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'Noles' loss brews discord

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 28, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- The accusatory finger-pointing at Florida State quarterback Chris Rix by teammates after Saturday's loss to Notre Dame was perhaps predictable.

He did throw an interception, the first of two, and followed with a fumble on the next series. Freshman Leon Washington then fumbled a kickoff that helped the Irish crack a 10-all tie, parlaying the turnovers into 17 points. FSU lost 34-24.

"We turn over the ball three times in two minutes? Something needs to be done," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "I mean y'all reporters aren't coaches, but if you see that you have to make some changes. I've got a little niece 3 years old who can make some changes (about that). That's crazy, man."

He and others said Rix committed those kind of mistakes last season as a first-year starter. But after 20 games, youth and inexperience don't explain them away.

Senior defensive end Alonzo Jackson, named a captain last week, went further. He unleashed a tirade in the locker room aimed at his coaches for how they have handled -- or mishandled -- the quarterback position. Teammates had to physically escort him out of the locker room so he could calm down out of sight and earshot of the media.

"It's tough to lose like that," he said later. "It was ugly."

Were it not for a pair of Adrian McPherson touchdown passes in the waning minutes, the Seminoles (5-3) would have suffered their worst home loss since 1981.

"It was pretty bad in there," linebacker Michael Boulware said.

But will it get better?

And how?

"I can straighten out any kind of fragmentation we have," coach Bobby Bowden said Sunday morning. "After a loss ... you can't expect happiness, you can't expect celebration.

"Our kids wanted to win that game bad, so therefore there was a lot of disappointment after the game like there was when Oklahoma beat us in the (Orange) Bowl, like it was after the Tennessee game when they beat us for the national championship. Same reactions, different kids.

"Probably the same thing happened yesterday at LSU. Probably the same thing happened at Tennessee. All that's natural. I can handle that part. I'll have a meeting with my players and we'll talk about any problems they see."

Including if Rix or the more popular McPherson should start Saturday at Wake Forest.

"But I won't let them decide (who starts), I know that," he said. "They will not decide."

Bowden said McPherson's strong performance, perhaps his best yet, was impressive. But he defended Rix, stressing that usually sure-handed receivers Robert Morgan and Anquan Boldin combined to drop five first-half passes.

Had they made those catches, though one of Morgan's drops nullified what appeared to be a fumble, Bowden suggested the game might have been different.

Not only might the offense's confidence increased, but also Notre Dame's defense might have had to back up. The Irish, intent on stopping the run, put eight men in the box but would have been forced to move a safety into coverage if they respected the pass more. Then the Seminoles might have been able to run for more than a season-low 93 yards.

Bowden said Rix and McPherson will take about the same number of snaps in practice to objectively evaluate the situation. Meanwhile, the players, who were set to meet late Sunday, stressed they cannot afford dissension.

"We have to get everybody together," senior offensive guard Montrae Holland said. "We can't win separated. We can't do anything if we're separated as a team. We've got to stay together."

Added senior tailback Nick Maddox: "People just need to talk; it's nothing that a little talking can't help. We're like brothers. We know how to handle things. Everybody can handle constructive criticism. I think that's what we need, to get things off our chests and get things out in the open. ... Without that, there's division."

* * *

NOTES: Boulware, a Butkus Award semifinalist, bruised his neck on a jarring hit on quarterback Carlyle Holiday late in the third quarter. He had X-rays for a possible fracture after the game. They were negative. "I'm fine," he said Sunday. ... Special-teams captain Patrick Newton, a senior and a former Shorecrest Prep star, has a dislocated left thumb but said he will play this weekend.

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