FSU 48, DUKE 17: The 'Noles get things going early through the air.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2002
TALLAHASSEE -- Maybe it was Florida State employing the Kentucky Derby offense, inserting the entire second team for just the first play of a series, for the first time since the 1999 championship season.
Maybe it was the Duke defense.
Maybe it was a little of both.
Whatever the reason, the Seminoles passing game looked like a throwback to yesteryear as sophomore Chris Rix had his best performance of the season in Saturday night's 48-17 rout of Duke before 82,397 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"He did some good things," FSU quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey said.
So too did backups Adrian McPherson and Fabian Walker, who played as part of the Kentucky Derby offense as well as most of the second half when the Seminoles had opened up a commanding lead.
"I was glad to get them all in there and get them some reps," Dickey said. "I think they all took a big step."
No offense to their potent running game, but the No. 5-ranked Seminoles (4-0 overall, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) need the quarterbacks' arms, especially Rix's, and their receivers' hands as they begin a daunting stretch of games Thursday at Louisville.
Then comes a second straight Thursday game against Clemson, followed by a trip to No. 1 Miami on Oct. 12, then against Notre Dame on Oct. 26.
Showing more patience in the pocket and reading the defensive schemes better than he has this season, Rix completed 16 of 22 (72.7 percent) for a season-high 244 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He played one series in the second half.
"I think I improved," he said after his shortest career stint. "I'm not near where I want to be. I have high standards for myself, but I think I improved. I found that third and fourth receiver and sat in there and didn't run as much. That was my main thing tonight; I wanted to get the ball to my receivers, get the ball to my backs and let them do the work."
The Seminoles had been riding the legs of junior tailback Greg Jones, who entered ranked ninth nationally with an average of 131 yards. As a team they were averaging 268 yards rushing, ranked sixth, and 57 more than their average through the air.
But defenses largely had been playing to prevent the long pass play. Not the Blue Devils (1-3, 0-1).
With new defensive coordinator Ted Roof and speedier players, the Blue Devils improved markedly, allowing about 150 yards and 17 points a game fewer than a year ago. They looked to stop the run first.
So, the Seminoles came out throwing from the shotgun, three-receiver set instead of handing the ball off. They eventually rolled up 404 yards passing to 113 rushing.
"Our coaches threw the ball a whole lot because they're funny, they simply would not allow us to run the ball," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "They stuck everybody up on the line of scrimmage. So we kept throwing the ball."
"It's always nice if you're a receiver; you can go out and sling the ball around," added junior receiver Anquan Boldin, who had seven catches for a career-high 110 yards and one touchdown.
FSU moved the ball impressively, but squandered a seven-minute drive to open the game when the usually sure-footed Xavier Beitia missed a 24-yard field-goal attempt.
After FSU safety B.J. Ward blocked Brent Garber's 45-yard attempt, Ward's third this season, and Beitia redeemed himself with a 37-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. The Blue Devils, however, tied the score with a 23-yard field goal by Garber to culminate an 86-yard drive.
"When you don't take a step forward, you take a step back so I believe we took a step back today just because we didn't come out ready to play," FSU senior defensive end Alonzo Jackson said. "We didn't have the energy we had the past couple of games."
Senior receiver Robert Morgan, who didn't have a catch last week while nursing a bruised chest, put the Seminoles ahead with a 14-yard touchdown reception. It was the oft-injured Morgan's first touchdown since Oct. 14, 2000, also against the Blue Devils.
Rix then hooked up with senior receiver Talman Gardner, who like Morgan was running a post pattern, on a 14-yard touchdown for a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
"We had a problem defending their wide receivers," said Duke coach Carl Franks, whose team lost its 18th consecutive league game. "They are great athletes and made some big plays."
Freshman fullback Torrance Washington's 3-yard run gave FSU a 24-3 halftime lead and freshman Leon Washington recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for a 31-3 lead early in the third quarter.
That allowed Bowden to continue shuttling in players, not only keeping starters healthy but also giving others needed experience. McPherson took over for Rix with 10:37 left in the third quarter and threw two touchdowns, 17 yards to Craphonso Thorpe and 11 yards to Boldin.
"I think we all improved," Rix said, "and we got some guys who weren't seasoned, seasoning because we might need them."