Harder than it had to be, but enough to buoy hope

The Xavier Lee experiment keeps things interesting, and a crack appears in the ACC race.

Published October 15, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. - For the better part of a brisk, clear Carolina afternoon, Florida State seemed bent on making a game with no on-paper appeal or live TV as interesting as possible.

Before half-empty Wallace Wade Stadium, the Seminoles threw three interceptions in a span of four second-quarter possessions (all by backup Xavier Lee), gave up a safety, fumbled a punt, and even spotted Duke one of their few remaining linebackers.

All to little avail. The Seminoles still rolled 51-24, proving they haven't regressed from unranked to rank just yet, but little else.

"Somebody will surely ask what does this mean? Well, it means one thing - we're 4-2," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "That's all it means."

But after another turbulent Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference, maybe - just maybe - it means a bit more.

North Carolina State's 25-23 loss to Wake Forest preserves a sliver of hope for the Seminoles (4-2, 2-2) in the Atlantic Division race if the Wolfpack (3-3, 2-1) and Clemson (6-1, 3-1) each lose twice more. FSU, however, must win Saturday at home against Boston College.

"We're playing a physical team," Bowden said, "and we don't need to be playing a physical team."

Especially not after losing yet another linebacker, this time a starter. Sophomore Geno Hayes, the team's No. 2 tackler entering the contest, injured his right knee on kickoff coverage nine minutes into the game.

He joins an already-crowded shelf that includes fellow linebackers Derek Nicholson (knee), Marcus Ball (knee) and Jae Thaxton (concussion). Bowden didn't know the extent of Hayes' injury, but linebacker Lawrence Timmons said Hayes told him he thought he might have sprained a ligament.

"I tell you what, I don't know who's living wrong on our team," middle linebacker Buster Davis said. "We ain't living right because there's no way you have that many injuries on one team."

If battered pride also qualifies as an injury, count Lee among the wounded as well.

Days after Bowden said Lee's practice efforts indicated he wasn't ready to seize the starting job from Drew Weatherford, the sophomore (7-for-16, 90 yards) affirmed his coach's assessment with three interceptions in a 9-minute, 6-second span.

On Lee's second throw, Duke's John Talley stepped in front of a sideline pass intended for Chris Davis and took it 50 yards for a TD.

Lee also had a deep ball intercepted amid a heavy pass rush and watched former Northeast High star Leon Wright intercept a pass intended for De'Cody Fagg in the back of the end zone.

"Coach (offensive coordinator Jeff) Bowden said two of the interceptions were his fault, the other one was mine," Lee said. "I made the wrong check."

"I watch him in practice," Bobby Bowden added. "If I saw a guy in practice go out there and hit everything he threw, I'd say, 'That guy's ready.' If I see him struggling and not quite consistent - we see that, y'all don't."

Meantime, Weatherford completed 16 of his last 18 passes after six consecutive incompletions to open the game. Three of his four TDs came on third and long, when Duke seemingly blitzed everyone.

Two of those third-down passes were to Greg Carr (four catches, 100 yards, three TDs).

"They have a tendency on third down to house blitz, and basically blitz everybody," said Weatherford, who watched Duke blitz Alabama heavily the weekend before. "And when that opportunity arose, we really took advantage of it."