Tallahassee, FL - Florida State did exactly what it was supposed to do Saturday night, opening the 2012 season with a blowout 69-3 victory at home over FCS opponent Murray State.
The No. 7 Seminoles (1-0) also debuted their revamped, renewed and rejuvenated running game featuring a stable of healthy and able tailbacks and a bigger and badder offensive line. After managing just 318 yards combined through the first four games of the 2011 season, FSU showed just how far they have come since then, running through, around and over the Racers (0-1) to the tune of 285 yards on 42 carries.
The 'Noles averaged just three yards per carry through those two wins and two losses last year. Saturday night's victory saw FSU rack up 6.8 yards per rush and no negative yardage on any carry.
"I've said it the whole time I think we're much further along [in the run game]," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I think we have much more diversity in our running game and different kind of backs."
The Seminoles also have a different kind of offensive line.
Over 30 pounds bigger by average among the five starters than when Fisher joined the program as offensive coordinator in 2007, FSU's Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Bryan Stork, Tre' Jackson and Menelik Watson didn't show too many signs of their overall inexperience against Murray State.
Watson even briefly went down with a minor ankle injury in the middle of the game and fellow junior-college transfer Daniel Glauser slid into his spot at right tackle seamlessly, providing a visual example of the improved depth that the 'Noles have also developed at the position since last year.
That group helped James Wilder, Jr. earn the team's game ball for his two-touchdown, 106-yards on just 12 carries performance. They helped Chris Thompson officially return from the broken back he sustained last year and rack up 32 yards on six carries. They even helped Devonta Freeman rattle off 64 yards on 10 carries and fullbacks Lonnie Pryor and Debrale Smiley combine for five rushing scores.
FSU's seven rushing touchdowns were the most since the team ran for that amount against Maryland in 1992.
"I don't think last year or the past couple of years we had as much trust in the offensive line as we do this year," Thompson said. "Those guys trust enough to take advantage of the holes they make. I think the difference this year is that those guys really want to be great. They come to the sidelines asking as running backs if the holes they are making are big enough for us. That's just showing us that they really care and really trying to effective."
Quarterback EJ Manuel connected on 16 of his 22 pass attempts for 188 yards and one touchdown to help balance out the offense and Clint Trickett and added 117 yards in mop-up duty in the second half. Kenny Shaw grabbed four of the passes for 82 yards and one score and Kelvin Benjamin and Rashad Greene combined for 92 yards receiving.
Greene also added a punt return for a touchdown -- the team's first score of the year and Greene's first such score of his career.
FSU's defense also lived up to its billing.
Rashad Greene Interview
EJ Manuel Interview
Jimbo Fisher Interview
Bjoern Werner Interview
James Wilder Jr. Interview
Lonnie Pryor Interview
Play Of The Game
After finishing the 2011 season ranked No. 2 in the nation in yards allowed, Florida State gave up just 156 total yards by the Racers -- including just 39 yards rushing. The Seminoles also forced four turnovers.
Leading the defensive charge was defensive end Bjoern Werner, who had a break-out sophomore campaign and picked up right where he left off to start his thrird year. The German-born pass rusher set career highs in tackles for loss (five) and sacks (four).
"All that guy does when he gets between the white lines and the scoreboard comes on is play the game," Fisher said. "He can rush and stop and bat balls and run. He's just instinctive. He's a heck of a football player."
Werner is one part of the three-headed monster the 'Noles boast at defensive end, along with Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine. Jenkins missed all of the second half Saturday with a foot contusion but Carradine stepped in and finished the night with a team-high seven tackles to go along with his one sack and two tackles for loss.
As a team, FSU registered 11 tackles for loss, eclipsing the 7.6 average it boasted last year when it ranked eighth in the nation in the category.
Junior safety Lamarcus Joyner added five tackles and Xavier Rhodes added an interception.
Greene officially kicked off the season with his 47-yard punt return after Werner's sack forced an opening-drive three-and-out for the Racers.
After Pryor's one-yard touchdown rush gave FSU a 14-0 lead and a second-quarter Murray State missed a field goal with 8:46 left in the second quarter, Manuel connected with Greg Dent for 28 yards and Greene for another 20. One play later Pryor sprinted around the left side for an 18-yard score.
Down 21-0 with 6:47 left in the second, Murray State then found itself with some terrific field position following back-to-back FSU penalties. But despite getting into the redzone, the 'Noles defense didn't break for the Racers; allowing just a 28-yard field goal that cut their lead to 21-3 late in first half.
FSU would pad that advantage just prior to the conclusion of the opening half thanks to a speedy scoring drive at the end of the second quarter. It took Manuel just 1:19 to register long passes to Shaw and Greene before evading the rush, running left and finding a diving Shaw for a six-yard touchdown and a 28-3 lead with 29 seconds left in first half.
Wilder, Jr. then opened the second half with a career-long 42-yard run that set up his nine-yard touchdown rush. Werner then sacked and stripped Murray State quarterback Casey Brockmon on the one yard-line before it was recovered by Tyler Hunter and later scored thanks to a leaping Pryor.
Smiley and Wilder, Jr. then combined for three short-yardage running scores in the final 11 minutes of the game, including Smiley's one-yard dive with 1:51 left on the game clock.
"You play as you practice," Werner said. "We all take that so serious ... you play like you practice and that just sticks in your head."