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After nervous start, Lee shines

The sophomore quarterback has a productive second half to allow FSU to pull away.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published November 5, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Maybe Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee needed to find out he was starting shortly before kickoff, like last week, and not five days beforehand.

Yeah, that's it. Must be.

"I was a little anxious to go out there and make a play," Lee said.

After a shaky but error-free opening half, Lee settled down nicely - heck, spectacularly - as the Seminoles, buoyed all day by stellar defensive and special-teams play, snapped out of their ACC funk and routed Virginia 33-0 at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Seminoles (5-4, 3-4), who hadn't shut out an opponent since Notre Dame in 2003, broke a two-game losing streak and need just one more win to become bowl eligible. They have home games against Wake Forest, Western Michigan and Florida remaining.

"We usually have the bowl thing settled by the seventh game; we're either 6-1 or 7-0; but this year, it's been a tough year in that regard," coach Bobby Bowden said.

Still, he told his team that, maybe, it has found a spark.

Lee, the heralded redshirt sophomore who made his first start last week at Maryland when Drew Weatherford injured a tendon in his right foot, certainly has energized his team.

For his part, Bowden wasn't ready to anoint Lee the starter for next week's game now that Weatherford showed he's healthy enough to play.

"I'm going to buy time on that one," Bowden said. "I'm not sure exactly what we'll do. It kind of looks like it (would be Lee), but I've got to look at everything."

In the past, as a reliever, Lee has looked like Jekyll and Hyde, but "a million dollars" against the Terrapins. Bowden wasn't sure what to expect against the Cavaliers (4-6, 3-3), but couldn't have been thrilled that Lee completed just 4 of 15 passes for 36 yards in the first half, throwing over and behind receivers.

"I thought when he came out there and he wasn't quite as calm as he was the last game and probably put pressure on himself by expectations," Bowden said.

Fortunately for FSU, the injury-riddled defense and special teams units carried the offense, returning an interception for one score and setting up another with a blocked punt to contribute to a 17-0 lead.

That allowed FSU coaches to be patient with Lee and not turn to Weatherford.

"He came out the second half and played very cool," Bowden said. "That's all he's got to do."

Lee hit 8 of 10 passes for 149 yards and a dazzling 37-yard strike to Chris Davis for a touchdown after the break. He also had the kind of play that gives a team a spark.

He shrugged off Virginia nose tackle Allen Billyk, glided right and turned upfield for a 5-yard gain rather than taking a 5-yard loss. He followed with a 29-yard completion to receiver Greg Carr that set up tailback Antone Smith's 2-yard touchdown run.

"I was definitely more relaxed," Lee said, adding he had to "get used to the crowd, get used to what the defense was giving me."

"He was looking pretty good to me. Again," Davis said.

Weatherford, who spent Monday and Tuesday in a protective boot, told coaches he could go in and played most of the final quarter, excited for the chance and that he didn't do anything to his foot to re-aggravate the injury. He was 2 of 6 for 41 yards.

He's not going to speculate what's going to happen at the quarterback position, but the Land O'Lakes graduate pledged that "Monday through Friday I'll be fighting." So too will Lee, who ran over to his mother, Gloria Postell, for a kiss after the game.

"The more he plays and the more he starts, the cooler he will get and his numbers will go up," Bowden said. "But we do have to look at this thing pretty seriously now because there's another pretty darn good quarterback there. You have to be fair."

But maybe if it's Lee, don't tell him anything 'til later in the week.