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Rix elixir

FSU 31, UF 14: QB's return to starting lineup sparks Seminoles to a rout in annual showdown.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 1, 2002


TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State's record still isn't a thing of beauty, certainly nothing to brag about.

But the Seminoles' convincing 31-14 win against archrival Florida on Saturday night before 83,938 at Doak Campbell Stadium did wonders for the team's complexion entering a Bowl Championship Series game, as well as how things look for the future with Chris Rix at quarterback.

Botox, college football style.

"It's very satisfying because I don't know how long it's been since I felt like we needed a win that bad," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "We finally look like Florida State. It took us a mighty long time to begin to get the pieces together."

The No. 23 Seminoles (9-4), who won the Atlantic Coast Conference title outright only when Virginia upset Maryland last week, could meet No. 5 Georgia and former FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt in the Sugar Bowl.

Meanwhile, No. 15 Florida (8-4), which had its four-game winning streak snapped, seems headed for Orlando or Tampa for the Outback Bowl, where it will need a win to apply a bit of salve to its disappointingly uneven season.

While the Gators and first-year coach Ron Zook have enjoyed the highs of beating their two biggest Southeastern Conference rivals, Tennessee and Georgia, they also have suffered humbling losses to Miami, Mississippi, LSU and now the Seminoles.

"I don't know what they did but I thought they were very, very focused," Zook said. "They played a good football game and my hat's off to them. It hurts. It hurts our players bad. It hurts our coaches bad. They were the better team out there today."

Rix had a lot to do with that.

Returning to the starting lineup only after coach Bobby Bowden dismissed Adrian McPherson on Monday, Rix had his finest all-around performance of the season.

"Great performance," said junior receiver Anquan Boldin, who had eight catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns to go with a key block on a Leon Washington touchdown run. "Probably anybody else would have hung their head after he got benched like that, but he had four great weeks of preparation and he came out and showed it today."

Rix completed only 13 of 29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, but he sagely threw many passes away rather than try to force a play. He also had a few dropped passes that didn't seem to faze him.

"I can't describe how I feel, from playing to not playing and coming out tonight and beating Florida; I've never been happier," said Rix, who was teary as he left the field to cheers of "Rix, Rix, Rix."

"I'm just proud of this team and proud of this program. ... The team had gone through a lot this week; a lot of people don't know what Coach Bowden has had to go through. It feels good to be able to get a win over Florida for Coach Bowden."

The entire team seemingly responded to the tumult of McPherson's arrest in connection with the theft and cashing of a forged check and a rash of injuries to the offensive line and tailback.

Sophomores David Castillo and Bobby Meeks started at center and guard in place of seniors Antoine Mirambeau (sprained knee) and Montrae Holland (sprained ankle). Washington, a true freshman and the fourth-string tailback, also started and rushed for a career-high 136 yards on 26 carries.

The oft-criticized defense largely contained Rex Grossman and the Gators offense and even scored a touchdown.

"We went out today and we set our minds that we were going to go out there and beat the hell out of them," FSU defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We just laid it on the line. Everybody played terrifically hard. That's the way Florida State's supposed to play, right there. We just beat a ranked team. Florida's a good team, but we were just better today. We were clicking on all cylinders."

And FSU's punting team, which had one attempt blocked for a safety and two others deflected in last week's stunning loss at North Carolina State, outplayed UF's and kept the Gators backed up.

After UF took the lead 3-0 on a Matt Leach 27-yard field goal, FSU tied it on 36-yard field goal by Xavier Beitia. Washington then gave FSU the lead for good when he took a misdirection pick and raced 7 yards for a touchdown.

Leach followed with a 37-yard field goal, but Rix again looked like a leader. Undaunted when a holding call whipped out a 45-yard pass play to Talman Gardner, Rix led FSU on a 10-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a 22-yard strike to Boldin for a 17-6 lead.

The FSU defense then chipped in with a big play early in the third quarter. On third and 7 from his own 4, Grossman threw the ball a bit behind tight end Aaron Walker that bounced off his left shoulder pad and into the arms of linebacker Kendyll Pope.

He returned it untouched for a 13-yard TD and a 24-6 lead with 10 minutes to go in the quarter.

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