TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher may have found an answer to his team’s troubles running the ball for much of this season: Play two tailbacks at the same time.
Freshman Devonta Freeman ran for 100 yards a second straight week on Saturday and veteran Jermaine Thomas added 86 more as the Seminoles piled up 218 yards rushing on their way to a 41-16 victory over Maryland.
And both were in the backfield together for a while in the second half.
“That opens up a lot of runs,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “You can go either way and then you have me. That kind of gives opposing defenses a fit. They don’t really know who’s going to have the ball.”
Manuel passed for 264 yards and a touchdown and also ran for another on a 7-yard burst.
Florida State (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) led 17-3 at halftime and build its advantage to 41-10 before Maryland scored in the final seconds of the game.
Maryland (2-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) got its first touchdown on Danny O’Brien’s 5-yard run in the third quarter. O’Brien replaced starting quarterback C.J. Brown, who left the game four minutes into the second half after a vicious helmet-to-helmet collision with Florida State’s Nigel Bradham, who was penalized for the hit.
Florida State finished with 482 yards to Maryland’s 331.
Manuel started red-hot for the second straight week. He hit 8 of his first 9 passes for 120 yards, including a 26-yard TD throw to Kenny Shaw to climax a 90-yard drive and give Florida State a 14-0 lead 10 minutes into the game. Manuel earlier scored the game’s first touchdown on a 7-yard run.
“I would have liked to have stayed hot and kept going,” Fisher said. “It was like a tale of two halves. Threw for 250 in the first half and ran for 250 in the second.”
Freeman had 100 yards on the nose on 11 carries while Thomas, who has been working his way into a more prominent role the last couple of weeks, added 86 more yards on 9 carries and caught a pass for 25 yards.
“He’s starting to feel it and he’s fast,” Fisher said about Thomas, who still has only 24 carries all season. “It wouldn’t be bad to have him fresh down the stretch.”
Thomas, who is approaching 2,000 career rushing yards at Florida State, wouldn’t argue.
“It’s been a long process,” he said. “The coaches kept telling me that I was going to get my shot again.”
Florida State built its largest lead at 41-10 on Debrale Smiley’s 1-yard TD run with 47 seconds left in the game. Freeman’s 41-yard TD with 5:57 left had put the Seminoles into a 34-10 lead.
“We had to run the ball when it mattered,” Fisher said.
Dustin Hopkins added a pair of field goals for the winners, but had his consecutive streak stopped at 17 when his first attempt narrowly missed. His 38-yard field goal boosted Florida State’s lead to 17-0 with 2:35 left in the half and Maryland answered on Nick Ferrara’s 23-yardfield goal on the final play of the half.
O’Brien’s 69-yard pass to Quintin McCree gave Maryland a first down at Florida State’s 6 to set up his own scoring run in the third quarter. O’Brien, last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year, completed 9 of 18 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown — a 15-yard throw to Marcus Leak with 5 seconds left in the game.
“I thought our kids fought back,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “The kids are working. We have to continue to get better.”
Brown, however, had a rough afternoon before leaving the game. He passed for 92 yards, but did not gain any yards on 10 rushing attempts after gaining 286 yards in Maryland’s two previous games.
McCree had a big game with 9 catches for 177 yards.
Edsall said he’d have to make a game-time decision on his starting quarterback for next week’s game against Boston College.
Maryland running back Davin Meggett led the Terps with 44 yards and moved past 2,000 career rushing yards on his first carry of the game.
Florida State climbed over the .500 with its second straight win following three straight losses that endangered its ACC title hopes.
Coincidentally, it was Florida State’s second consecutive win by a 41-16 score following consecutive losses by the identical 35-30 margins.
Florida State’s four victories this season have all come against teams with losing records, but that could change next Saturday when North Carolina State (4-3, 1-2) comes to town for a noon kickoff.
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