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'Baby steps' for FSU

FSU 40, VIRGINIA 19: The defense shuts out the Cavs for three quarters.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 1, 2002

FSU 40, VIRGINIA 19: The defense shuts out the Cavs for three quarters.

TALLAHASSEE -- Unlike last week when they left the field looking relieved, the Florida State defensive players were a bit irked as they headed toward their locker room.

The highly-scrutinized, oft-criticized defense had shut down and shut out Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia for almost three quarters before relaxing in Saturday's 40-19 win before an announced 79,406 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"We made baby steps," junior cornerback Stanford Samuels said. "This whole season is about redemption, not just any game. We made baby steps toward where we want to be. So, we'll take it."

Especially after their season-opening performance against Iowa State in the Eddie Robinson Classic. FSU allowed 443 yards and 31 points, escaping with a seven-point win after linebackers Kendyll Pope and Jerel Hudson stopped quarterback Seneca Wallace inches shy of the end zone.

For the first 42 minutes, the Cavaliers crossed midfield once and had four first downs and 108 yards against the Seminoles (2-0, 1-0), who slipped two spots to No. 5 in the AP poll after the win Aug. 24.

"Don't get me wrong, Iowa State is a good team, but when you talk about Florida State, the tradition, the name, and you come down to the last play against Iowa State, if that doesn't put any kind of fight in you, you don't deserve to be wearing these colors," Samuels said. "That did something for us. We had to come out more intense."

At that point, FSU led 33-0 thanks to defense and the running game.

Junior tailback Greg Jones, who rushed for a career-high 173 yards and two touchdowns, led a punishing ground game (397 yards) that more than made up for sophomore quarterback Chris Rix's struggles.

When the Virginia defense continually dropped eight players and double-covered receivers, Rix showed impatience by running a bit too often (11 times for 58 yards and one touchdown) or trying to squeeze the ball between defenders.

He finished with no touchdowns for the first time, had his second fewest yards (117) and threw two interceptions, one in the end zone and one at the Virginia 1.

"As opposed to last year, it's all about the team; I have a different perspective," Rix said. "I'd rather us win than throw five touchdowns and lose.

"The running game was spectacular. The way the O-line opened up the holes and the way the back ran. That's what it took tonight."

It could have been worse for Virginia (0-2, 0-1).

The Seminoles squandered two chances in the decisive stretch when freshman fullback Torrance Washington lost a fumble at the 1 and the usually sure-footed Xavier Beitia, the former Tampa Jesuit star, missed a 26-yard field goal.

"Defensively, I would grade them real high," said coach Bobby Bowden, who left Kansas City last week concerned his defense had shown little growth after last season.

"If our offense had been hot. ... We gave up the ball two times inside the four. We should be coming out of there with 14 points or six at the worst. But that'll come with time."

The rest of the game, however, belonged to the Cavaliers, a team in the midst of an almost unprecedented youth movement under second-year coach Al Groh.

Junior quarterback Matt Schaub, who relieved first-time starter and redshirt freshman Marques Hagans midway through the second, led the Cavaliers to 19 points and 205 yards in the final 18:15.

"I don't think we were demoralized and I think the way we finished was a pretty good example that we weren't demoralized about anything," said Groh, playing 12 true and redshirt freshmen. "Disappointed, certainly."

Not as much as the Seminoles' defense, however.

"We're happy with the win, but we're still not happy because we didn't finish the drill," Pope said. "Nineteen points in the fourth quarter? That's not like us. We wanted that shutout bad."

FSU has not had one since it beat Louisville 31-0 on Sept. 23, 2000.

That's 24 games ago.

"We started subbing there in the fourth quarter and it looked like we lost a little edge that we had," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said.

"Then we got our first team back in there and they didn't play like first teamers.

"We've got to learn to tackle better. We've got to learn to play four quarters better. But there was a lot of improvement."

Not that you could tell from the players.

"We've got a lot a work to do, but we're just beginning," junior defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "The competition is just going to get tougher and we've got to find a way to go out there and dominate for four quarters. ... Mickey Andrews is going to find a way to get it done. We're either going to get it done or we're going to be 8-4 again."

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