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Players design winning strategy
NO.6 FSU 38, SYRACUSE 14: With significant input from the athletes, the Seminoles spring several surprises in a breakout offensive game.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published October 2, 2005
[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
Seminoles safety Pat Watkins knocks the ball loose from Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson after Patterson's 9-yard scramble in the first quarter. FSU recovered.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida State's offensive strategy against Syracuse probably took most folks aback.
The Seminoles, who had talked about finally establishing their running game, came out in a four-receiver, one-back set with quarterback Drew Weatherford in the shotgun.
Blame the players.
In an unusual move for this, or maybe any, program, the offensive players helped craft the game plan that led to an easy 38-14 win against the Orange on Saturday afternoon to keep FSU unbeaten.
"We let them express themselves," coach Bobby Bowden said. "How would y'all like to approach the game?"
Actually, it was his son Jeff, the receivers coach and offensive coordinator, who told the offensive players after practice Wednesday to get together the next day and talk among themselves about how they would like to attack the Orange (1-3).
"He just wanted our input," said receiver Chris Davis, the former St. Petersburg Catholic star. "He put faith in us."
"He wants us to believe in what we're doing and if we're just out there throwing the ball and everybody wants to be running it and you don't believe in the play, you're not going to be successful," added senior center David Castillo, back after missing games against the Citadel and Boston College following foot surgery.
So, during a 20-minute meeting Thursday afternoon, Castillo stood by an erasable board, grease pen in hand, and jotted down suggestions ranging from using more screens and more quarterback sneaks on short-yardage situations to spreading the defense and throwing.
"I'm a receiver; I want it in the air," Davis said with a sly grin.
Yes, but that's what tailbacks Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker wanted to see, too.
"We've got a lot of weapons, particularly at wide receiver, as everybody can see," Booker said. "We feel like we're going to be the most dangerous if those guys are on the field. ... We really want teams to understand we're much more than Leon and Lorenzo running the football."
Castillo copied the group's suggestions onto paper and, just before practice that day, delivered it to Jeff Bowden, who enthusiastically embraced the input.
After a slow start, the No.6 Seminoles (4-0) got it going.
Weatherford's fortunate 43-yard touchdown pass to receiver Willie Reid (the ball soared over his head but bounced off cornerback Steve Gregory's hands to Reid) opened the scoring late in the first quarter.
After a turnover on the kickoff, the second of four on the day by the Orange, Weatherford scored on a 1-yard dive, then gave way to backup Xavier Lee for a series that culminated with a field goal and a 17-0 halftime lead.
Davis' 15-yard touchdown pass from Weatherford made it 24-0 early in the third quarter, and Weatherford's screen to Booker turned into a dazzling 71-yard touchdown and a 31-7 lead that thrilled the sun-baked crowd of 83,717 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"We didn't want to be predictable," said Weatherford, the former Land O'Lakes star who was 16-of-27 for 234 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. "I think a lot of people thought we were going to come out and try to establish the run, but coach did a good job of spreading it out, and that allowed us to run a little better."
The Seminoles finished with 116 rushing yards, more than they had against Miami (96) and Boston College (13) combined. In all, they racked up 512 yards, by far their most against a Division I-A opponent this season.
While the Orange has struggled to adjust from an option offense to the West Coast style preferred by first-year coach Greg Robinson, it has been tough defensively. Robinson is a longtime defensive coordinator, helping Denver win consecutive Super Bowls.
Syracuse entered the game sixth nationally in pass defense (128.3 yards) and had been allowing an average of 292.7 yards.
"We've come out trying to run the ball," Bobby Bowden said. "The second ballgame (against I-AA the Citadel), we came out throwing because we thought we were superior and we could do what we wanted to. Now, when you're playing Syracuse and you're playing Miami and you're playing Boston College, you better do what's best. I felt like sooner or later, we're going to have to come out throwing the darn ball, and that's what our offensive staff wanted to do."