FSU 56, DUKE 7: Blue Devils pose no problems as Florida State dominates without looking ahead to Miami.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published September 28, 2003
Florida State tailback Greg Jones runs past Duke defenders.
DURHAM, N.C. - Call it the beneficial calm before a gathering, perhaps defining, storm.
The Seminoles were able to set aside criticism aimed at quarterback Chris Rix and coach Bobby Bowden for their off-the-field actions, rest a handful of hobbled players, rely more on youth and still dominate ACC rival Duke 56-7 Saturday night.
The No.6-ranked Seminoles (5-0, 4-0) are off to their best start since 2000 - the last season they played for the national title - but now comes the real test of their mettle and prospects:
No.2 Miami comes to Tallahassee on Oct.11.
"We are as well along as we could have hoped to be," said Bowden, stung by an outcry after the public learned he wrote a letter on behalf of a convicted felon facing a resentencing. "To be 5-0 with an open date before Miami, I guess we couldn't have done anything to put us in better position."
With that showdown in sight, if not mind, the Seminoles were able to keep linebacker Kendyll Pope (left hamstring), defensive end Eric Moore (bruised left hand) and tailbacks Leon Washington (right elbow) and Lorenzo Booker (left knee) safely on the sideline.
A breather? You bet.
But it didn't leave the Seminoles gasping to keep things rolling against the Blue Devils (2-3, 0-2), who have lost all 12 meetings to FSU and extended their ACC losing streak to 27.
Give credit to Rix.
Give credit to the defense, at least in the second half.
Rix had been a lightning rod for bad PR in the past week, borrowing a handicap placard and drawing a $100 fine. A day after he apologized and promised it would never happen again, he again parked illegally on campus.
But for the second straight game, Rix played smartly. He completed 16-of-25 for 274 yards and two touchdowns.
"I'm very pleased with the way he played," Bowden said.
Rix and the offense needed just five plays, including a season-best 53-yard run from senior tailback Greg Jones, and 97 seconds to go 80 yards on the opening series. Fullback B.J. Dean's 6-yard run and the first of eight Xavier Beitia's extra points gave FSU a 7-0 lead.
Jones and tailback Willie Reid added short scoring runs, then Rix hit speedy receiver Craphonso Thorpe, who jumped over cornerback Brian Greene on a dazzling 43-yard touchdown in the final minute of the half for a commanding 28-7 lead.
"Overall, I think we played pretty solid tonight," Rix said in a statement, opting not to meet the media. "We can play better offensively and we will need to step it up to compete with Miami in two weeks."
The FSU defensive players echoed that sentiment. They entered as the nation's stingiest, allowing an average of 7.5 points, but were sluggish.
"We didn't come out with the intensity we should have. It is a pretty tough game, playing in a tough environment," cornerback Stanford Samuels said of the 24,370 at Wallace Wade Stadium. "It's hard, but that's no excuse."
With freshman quarterback Mike Schneider showing poise and pinpoint accuracy, the Blue Devils went 82 yards on 12 plays and closed to 14-7 on tailback Chris Douglas' 10-yard run late in the opening quarter.
Duke could have been closer but safety B.J. Ward blocked a 43-yard field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, the first of two for him on the night.
"They've been kicking away from me," said Ward, who blocked four kicks last season.
In the waning moments of the half, defensive end Kevin Emanuel chased down Schneider and forced the first of two fumbles, stopping Duke at the FSU 11.
"Everybody's trying to get back there," Emanuel said, referring to the quarterback. "You have a person do well in one game, then other people mirror that and want to do just as well the next game. That's been a big motivation factor this year."
In the second half, the Seminoles held Duke to 90 yards. Emanuel forced his second fumble that was scooped up by freshman linebacker A.J. Nicholson, starting for the first time in place of Pope, and returned for a touchdown. Then freshman cornerback Antonio Cromartie returned his first career interception 71 yards for the final touchdown. The Seminoles also stopped Duke at the 1 in the final seconds.
Not that they are celebrating.
Not with the Hurricanes coming.
"(Being) 5-0 doesn't mean anything unless you go 6-0," Samuels said. "It's in the past. We prepared for them, we took care of business and now it's time to move on to the next opponent. We're coming into the game in good shape, the way a Florida State-Miami matchup is supposed to be."