New quarterback, same FSU woes

Xavier Lee gets a shot, and though Florida State falls , he might have shown enough to begin a QB controversy.

Published October 29, 2006

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Florida State fans, tired of league losses and desperate for an offensive shakeup and spark, have long hoped that quarterback Xavier Lee would get his shot to show his stuff.

With incumbent Drew Weatherford ailing on Saturday, they got their wish.

And they were treated to Lee's production, not simply his promise.

They also got another disappointing ACC loss, 27-24 to host Maryland, on a blustery evening when a last-minute field goal was blocked. An October to forget continued as hundreds of the announced crowd of 50,517 at Byrd Stadium poured onto the field to celebrate.

The Seminoles 4-4, 2-4, who have lost three of their past four, enter November with their worst record since 2-6 in 1976, coach Bobby Bowden's first year in Tallahassee.

No fault of Lee.

He looked more confident and in control than ever as he completed 22-of-36 for a career-high 286 yards and two touchdowns and, in the process, perhaps started a full-blown quarterback controversy.

"I felt real comfortable," he said. "There's a whole different swagger you get when you start the game off and you know you've got the whole game to yourself to play."

"I was very impressed," said Bowden, who added having two capable quarterbacks was a "good problem to have." He said of Lee, "That is the best I've seen him since he came to Florida State; in practice, the spring game, anything. Maybe it has to do with giving him the game to say, 'It's your game.' "

It was a game Lee nearly pulled out as he marched his team 69 yards to the Maryland 16 before he committed his lone critical mistake - intentionally grounding the ball - that stalled the drive and forced a tying field-goal attempt.

But Terrapins defensive end Jeremy Navarre, who had a critical fourth-down stop at midfield early in the second half, swatted the ball down. Kicker Gary Cismesia had made 10-of-11 this season.

"Someone told me it looked like he kicked it low," Bowden said.

The drama began an hour before kickoff, when Lee was told he would start. But he had a clue days earlier that Weatherford, who had started the previous 20 games, might be unable to go.

"Right after our quarterback drills (on Wednesday), I tweaked a tendon on the inside of my (right) foot," Weatherford said. "Thursday morning, I woke up and got an MRI and a X-ray and I saw nothing was torn, but there was a lot of swelling and inflammation and fluid in my foot. I stayed off of it ... and I was hoping to come out and play."

Lee, the heralded redshirt sophomore backup, has battled shoulder woes (last year he had offseason surgery) and frustration over his lack of opportunity. He had only appeared in three games this season, and was less than overwhelming. He had completed 12-of-28 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. The picks came in the second quarter at Duke, a performance that scared Bowden.

The Terrapins (6-2, 3-1), bowl eligible for the first time since 2003, parlayed a Greg Carr fumble, efficient passing from Sam Hollenbach and an edge in field position to build a 20-7 lead with 2:19 left in the opening half.

Then Lee showed his arm strength.

Against a wind of at least 20 mph, he hit a leaping Carr for 37 yards on the right sideline, then capped a five-play, 80-yard drive with a 15-yard dart to Carr in the left corner of the end zone to close the deficit to 20-14 at halftime. Maryland followed Navarre's fourth-down stop of fullback Joe Surratt with another touchdown and a 27-14 lead.

Then Lee showed his running ability.

He scampered twice for 28 yards and capped an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown to senior receiver Chris Davis to cut the deficit to 27-21 late in the third quarter. After Cismesia hit a 24-yard field goal, the FSU defense held and gave Lee one more shot.

"He did what he was capable of doing," Carr said of Lee. "I'm proud of him. He gave everything he had."

Lee, who praised his line for giving him enough time "to eat a banana back there," the running of tailbacks Antone Smith and Lorenzo Booker and his receivers, wouldn't bite on the controversy that is sure to come.

"That's not up to me, that's up to the coaches," he said. "I'm just going to play hard if I get in."

Brian Landman can be reached at (813) 226-3347 or landman@sptimes.com