By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
After three close games to start the season, FSU takes a big lead early and cruises.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida State, hungry to rebound from a disappointing loss, apparently needed only a helping of Rice.
Against the overmatched Owls, the Seminoles rediscovered their running game with Antone Smith and Lorenzo Booker surpassing 100 yards, revitalized their passing attack behind a near-flawless Drew Weatherford and re-established their defensive stinginess with a resounding 55-7 win at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"We got what we needed," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "We needed a big win. We needed a game where you didn't have to play 60 minutes. Every game we've played up until now, it was a 60-minute game. Nobody got any rest. We didn't get a lot of subs in. (Saturday), we did get a lot of subs in. And again, it was a game that we needed."
Bowden admitted no one could confuse Rice (0-4) with a national powerhouse. The Owls narrowly lost to Houston and UCLA before being blown out last week by Texas 52-7. They were among the nation's worst teams in total offense and total defense.
"It's not like it was Notre Dame out there," Bowden deadpanned.
But the No. 18-ranked Seminoles (3-1) weren't exactly wowing folks. Their offense hadn't scored a touchdown in the first half all season, and they needed two fourth-quarter comebacks, including against Troy, to not be winless. Their young defense had lapses, too, most notably in last week's last-second loss to Clemson.
When you're a 30-point favorite, it might be hard - or misguided - to put too much stock into the final score. But when you've been struggling as FSU has, you can't underestimate the stat sheet on this day.
- Smith had a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns on 12 rushes. He entered the game with 66 rushing yards. Booker had 115 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He had just 60 yards before this game.
"We know we're great backs. It was just a matter of going out and doing it," Smith said.
- Weatherford, who hasn't looked as sharp as he did in last season's ACC title game or Orange Bowl, was 8-of-12 for 102 yards and a touchdown. He played just six series as the coaches were determined to give Xavier Lee his first real playing time.
FSU scored five touchdowns and a field goal with Weatherford under center, ending the suspense early in the second half.
"I felt much better," he said. "We were able to establish the run a little better this week, which always is going to help a quarterback out. And just having a full week of practice and having time to work on our game plan really makes a quarterback sharper, receivers sharper and a whole offense sharper."
You didn't see anyone dropping a touchdown pass. You didn't see Carr, the team's big-play receiver, standing on the sideline for disappointing the coaches with his work habits. You didn't see backs having no chance to get past the line of scrimmage. You didn't see a lackluster effort.
"I'm just really, really disappointed in how we played defensively," Rice coach Todd Graham said. "Give Florida State all the credit in the world, but they were not the same offensive football team we played last week."
Texas had 493 yards on 54 plays.
FSU had 500 on 61.
"It definitely was big for us because we know we're capable of doing it at any time. We just have to continue to make plays and work hard," Carr said. "Just being able to show it is really showing people. You want to say this or say that, but we really can do some things."
- After the FSU defense gave up a 32-yard touchdown pass from Joel Armstrong to Jarett Dillard on Rice's first possession, it held the Owls to 176 yards and no points, highlighted by a stop at the 6 in the waning seconds.
Perhaps most impressive is FSU did it with star cornerback Tony Carter out with an injured left knee for the entire second half and reserve linebacker Marcus Ball, a key player in passing situations, out for much of the second half with a serious left knee injury.
"We really needed that," nose guard Andre Fluellen said.
"Where we go from here," added Bowden, "we have to wait and see."
Another helping of Rice wouldn't hurt.