The return of senior tailback Jermaine Thomas gives FSU's offense a big boost.
Other than Thomas himself, no one is happier to have the veteran runner back in the fold than Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel, as Florida State goes after a third straight win on Saturday.
''That's huge for us,'' Manuel said Monday, adding that Thomas brings ''a lot of speed'' to the league's top passing offense already noted for its speed.
A proven quantity just 40 yards shy of 2,000 career yards rushing, Thomas ran for 86 yards on nine carries and caught a pass for 25 yards in his first extended action Saturday against Maryland. He also cut down a Maryland defensive end trying to sack Manuel in Florida State's 41-16 win.
''It was a great cut block,'' Manuel said after seeing it on film. ''I heard it ... wow!''
The Seminoles (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) begin their stretch drive in quest of a 35th straight winning season with Thomas and his career 5.7 yards-a-carry career average seemingly in top form.
''Jermaine is a hard-running running back,'' Manuel said. ''When he hits the hole, he hits it 100 percent at full speed.''
And he provides Manuel another yet another dangerous weapon in the passing game, too.
''He's going to make somebody miss and get upfield,'' Manuel said about Thomas' receiving skills.
Thomas missed much of the August preseason with dizzy spells that he said resulted from a car accident earlier this year. By then freshman Devonta Freeman and last year's leading rusher, Chris Thompson, had locked up playing time at tailback. But Thompson was knocked out for the season with a back injury Oct. 8, just as Thomas was rounding into form.
Its preseason hopes flattened by three straight early losses, Florida State now seeks its third straight win Saturday when North Carolina State (4-3, 1-2) visits. The last time the Wolfpack came to town, Thomas torched them for 186 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-42 Florida State win.
With the 5-11, 190-pound Thomas now apparently healthy and in the good graces of the coaching staff, he gives coach Jimbo Fisher the opportunity to pair him with Freeman on either side of Manuel.
Fisher used them in tandem at times in the win over Maryland and would like to do that more.
''You don't become as predictable where the ball could go,'' Fisher said Monday. ''Hopefully, we'll be able to keep doing it.''
Freeman ran for 100 yards on 11 carries, as the Seminoles rushed for over 200 yards for a second straight game.
''He's going to be the future,'' Thomas said. ''I just try to teach him a lot of things that I learned from my freshman year up until my senior year. He's picking up on it fast on his own.''
The 5-8, 200-pound Freeman is Florida State's leading rusher after two consecutive games with 100 yards or more, boosting his season total to 288. Thomas has the highest per-carry average among the backs at 6.5 yards an attempt.
Thomas, 21, admits it hasn't been easy watching instead of playing for most of the past dozen games or so dating back to the middle of last season.
''Pretty frustrating,'' he said. ''I just want to keep getting better each week.''
Thomas also believes things might not have lost three straight earlier this season he and Manuel hadn't missed time with injuries.
''In my opinion, I think that it would be different,'' he said. ''Things happen. We can just only hope for the best from here on out.''
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