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Seminoles start to get behind Rix

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2002


TALLAHASSEE -- Once the shock wore off, Florida State players insisted they wouldn't dwell on the dismissal and arrest of popular quarterback Adrian McPherson.

Every team faced with a similar maelstrom will say that.

Few can actually do it.

But the Seminoles seemingly kept their eyes on the ball -- a must-win against arch-rival Florida -- and cruised to a 31-14 win Saturday night.

"We had it in the back of our mind, but I don't think it was a big distraction because everyone handled it well," said linebacker Kendyll Pope, who returned an interception for a touchdown. "We didn't know what was going on and it was like a shock. But we put it in the back of our minds and moved on."

Several seniors who had seen players suspended and dismissed before hoped this incident would bring the team closer, something it hadn't been for much of the season with Chris Rix at quarterback.

That actually seemed to happen.

"There was a lot of talking on and off the field: 'What happened to AD?' " said freshman tailback Leon Washington, who rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown. "But the guys pulled together. We were going to rally around Chris."

Rix, starting for the first time in a month, responded by showing more patience in the pocket, more trust in his teammates and better decision-making about when to run and when to throw the ball away. Rix, who broke down in tears of joy after the win, didn't brag about his play.

None of that was lost on his coaches and teammates.

"He stood there on the sideline and watched and persevered, and then it gave me an excuse, I was able to call him (in) and say, 'Hey Chris. You see one of your problems here; you're having a hard time getting your team behind you,' " coach Bobby Bowden said. "I think he's really learned a lot about dealing with teammates, and I think they've learned about him. I think they're totally behind him now.

"If chemistry is not good between the quarterback and rest of the team, you're going to have a hard time succeeding. Was that the case? It wasn't as good as it is now."

CHANGING PLACES: Bowden admitted Sunday that he was wary of having offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden and quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey switch locations so late in the season. Dickey had been in the booth, while Jeff Bowden was on the sideline. They traded places Saturday.

"I thought everything went fine," said Dickey, who still made the calls. "The biggest thing (for me) was I was able to communicate much better with him (Rix) and make corrections immediately instead of having to wait. We were able to do things right on the spot, right after the play on some occasions, which was very beneficial."

BUNKLEY UPDATE: Freshman defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley, the former Tampa Chamberlain star, will have an MRI on his left knee early this week to determine the severity of the injury he suffered in the second quarter Saturday night. Bunkley had moved to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Travis Johnson after Jeff Womble tore an Achilles' tendon against North Carolina State.

THE LAST WORD: "I'll tell you how much it helps. Standing on the platform, the noose is around your neck and you get a pardon. ... But if you wonder, I would not have quit (had we lost)." -- Bowden on the meaning of beating Florida.

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