By KAREEM COPELAND
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State boasted one of the nation’s top recruiting classes in February, and those freshmen showed last weekend why they were so highly regarded.
Four freshmen and a sophomore helped spark the top-ranked Seminoles, who were on the ropes against North Carolina State.
“Sometimes you don’t emerge when you want to, you emerge when you have to,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Those guys are emerging out in that direction.”
Florida State called on defensive end Lorenzo Featherston and hybrid linebacker Jacob Pugh as the Seminoles trailed by double-digits midway through the third quarter.
The defensive front has been battered with nose tackle Niles Lawrence-Stample out for the season and an array of others going down.
Starting defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. and backup interior lineman Justin Shanks were both ruled out before the game.
Replacement nose guard Derrick Mitchell, Jr. went down and did not return from a knee injury.
Starting defensive tackle Eddie Goldman aggravated an ankle injury, but returned.
Featherston (6-foot-7, 294 pounds) and Pugh (6-4, 236 pounds) filled in and changed the game. Featherston forced a fumble late in the third quarter and Pugh recovered. Rashad Greene caught a 4-yard touchdown on the ensuing series to give FSU its first lead of the day. It never trailed afterward.
“Just seeing them go through camp and coming to now, I definitely gave them a lot more trust than I did at the beginning,” senior safety Tyler Hunter said. “At the beginning, they’re new to the system and it’s hard for them to learn. But just week by week they start to pick it up more and more. I’m definitely confident in those guys now.”
Fisher said, “They were the guys that made that key (play) that got us over the hump.”
Offensively, freshman running back Dalvin Cook ran for a 19-yard touchdown after being upgraded to second string due to injury to Mario Pender and sophomore Jesus “Bobo” Wilson had a career day with 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Freshman receiver Travis Rudolph, rated the No. 1 wideout in the nation by multiple recruiting sites, caught a 40-yard pass for his first reception.
“It definitely does help when young guys can step on the football field and make an instant impact,” senior running back Karlos Williams said. “It does take a load off some of the older guys who do have a little bit of wear and tear. It shows we have football players that can play and are young; that are learning the offense and are moving forward and can help the team.”
Wilson seems to have grown into the complement to Greene that the offense has desperately searched for. He’s known for his speed and athleticism, but there was a question of how much of the load he could carry on his 5-9, 177-pound frame. Quarterback Jameis Winston raved about Wilson during the offseason, but this was his biggest performance under the lights.
“Really has a lot of ability and is a really smart young man,” Fisher said. “That’s what our offense is based on. You want to take somebody away and you’re 1 on 1 over here, we’re going to go over here. That’s when you can really be aggressive in how you call plays.”
The Seminoles host Wake Forest on Saturday, and the time is now for several youngsters on the FSU roster.
Featherston was listed on the two-deep depth chart for the first time Monday as the backup to Edwards, Jr. Wilson was named the starting slot receiver for the first time before the game.
Fisher has talked about getting Rudolph and fellow freshman Ermon Lane more involved. Freshman Derrick Nndai is the primary backup at nose guard and sophomore DeMarcus Walker is the starter at the hybrid linebacker spot. Pugh is also expected to get more snaps.
Fisher said Edwards (concussion), Mitchell and Pender (concussion) are expected to return this week.