MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- E.J. Manuel, once a Heisman Trophy candidate, obliges two autograph seekers before walking uninterrupted into the Seminoles locker room early Sunday morning.
Jimbo Fisher, once a national championship candidate, is a few yards behind, not saying a word.
They do their work in relative solitude now, at least when it comes to the national title picture. A 33-20 win over Miami might not do much to elevate No. 14 FSU in Sunday night's Bowl Championship Series standings, not after that brutal loss to N.C. State two weeks ago that wrecked the Noles. The ACC's perception problems don't help. FSU's schedule isn't stellar. And the Hurricanes are clearly a rival in transition.
But FSU (7-1) overcame sloppy play to dominate Miami (4-4) more than the score suggests.
Miami's offense averaged just above five plays per drive on 13 tries. The Seminoles, who dropped to a 10-0 deficit in the first quarter because of two costly fumbles, kept methodically moving downfield, outdistancing the Hurricanes 447-258 in total yards.
They never let Miami establish a downfield passing game. Most of the Hurricanes' biggest gains came in the screen game.
Miami's defense swarmed the Seminoles early to create turnovers. But once the dillweed fan ran onto the field and got tackled by security late in the first quarter, FSU never looked back.
This game might not enliven FSU's title hopes, but coach Jimbo Fisher is seeing growth. He knew his team wasn't the same away from Doak Campbell Stadium in recent weeks, and he needed a response.
He told his team at halftime they “did about everything wrong you could do,” but was encouraged that it still had a 13-10 lead despite the gaffes.
“I think it's very big in our development,” Fisher said. “It's something we haven't done all year. We could have done the same thing we did at N.C. State, but we didn't. There are too many good guys on our team, too many leaders, too many good people for everybody to look at each other and not do anything.”
Several team leaders, including Manuel, were vocal with the team on the sidelines, demanding better play.
Manuel was his steady self, making the right check down, only testing the defense vertically when there's a clear shot to take, throwing for 229 yards and rushing for 34 more.
Manuel was once considered an early-season Heisman contender when the Seminoles were undefeated. He probably doesn't have the stats – 1,804 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions, 220 rushing yards – to re-enter the race, but he never worried much about that, he says.
He believes the Seminoles still have a chance at a special season. If the Seminoles can get through late November with one loss – that Nov. 24 date with Florida looms large – they have a good chance at a BCS bowl.
“I want to have a proud season, be proud of myself and be proud of my teammates,” Manuel said.
The Seminoles can play. They're loaded with athletes. The defense is improving. And they might face their toughest test of the year next week.
The 6-2 Duke Blue Devils.
“We don't even pay attention to the (national title picture),” FSU running back Lonnie Pryor said. “We're focused on Duke.”