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'Rooster' ready to go if needed

"I'd give my left arm to play against Miami,'' fifth-year senior Marcus Outzen says.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The last time an injury thrust Marcus Outzen into the starting quarterback position, he confidently insisted he could lead the Florida State offense.

You might have believed him were it not for the wide-eyed gaze that belied the words he spoke so calmly.

He dodged the back-breaking mistakes to help the Seminoles beat Florida in the 1998 regular-season finale, but then his miscues contributed to the national championship loss to Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.

"Sure I was nervous," he now admits.

Two years later, Outzen, 22, might find himself in a strikingly similar position.

Senior Chris Weinke, a Heisman Trophy candidate, sprained ligaments in his left foot Thursday and his status for Saturday's showdown at No. 7 Miami is uncertain. If he can't play or can't finish the game or is so bothered by pain that he's ineffective, all eyes will turn to Outzen to try to keep the top-ranked Seminoles on the path toward a second straight national title.

"I'd give my left arm to play against Miami," Outzen said. "I've said this before, that's what you come here for, to play the Miamis, to play the Floridas, to play in the national championship. ... If I play at Miami, it'd be an unbelievable opportunity for myself if the worst happens.

"Two years ago, I felt good and I was ready with what we had. But we didn't have the whole ball of wax in. And I wasn't as mature as I am now. I just feel a lot more comfortable with what's going on. I just feel ready to play quarterback."

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound fifth-year senior from Fort Walton Beach, whose close-cropped red hair and fiery demeanor have earned him the nickname "Rooster," has had his moments this season.

Like everything else in his career, they have run the spectrum from bad to good.

Determined to let Outzen see meaningful minutes, the FSU coaches put him into the Georgia Tech game early in the second quarter. After moving the team from its 2 to the 44, he tried to throw to Robert Morgan on the left sideline.

In a play hauntingly reminiscent of the 1999 Fiesta Bowl when he underthrew Peter Warrick and Tennessee intercepted for a touchdown, Tech's Marvious Hester intercepted the ball and brought it back 50 yards for a score that cut the deficit to 12-7. A game that looked like it could become a runaway was in doubt until the final moments.

"I still can't believe it," Outzen said. "I dropped back, I saw nothing but my tackle's head and I threw to a spot and it wasn't the right spot. ... I've run that play 100 times in practice against one of the best defenses in the nation (without an interception)."

At the time, he feared it cost him a chance to play with the first team again. Even coach Bobby Bowden said the plan was, in hindsight, "not wise" and Outzen would only play when the time was appropriate.

Translation:

Outzen would come in when the Seminoles were safely ahead.

"I never lost confidence in Marcus," offensive coordinator Mark Richt said. "I don't know who has. ... Everybody throws a bad pass or two. Everybody."

Bowden said Outzen has learned from that experience and seems more mature, more prepared to replace Weinke than he was in 1998 after Weinke injured his neck.

"Marcus is ready to play," he said after Monday's practice. "He's got his game face on today, no doubt about it. He worked good, and he threw pretty good. He's got that (the Tech pick) behind him."

Since the Tech game on Sept. 9, Outzen has performed solidly, albeit in mop-up duty. He has completed 15 of 22 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. For the season, he has a 174.1 passing efficiency rating, eight points higher than Weinke's.

"He's done a nice job," Weinke said. "He's a fifth-year senior and he understands what needs to be done. What better situation is there than that, having a guy who knows what he needs to do, has played in big games and has played quite a bit this year?"

"This offense will still go with Marcus," sophomore receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We have confidence in Marcus. A lot of people outside might not, but we're at practice with him every day. We know what he can do."

Outzen, as he said two years ago, insists Weinke is the team leader and his loss would hurt the team.

"I'm not as experienced as he is and I'm not a Heisman candidate," Outzen said. "But that's not to say I can't step in there and pick up pretty much where he left off.

"I've heard a quote that we don't have a chance if Weinke went down. Well, we beat a Florida team with an unreal defense here two years when I knew about half the playbook. I've been in a big game before. I've been scared out of my britches before. I'm not nervous right now. I have been before. I'm totally ready for the circumstance if it turns out for the worst, for sure."

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