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Maryland mauling

FSU scores 24 in the second quarter and wins 37-10.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Nick Maddox stiff-arms Maryland's Dennard Wilson.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Until last season, Florida State never had failed to win at least a share of the ACC title. But Maryland overcame a loss in Tallahassee to break the Seminoles' nine-year stranglehold, which provided the No. 5-ranked Seminoles all the motivation they needed Saturday night.

And although the league title isn't in hand this early, the Seminoles again have their fingerprints all over it.

Thanks to an opportunistic defense and sophomore quarterback Chris Rix rebounding from one of his worst games with two touchdown passes and one touchdown run, the Seminoles scored 24 in the second quarter and routed the Terrapins 37-10 before a rain-soaked crowd of 51,758 at Byrd Stadium.

While the Terrapins (1-2, 0-1 ACC) are far younger than a season ago, they figured to be one of the tougher obstacles in FSU's return to ACC dominance. That assumed coach Ralph Friedgen, a renowned offensive wizard, could figure out how to take advantage of the Seminoles' unproven defense.

He didn't.

The Seminoles (3-0, 2-0), who had just five takeaways in victories against Iowa State and Virginia, had four (two fumbles and two interceptions) in the first half. The Seminoles turned those turnovers into three touchdowns. That doesn't include sophomore safety B.J. Ward blocking a 46-yard field goal in the opening minutes.

"When Miami played Florida, great (defensive) players made great plays," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said before the game. "That's what we're going to have to do or we're not going to make it. It's a difference between having a No.1 football team or an also-ran."

Even had the defense not made big plays like FSU teams of old, the offense figured to give the Terps fits.

"They've got great balance. They can run it, and they can throw it," Friedgen said before the game. "When you've got that, you're going to be a great offense. Therein lies the problem. Do you gang up on the run and leave those (receivers) 1-on-1? Or do you double those guys and hope you can hang on against the run? It makes it a real tough job to handle."

Iowa State and Virginia rushed as few as three and dropped eight into coverage. The Seminoles, long renowned for the long pass, had just one pass of more than 30 yards in those games. Meanwhile, they took advantage of their experienced, talented and big offensive line and their equally experienced, talented and big tailbacks -- especially Greg Jones -- to average 318 yards rushing, third nationally.

Maryland, led by All-America linebacker E.J. Henderson, tried to play FSU more straight up, mixing in some blitzes with conventional four-man rushes.

Rix, who had thrown for just 117 yards and no touchdowns against Virginia, reverted to a form he showed in last season's 52-31 victory against the Terps. He had five touchdowns, three in the final quarter to break open a 31-31 game.

Rix completed 13 of 25 passes for 231 yards and didn't throw an interception for the first time this season. Were it not for a few drops, the Seminoles might not have had to settle for two field goals from sophomore Xavier Beitia, the former Tampa Jesuit star, in the opening quarter.

But the lead grew after sophomore defensive tackle Travis Johnson stripped the ball from freshman tailback Mario Merrills, and sophomore safety Kyler Hall recovered at the Maryland 46 on the final play of the first quarter.

Rix followed four plays later with a 19-yard touchdown to junior receiver Anquan Boldin, who jumped, juggled a wobbling ball and got his feet down for a 13-0 lead.

Terrapins senior tailback Chris Downs, filling in for the injured Bruce Perry, the 2001 ACC offensive player of the year, burst free for an apparent 61-yard score a few moments later. But an illegal block (the Terps' first penalty) silenced the crowd, ended the end zone celebration and nullified the potential game-turning play.

After a punt pinned FSU at its 1, Rix hooked up again with Boldin for a 44-yard pass. The drive stalled at the 9 and Beitia kicked a 26-yard field goal.

Junior cornerback Rufus Brown then returned an interception 33 yards to the Maryland 4. Rix dived in from the 1 on fourth down, the first rushing touchdown the Terps' first-team defense had allowed, for a 23-0 lead.

Brown came up with another gem moments later when he jarred the ball free from Downs after a 20-yard pass. Junior corner Stanford Samuels recovered for FSU, and Rix hit senior Talman Gardner for a 56-yard touchdown and a 30-0 halftime lead. The Terrapins avoided the shutout when sophomore Nick Novak capped a 12-play, 56-yard, 7:13-drive with a 44-yard field goal late in the third quarter.

They added a 6-yard touchdown run by Downs after FSU fumbled a punt midway through the final quarter.

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