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Rix growing up fast

In his second start, freshman quarterback helps FSU pull away from stubborn UAB for a 29-7 win.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Nick Maddox celebrates at the end of a big running play during the second half.
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State quarterback Chris Rix entered the huddle late in the third quarter Saturday night as a redshirt freshman in his second collegiate start.

He ecstatically left it five plays later a seemingly more mature, more able leader.

Rix flawlessly and brilliantly led the Seminoles 80 yards against a veteran Alabama-Birmingham defense for a decisive touchdown in a 29-7 win before a near capacity crowd of 79,388 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"He really made some plays," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "Not bad for a rookie quarterback. I'll say this: It was better than Chris Weinke's second game."

Weinke threw six interceptions in his second start in 1998, a loss to North Carolina State.

In his second start, Rix completed 15 of 23 passes for a career-high 246 yards -- nearly twice what he threw in his debut against Duke -- and a touchdown, and he ran 11 times for a team-high 52 yards and an acrobatic touchdown.

The No. 6-ranked Seminoles (2-0) needed that kind of showing with No. 10 Georgia Tech, which has given FSU its toughest Atlantic Coast Conference games the past two seasons, coming to town Saturday for a showdown that could determine the league title.

"I think we rose to another level from last week and that's our goal, go to a new level every week; it's a progression," Rix said. "We're not going to be ready for the national championship game next week or the week after that, but if we keep improving, I think we'll be okay."

He and everyone knows that much depends on him.

He showed his mettle and maturity once UAB (1-1) cut the Seminoles lead to 19-7.

"I told the guys, 'We've got to go to work,' " Rix said. "We knew the game wasn't over. We couldn't get comfortable. We needed to score on that drive and I made that a point to our offense."

On first down, he rolled left and fired a strike to junior tailback Nick Maddox for 14 yards. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty added 15 yards to the play.

After fullback William McCray lost 4 yards, the first time he had been stopped behind the line in 78 career attempts, Rix scrambled for 4 yards, then hit senior receiver Atrews Bell for 19 and a first down.

On the next play, Rix rolled left to avoid a blitz and lofted a perfect pass across the field to open junior receiver Talman Gardner in the back of the end zone. Rix jumped for joy.

"I was waiting for a while; I threw my hands up for Rix and I just made sure I didn't step out," Gardner said.

"He got by his guy; he ran a great route and I just put it out there and he made a great catch," Rix said.

That came against the aptly named "Steel Shield," a defense with 10 starters back from one of the nation's stingiest units. That included an impressive showing last year in a stunning 13-10 win at LSU. UAB limited the Tigers to 263 yards in that game.

After one game this season, an easy 41-13 win against Division I-AA Montana State, the Blazers were second nationally in rushing defense (-1.0) and sixth in total defense (155.0 yards).

"They're as good as they looked on film," Bowden said. "I looked at the LSU film about 50 times it seems like, starting back in the summer. They manhandled LSU. I was afraid they may manhandle us. But our quarterback was able to escape enough and throw good enough to pull us away."

Not initially.

Rix completed 1 of 4 passes in the first quarter as FSU's young offense sputtered. In the half, FSU got inside the UAB 30 four times but had to settle for a pair of field goals (36 and 21 yards) from freshman kicker Xavier Beitia, the former Tampa Jesuit star, and one touchdown.

Even on the touchdown, it seemed as if FSU might have to rely on Beitia. But on third and goal from the 2, Rix hurdled cornerback Dio Hill for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead. After McCray gave FSU a 19-0 lead on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter, the Blazers answered on tailback Jegil Dugger's 2-yard touchdown run.

That's when Rix took control.

"I was very happy with the way he responded because early in the ball game, he was making a few little mistakes, like missing a snap in the shotgun," Bowden said. "That's called experience."

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