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'Derby offense' pays dividends for FSU

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- All that was missing from Florida State's 48-17 win against Duke were mint juleps as the Seminoles made a few stops in the end zone while running their "Kentucky Derby" offense.

The Derby offense, used in the 1999 opener against Louisiana Tech and with great success in FSU's 1993 championship season, begins drives with the second-team offense and, after the first play of the drive, swaps players out for the starters, forcing 22 men to race on and off the field.

"There we are with a ballgame that's 3-3 in the first quarter and you're sacred to stick people in there and try them out," coach Bobby Bowden said. "You don't want to give tryouts with the score like that, yet we went ahead and did it and they responded."

FSU's four first-half scoring drives -- three touchdowns and a field goal -- began with someone other than starter Chris Rix behind center.

"We put our second team in the ballgame early because we wanted to force ourselves to not only put them in the game, but put them in the game when it counted," Bowden said. "Every time we did that, they contributed."

Rix started and led FSU on a 15-play, 65-yard drive but Xavier Beitia missed a 24-yard field goal. That was enough convention; on the next drive the Seminoles were off and running.

The next offensive possession saw backup Adrian McPherson hand off to Willie Reid for 9 yards, before McPherson and the backups gave way to Rix and the starters, who managed a field goal.

Third-team quarterback Fabian Walker got in as well, completing a 5-yard swing pass to Travis Smith. Then Rix came in, and eight plays later had the Seminoles in the end zone, connecting with Robert Morgan for a 14-yard pass.

"I think (the Derby offense) helps the twos get a feel for the game," McPherson said. "As the season progresses and we continue to use the Kentucky Derby offense, it will not only help this football team but it will get the young guys a lot better."

In the second quarter, the backups and starters got into more of a rotation.

McPherson started a drive, and the Seminoles picked up 5 yards on a Duke offside penalty. Then Rix came on and scrambled for 6 yards and a first down. McPherson came back and handed off to Reid, then Rix came on for two more plays, both passes to Talman Gardner, one a 14-yard touchdown.

"We'd like to (use it some more) but we've got be careful," Bowden said. "We don't want to jeopardize a game, but I hope to see it some more."

With three games in 13 days leading to a game with defending national champion Miami, getting experience for younger players could pay dividends.

"(The second-teamers) got some plays under their belt and they got some game experience under their belt and that's going to be helpful," Bowden said. "We saw things tonight that we can build on."

"I feel like the twos were well prepared and we went out there and did that," McPherson said.

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