unscathed.”
Hopkins got an early start on his Lou Groza Award campaign for the upcoming season by playing for both teams on Saturday and picking up right where he left off after a breakout sophomore campaign. The Houston, Texas native was a cool 5-of-5 on his attempts with makes from 41, 32, 33, 35 and 60 yards.
The 60-yarder would have been good from 70.
“It’s definitely good going into the summer to know that I made that kick,” Hopkins said about the booming kick he nailed as the first-half clock expired. “It adds a little fuel to the fire so definitely it will be a good memory for me.”
In addition to halting the quarterbacks consistently, both defenses bottled up the ’Nole ball carriers.
Early-enrollee Devonta Freeman was the high man on the day among tailbacks with 25 yards on seven carries for the Garnet. Jermaine Thomas added 20 yards for the same team and Ty Jones had 20 for the Gold.
When Manuel and the other signal-callers did have time, youngsters Greg Dent and Christian Green and veterans Bert Reed and Rodney Smith proved to be viable targets. Dent and Reed combined for 11 catches for 140 yards for the Gold and Green and Smith had seven grabs for 100 yards for the Garnet.
Kenny Shaw and walk-on James Dolan posted touchdown receptions.
Defensively, another early-enrollee showed a flash of the Florida State future. Freshman Nick Waisome had a team-high six tackles for the Gold. Dan Hicks had six for the Garnet.
Not to be outdone, star cornerback Greg Reid excited the crowd with a nifty little 26-yard interception return in the first half. Sophomore linebacker Telvin Smith also had an opening-half interception; his off a ball that Terrance Parks batted into the air.
All-American candidate Brandon Jenkins had two sacks for the Gold from his right defensive end position.
With his second spring as head coach in the books, Fisher said there is one ultimate priority before heading into summer workouts.
“We just have to get everybody healthy now,” Fisher said.
The defense struck first Saturday when Smith snared his early interception. The takeaway – and terrific field position because of it – led to a 41-yard Hopkins field goal for the Garnet with 3:37 left in the first quarter.
Hopkins would later add a 32-yard field goal for the Gold to make it a 3-3 ballgame with just over six and half minutes on the second-quarter game clock.
After the Gold got the football back, Manuel found Dent on a 25-yard pass. Two plays later, Dolan caught a 26-yard Manuel toss for the game’s first touchdown and first Gold lead of the day at 10-3.
Thanks to Reid, though, it was an advantage that wouldn’t last. FSU’s defensive sparkplug made a fantastic play by stepping in front of Manuel’s pass and taking it 26 yards to pay dirt late in the first half for Garnet.
Hopkins’ 60-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter resulted in a 13-10 Garnet lead.
The second half then saw Shaw catch a 20-yard touchdown pass from walk-on Ethan Gilbert for the Gold and two more Hopkins three-point kicks for the Garnet.
“I think it was great,” Fisher said about the entire weekend in Tallahassee. “We had a great turnout, had good fan support. A lot old players back. A lot of old players back. Current players, guys that we haven’t seen back in years. Just to show the support for them and have them back. They got to have a reunion and get around everybody. I think it is a great atmosphere and it is a pleasure to be around.”
SPRING AWARD WINNERS
Minutes before some of the greatest FSU players in history engaged in a now spring-game traditional flag football contest at halftime, several current ’Noles were presented with spring awards in front of the home crowd.
Hinesman (Overall MVP): EJ Manuel
Defensive MVP: Bjoern Werner
Offensive MVP: Lonnie Pryor
Matt Schmauch Academic: Andrew Datko
Florida State Head Coach
“We got a good field goal kicker, we knew that. We’re going to have to need one, until we get some things fixed up. Until we get healthy again. That’s about what I expected today. We actually scored more than I thought we would. Hard to tell either way. It’s hard to tell on offense, hard to tell on defense. It’s a little misleading but the kids played hard, that’s what I got out of it. Played hard. Made a few plays here and there. Got through it pretty much unscathed.”
On the performance of EJ Manuel
“The way we are up front, trying to play with the players. That’s not the way he has played all spring. He made a couple throws today that I wish he wouldn’t have made. He was out of rhythm, couldn’t get into rhythm. I wasn’t surprised that kind of happened today a little bit. It doesn’t bother me.”
On the performance of EJ Manuel on the final drive
“He finds a way to win. We could have kicked a field goal to win it there but we were just trying to see if we could get it in the end zone. He always seems to have a knack at the end of the game. To me that’s what great players do.”
On the running game this spring
“Not very good because we haven’t had any linemen. We have been so beat up upfront. We are very good, we got good defensive linemen up front. We were not healthy enough in the offensive line to be consistent.”
On the entire spring game weekend
“I think it was great. We had a great turnout, had good fan support. A lot old players back. A lot of old players back. Current players, guys that we haven’t seen back in years. Just to show the support for them and have them back. They got to have a reunion and get around everybody. I think it is a great atmosphere and it is a pleasure to be around.”
QB EJ Manuel
On his performance in today’s game:
“Overall I didn’t think like I had a very good day. The defense played great. I really don’t have any excuses. It’s the spring game and obviously you want to have a great showing and I personally don’t think I did that. I made some mistakes that I should not have made and I am not going to make any excuses for them.”
On the last drive making the big play to Bert Reed but finishing a few yards short to end game:
“It was tough. We practice against those guys every single day so they know some of our tendencies just as I know some of theirs. You kind of have to expect that in a spring game. It’s very much like a practice but obviously you want to play well and you want to win. We are competitive we chomped at each other all yesterday and today about who was going to win. They got us today and I honestly wish we could play them again tomorrow. Wish we had one more practice but they got us today. Bert made a great play though. I just hung it up there for him and allowed him to make the catch.”
On if he know they were going to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal:
“We were in field goal range but we were trying to work the situation like we would in practice. The goal was to get six points. Obviously if it was a real game we would have kicked a field goal, got three points and won the game. Like I said though, we treated this like a practice and we wanted to get the six points but we didn’t get it. We just came up a little short.”
K Dustin Hopkins
On whether either side tried to persuade him to miss one field goal:
“The gold side was definitely trying to get me to get me to pull toward them. They were just kidding but being kind of serious at the same time.”
On the thrill of making a 60-yard field goal:
“It always feels good to make a kick and to be honest my legs were not even feeling all that great today. With the wind blowing as hard as it was I didn’t know but I guess that lord kind of took it and it went in. It’s definitely good going into the summer to know that I made that kick and it adds a little fuel to the fire so definitely it will be a good memory for me.”
WR Greg Dent
On the progress he made this spring showing up today:
“Yeah I felt myself getting better every day. I just came out every day, work hard and my coaches just said to me to stay focused and believe in myself and I did.”
On what he brings to the table specifically to this offense:
“Mostly my ball skills and the ability to make plays down the football field as well.”
On his overall thoughts of EJ’s performance today:
“Overall I think he played pretty well. He scrambled around the pocket well, made plays and got everybody the ball.”
Defensive Back Greg Reid
On his interception and the play of the defense today:
“Even though it was the spring game I wanted to relate it to a real game. It was fun and I just broke on a ball real well, luckily just came up with a pick and took it to the house. The teams were pretty much evenly matched up a little bit and they were talking junk in the locker room about the offensive line so we had to come out a compete a little bit. That’s what I did. On the defensive side we knew we had to step up today and make plays and that’s what we did – we came through with it.
“We just knew we had to make big plays on defense. That’s what we did. We were ready to play and we were fired up about it and I came up with a pick six and that brought a little momentum to my team.”
Defensive End Toshmon Stevens
On the defense’s performance:
“They tried to do it (split the teams) the best way they could because we were a little light on both sides as far as injuries go especially on the o-line. Our starting tackles were out, the d-ends are beat up but we tried to balance out the best we could. When you say we dominated, I feel like we didn’t dominate, we just tried to do our job.
On his progress this spring:
“It’s been wonderful for me (being healthy). This is the first time I have actually gone through a spring healthy. The credit goes to the strength and conditioning coaches. They have made sure we are staying healthy, making sure we are doing the right things and eating the right stuff. The other day instead of lifting they put us in the hot tubs/cold tubs to make sure our bodies we okay.”
Cornerback Mike Harris
On how he defended against the receivers today:
“I was trying to use as much technique as possible that’s what we have been preaching all spring so I just tried to use my body a little more to try get in position to make a play on the ball. You definitely try to sit on the shorter routes because they are coming out quick especially at the boundary corner where I happened to play this spring.”