Troubled FSU pounds Gators

Florida State's Leon Washington heads down field in the Seminole's victory over Florida on Saturday night in Tallahassee.

(MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun)
Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 2:33 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - The popular perception heading into Saturday night's Florida-Florida State rivalry was this would be a classic matchup of Team Unity vs. Team Turmoil.
Well, Team Turmoil did an amazing turnaround, dropping all its troubles and then rudely dropping Team Unity.
Earlier in the week, Florida State and its season seemed to be coming unglued. The Seminoles, already reeling from a humiliating loss to North Carolina State, learned on Monday their starting quarterback had been thrown off the team. On Wednesday, Adrian McPherson was arrested.
Throw in injuries to several key starters and things were looking grim for the Seminoles as they braced for improving Florida.
Their outlook is much better now. Led by their formerly troubled and benched quarterback, Chris Rix, the Seminoles righted themselves and routed archrival Florida 31-14 Saturday night before 83,938 at Doak Campbell Stadium, where the Gators haven't won since 1986.
"Florida State finally looked like Florida State," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's taken us a mighty long time to get the pieces together.
"It looks like we have the right quarterback in there. It looks like the quarterback has been through a learning process with his teammates, and it looks like his teammates have accepted him. That gives you a chance to win. That's why we won tonight. The complete football team played well."
UF finishes the regular season 8-4 and likely is headed for the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl in Tampa, where they would play Michigan. FSU, the ACC champion, finishes 9-4 and will be in a BCS bowl, probably the Sugar.
"It's a tough loss, but we've got to learn from it and get ready for the bowl game," UF tailback Earnest Graham said. "I know we can play better and we will."
Benched for his numerous blunders earlier in the season, Rix came up with an almost flawless performance in his return to the lineup, scrambling all night for big yardage and finding his wide receivers open for even bigger yardage.
Rix frustrated the Gators all night long, completing 13-of-29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for an additional 83 yards on 14 carries. Freshman tailback Leon Washington, starting for the injured Nick Maddox, also hurt the Gators, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
"Rix played super," Bowden said. Said UF linebacker Bam Hardmon: "We just made too many mental mistakes and it put us in a hole. Rix is a good quarterback. It's tough to chase him down. They played really well tonight."
UF quarterback Rex Grossman completed 24-of-47 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn't enough as he spent much of the second half being harassed by a strong FSU pass rush. Graham added 82 yards rushing on 17 carries.
It was Rix who put the game away early in the fourth quarter, finding wide receiver Anquan Boldin open behind the befuddled UF secondary for a 19-yard touchdown pass that gave the Seminoles a 31-14 lead with 13:01 left in the game.
The UF defense, which had been making excellent progress throughout the course of the season, was simply overmatched by Rix and the big-play Seminoles, who broke out of their recent offensive doldrums with perhaps their best performance of the year, amassing 419 yards of total offense.
Meanwhile, Florida's offense failed to consistently move the ball against an FSU defense.
Earlier in the week, UF coach Ron Zook said the Gators would not see the troubled FSU, but the very talented and capable FSU that nearly beat No. 1 Miami early in the season. And that's what the Gators got.
"We came out expecting to win. We practiced to win," UF offensive guard Shannon Snell said. "It just didn't happen. They were the better team this year.
"We got in some bad situations ... third-and-30 and things like that. They pinned us back. My hat is off to them. They played great."
The Gators looked good in the game's opening moments, creating momentum by driving 71 yards on the game's first possession and taking a 3-0 lead on a 27-yard field goal by Matt Leach.
But it didn't last very long. FSU's Xavier Beitia matched Leach's score with a 36-yard field goal to tie the game. Rix certainly set what would be the tone for the night, scrambling for 25 yards on a third-and-11 from his own 14 and throwing a 29-yard pass to wide receiver Talman Gardner.
On the first play of the second quarter, Washington gave the Seminoles a 10-3 lead with a 7-yard touchdown run. He was the featured player on the drive, ripping off runs of 15, 16 and 5 yards to put FSU inside the UF 10.
UF responded with a solid drive that stalled at the FSU 19 and Leach came on and kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it a 10-6 game.
The Gators, however, couldn't contain Rix and couldn't stop the FSU offense.
Rix threw a 22-yard TD strike to Boldin with 5:37 left in the third quarter to give the Seminoles a 17-6 lead.
UF's attempt to get back in the game in the second half collapsed early in the third quarter, when a Grossman pass bounced off the hands of tight end Aaron Walker and was intercepted and returned 13 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Kendyll Pope to give the Seminoles a commanding 24-6 lead.
Grossman rallied the Gators, throwing a 9-yard TD pass to O.J. Small with 1:07 left in the third quarter, then finding Taylor Jacobs open in the back of the end zone for a successful 2-point attempt to make it a 24-14 game.
But Rix kept running and firing and the Gators had no answer.
Four plays after scrambling for 17 yards, Rix put the Gators away with his perfect pass to Boldin for 19 yards and a touchdown with 13:01 to play.

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