tampabay.com

Just a jump-start

A QB switch gives the 'Noles the spark they need against the Tide.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007


JACKSONVILLE - Florida State coach Bobby Bowden hadn't experienced this in quite some time.

Not only had his Seminoles defeated Alabama 21-14 before a record crowd of 85,412 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Saturday night, but the storied program he has loved his entire life and had never faced as a head coach was ranked No. 22 while his had tumbled out of the polls.

"I don't remember the last time we had a win like that," Bowden said. "That felt like a big-time win."

It's one thing to beat Alabama-Birmingham.

It's another to beat Alabama.

It's also the first time the Seminoles 3-1 have beaten a Top 25 opponent since last year's opener against Miami - a team that proved not to be particularly strong. They're now riding a three-game winning streak, their longest since they began the 2005 season with five straight wins, and could find themselves back in the national polls.

But more important than any warm, fuzzy feelings, Bowden left this game feeling that he might - repeat, might - have found the makings of an offense with quarterback Xavier Lee that will complement what has been a standout defense.

Lee, who hadn't played a down in the first three games, took over early in the second quarter and energized the offense with his arm and his legs.

He completed 12 of 19 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, both to a heretofore struggling De'Cody Fagg, with one interception. He also ran 11 times for a game-high 59 yards.

"I'm more focused now on what I have to do," Lee said.

Bowden said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher had mentioned Wednesday that Lee looked ready to go, not that Fisher had planned to go to him. But he knew his old boss, Alabama coach Nick Saban, likes a blitzing defense that sometimes requires a quarterback who can make plays with his legs.

That hasn't been Weatherford, who completed 7 of 11 passes for just 42 yards and couldn't take advantage of position near midfield on the team's first four series. Even with Lee playing the last 10:34 of the opening half, the Seminoles failed to score and mustered just 89 yards on 33 plays.

FSU's defense was every bit as dominating against the Tide as it was against Colorado, with Alabama (3-2) amassing 78 yards on 29 plays in a scoreless half.

Lee hit his first five passes of the second half, culminating with a 7-yard dart to Fagg for a 7-0 lead. He had the team on the move again with a 58-yarder to Greg Carr before throwing an interception, but the FSU defense continued to befuddle the Tide.

Early in the fourth quarter, defensive end Everette Brown sacked John Parker Wilson and forced a fumble that defensive tackle Letroy Guion recovered at the 5. Tailback Antone Smith scored on the next play for a 14-0 lead.

"I was coming from the backside full speed just hoping he wouldn't throw the ball," Brown said. "That was something we worked on all week in practice, stripping the ball, stripping the ball. You don't get that opportunity too many times, and when you do you have to make it happen."

Although Alabama, which had rallied impressively in the fourth quarter in a win against Arkansas and then last week to force overtime against Georgia, scored a few minutes later, Lee hit Fagg with a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown that proved to be the difference. Alabama scored again in the final minutes but touched an onside kick attempt before it traveled 10 yards.

"That's the first time we've got into a rhythm besides the second half of the UAB game and the second half of Clemson a little bit," Fisher said of the offense that finished with 348 total yards. "We were running, throwing, keeping them off balance. ... And you know what else? We finally got some passion on the sidelines. We'd sit on the sidelines sometimes like we were in church and we're not allowed to say anything. Got some passion and they fed off each other."

Talk about a different feeling.

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